Somewhere in the West Midlands, Tobias Moers is pouring himself a stiff scotch. The new boss of Aston Martin – formerly MD at Mercedes-AMG – already faced an uphill battle. Now, the future for his ailing British brand looks even tougher.
The Ferrari Roma targets Aston Martin’s core constituency. Priced at £170,984, it nestles somewhere between V8 and V12 AMR versions of the DB11. It’s front-engined, luxurious and packed with cutting-edge tech. It’s also achingly beautiful and, well, looks a bit like a Vantage.
If it drives as a Ferrari should, Tobias better make that whisky a double…
New model army
Maranello is in the midst of a new model blitz. Last year, Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri told investors the company will introduce 15 new models by 2022 – including the controversial Purosangue SUV.
The 2+2-seat V8 Roma arrives hot on the tailpipes of the SF90 Stradale hypercar, but occupies the opposite end of the Ferrari spectrum. More blue-blooded grand tourer than red-blooded road racer, it sits alongside the (mechanically similar) Portofino convertible as the entry-point into the range. The starter Ferrari, if you will.
As such, Ferrari expects 70 percent of Roma buyers to be new to the brand. As well as DB11s, they may be trading in a Bentley Continental GT, McLaren GT or Porsche 911 Turbo S. This car’s rivals are diverse and highly talented, and its brief is broad. Still, nobody said this would be easy.
The New Sweet Life
And so to Rome… Actually, we flew to Milan, then travelled by minibus into the hills south of Turin, but let’s not quibble about details. Driving a new Ferrari in Italy still feels uniquely special.
The press briefing takes place the evening before, opening with some arty black-and-white photographs and the strapline La Nuova Dolce Vita (‘The New Sweet Life’).
Life is no doubt sweet when you have 620 Italian stallions underfoot, but the evocation of Fellini’s iconic 1960 film goes deeper. The Roma, we are told, harks back to Ferrari’s glamorous golden age.
Then, things shift up several gears as we watch a video of chief test driver Raffaele di Simone (‘Raffa’ to his mates) hooning around Fiorano. “I really enjoy driving the Roma on the track,” he says with a grin. “This is the first Ferrari GT with Race mode for maximum driving pleasure.” I can’t wait.
Dressed to impress
The following morning dawns bright and humid, the early rays glinting on the Roma’s voluptuous curves. It really does look exquisite in the metal, with classic GT proportions: a long bonnet, muscular haunches and a compact cabin that rests almost atop the rear wheels. Design boss Flavio Manzoni – who describes the styling as “Formula One in evening attire” – says he was inspired by the classic Ferrari 212 Inter, 250 Europa, 250 GT Lusso and 330 GT 2+2.
What’s most apparent is the Roma’s lack of scoops, spoilers and other aero addenda. Instead, Ferrari employs vortex generators to smooth airflow beneath the body and a pop-up wing behind the rear window. The latter has three positions, with the most upright producing 95kg of downforce at 155mph.
More subjectively, the Roma suits sober colours: silver grey and dark blue. This isn’t a Rosso Corsa kind of car. The one exception, perhaps, is the vibrant Blu Corsa seen here, although it likely looks better in sunny Italy than monochrome Britain.
The key, the secret
I’m handed a chunky, leather-backed Ferrari badge that it turns out is a key. It’s identical to that used for the SF90 and is perhaps the ultimate pub accessory. Plonk this on the bar and everyone will know what you drive.
Opening the frameless door, I settle into the sculpted and very supportive seat. With my stumpy legs (I’m 5ft 7in), there’s room for a small child to sit behind, but most owners will surely use the rear cabin as extra luggage space. The boot holds 272 litres as standard, or 345 litres (more than a Ford Fiesta) with the back seats folded down.
The view ahead over the Roma’s tapering bonnet is hugely evocative, its pronounced power bulge framed by fulsome front wings. The drive selector on the centre console also has a retro aura, mimicking Ferrari’s classic open-gate manual gearbox. Shame it’s made from shiny plastic rather than stainless steel.
The rest of the interior is markedly more modern, with a plethora of screens, touchpads and Ferrari’s new multi-function steering wheel. There’s a lot going on – probably too much, I think.
