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What makes a Ferrari worth a million dollars in Singapore?

Local driving conditions make it impossible to enjoy what an Italian supercar can do. So why do people keep buying them?

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Above: With a highly tuned twin-turbo V8 engine, the Ferrari Portofino can scamper from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds, and reach a scarcely believable top speed of 320 km/h.

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Above: The brand's sporting heritage is a big draw for customers.

FOR S$855,000 (excluding the Certificate Of Entitlement), the grown-up kids of today can own a Ferrari Portofino. That might be the famous sports car builder's lowest-priced model, but it's no lightweight.

With a highly tuned twin-turbo V8 engine, the Portofino can scamper from 0 to 100 km/h in just 3.5 seconds, and reach a scarcely believable top speed of 320 km/h.

That's a good 230km/h faster than you're allowed to drive in Singapore, which raises the question: can a car like this truly be worth the million-dollar price tag?

Lots of people seem to think so. Dieter Knechtel, CEO of Ferrari Far and Middle East, told The Business Times that the Portofino is selling better than anticipated. "The demand from our customers has exceeded our expectations," he said.

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Would an hour with the Portofino reveal why Ferrari is capable of parting people from their millions?

To find out, BT was invited to the Esperienza Ferrari Test Drive Session, an event for customers to get to know some of the latest Ferrari models in Singapore, including the convertible Portofino and a more practical model, the GTC4Lusso.

On hand to walk customers through the Portofino was Marco Bonanomi, a racing driver from (where else?) Italy who won the 2011 Italian GT Championship in the GT3 class, driving (what else?) a Ferrari.

Surprisingly, Mr Bonanomi began by emphasising the Portofino's day-to-day driveability instead of its sheer performance. "This is the most comfortable Ferrari in our line-up," he explained. "The Portofino has the softest suspension in comparison to all the other Ferraris right now."

Perhaps that was his way of subtly suggesting a gentle approach to my driving an Italian supercar for the first time. My time in the Portofino took place during a downpour of biblical proportions.

Add peak hour conditions to the wretched weather, and there was no way to verify Ferrari's claims about hitting 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, without risking hitting something else in the attempt.

Still, there was much to see and feel. The car was a snap to guide through curves because of a carefully stiffened body - Mr Bonanomi explained that the suspension mounting points in the Portofino are 50 percent more rigid than those of the California, the car it superseded.

And despite driving a low-slung car I couldn't afford to wreck, in hazardous conditions, I found it easy and undemanding to navigate an ocean of frustrated drivers hurrying to work.

The rain made it impossible to lower the Portofino's folding roof, but its user-friendliness made it possible to indulge the odd desire to give the accelerator a playful jab, just to briefly feel the Ferrari come alive under me, and to hear the snarling exhaust note that all exotic cars seem to herald their arrival with.

After just half an hour with the Portofino, I had cleared space in my dream garage for one, and all without breaking the speed limit.

Yet, raw performance is just one factor that draws people to Ferrari, Mr Knechtel noted.

"To our loyal clients, Ferrari symbolises exclusivity, innovation, state-of-the-art sporting performance and Italian design," he told BT.

As a brand, Ferrari enjoys a measurable amount of clout. Brand Finance, a consultancy, has named it "The World's Most Powerful Brand" for three years running, based on factors such as desirability, consumer sentiment and visual identity.

The brand's sporting heritage is another draw, which is why it isn't unusual for Ferrari to fly racing drivers into town to explain the finer points of a new model, and even offer one-on-one driving tips to customers.

What's clear is that Ferrari tries to ensure that spending a million or more on one gets someone not just a remarkable car, but also the chance to become a part of an iconic brand.

"Once a Ferrari owner buys a Ferrari, he usually stays with Ferrari and builds his collection over time. That is what makes us so unique," added Mr Knechtel.

If you think a Ferrari is worth a million dollars, in other words, you might eventually part with far more than that.