The driver display is also borrowed from the SF90 and offers a choice of three modes, including a full-screen map à la Audi Virtual Cockpit. Frankly, though, having anything other than the digitised rev counter front-and-centre just feels wrong. There’s also a central touchscreen, which we’re told is mainly for passenger use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are included.
As well as the trademark manettino dial (more on that shortly), the steering wheel has a touchpad that illuminates ‘hidden’ buttons when pressed. In theory, it means you can do almost everything, from changing the radio station to setting the sat nav, without taking your hands off the wheel. In practice, I found it a bit fiddly and would prefer physical controls.
One further option is the excellent voice control, activated when you say “Ciao, Ferrari”. It certainly beats “Hey, BMW”.
Heart of the matter
Ferrari says the Roma is 70 percent new compared with the Portofino, but its 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 heart is closely related. Here, it gains spikier cams, a new valvetrain and a modified exhaust for an extra 20hp. The big numbers are 620hp at 5,750rpm and 561lb ft of torque from 3,000-5,750rpm.
The Roma’s gearbox is also new – yet another hand-me-down from the SF90, with eight speeds versus the Portofino’s seven. It also has shorter ratios than its convertible cousin for faster acceleration, while eighth is a long-striding overdrive for motorway economy.
As for the all-important performance stats, try 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds and 199mph flat-out. Nothing ‘classic’ about those…
Bring the noise
Anyone worried the Roma’s new petrol particulate filter will muffle its soundtrack can (literally) breathe easy. Its vocal range stretches from a bassy throb to a guttural roar, with pops from the tailpipes on over-run. No, it isn’t as visceral as the naturally aspirated V12 in the 812 Superfast, but frankly nothing is.
Raffa proudly proclaims ‘zero turbo lag’ and this is borne out on the road. The Roma never feels less than properly rapid, punching hard from low revs and soaring to a 7,500rpm crescendo.
The gearbox is brilliant, too. Ferrari has dialled down the ‘thunk’ you feel in its supercars, so shifts are actually even quicker. There’s an automatic mode, of course, but you won’t be able to resist using the long, racer-style paddles.
Steer from the rear
Our test route was largely made up of writhing roads cut into the Piedmontese hillsides. Today, many are dusted with fine chalk from the soil, giving friction qualities somewhat akin to a skating rink. Any dynamic shortcomings will be ruthlessly exposed.
Thankfully, the Roma is finely balanced and alive with textured feedback. Its steering is calmer than, say, an F8 Tributo, but every detail of the road permeates to your palms. Oversteer is never less than a bootful of throttle away, but you can feel the electronics – Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer and version six of Side Slip Control – at work. If you’re a driver of modest talent like me, it inspires confidence to explore (and occasionally exceed) the limits of grip.
This willingness to oversteer makes the rear-driven Roma feel very different to a four-wheel-drive 911 Turbo S – and using the manettino dial can amplify this effect.
There are five drive modes: Wet, Comfort, Sport Race and ESC-Off. I found Race manageable and very malleable on the road, but switch off the systems at your peril.
Having put my bravado back in its box, let’s conclude by talking about the Roma’s merits as a GT. Its ride is highly impressive: pliant, yet steadfastly resistant to roll. Even on British roads, this will be a comfortable car.
The blare of the V8 does get a bit monotonous at motorway speed and you’ll fit way more luggage in a GTC4Lusso. Nonetheless, I can’t think of many more pleasurable – or more stylish – ways to drive across Europe.
Even the Roma’s 25.2mpg thirst is pretty acceptable for a car of this type, while its 80-litre tank gives a theoretical 450-mile touring range. Plus it comes with Ferrari’s seven-year free maintenance package.
When in Roma…
The Portofino always felt like the ‘golf club’ Ferrari, a car for people who wanted the badge, but rarely twisted the manettino beyond Comfort mode.
The Roma also appeals on that level, but its added sharpness and soul – not to mention that sell-a-kidney styling – mean it should win over the Tifosi, too.
Indeed, aside from a few qualms about the cabin, the Roma really is as good as it looks. It’s both a glamorous GT and a scintillating supercar. If you’re after a Ferrari that ticks every box, all roads lead to Roma.
Ferrari Roma: Specification
Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed twin-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive
Power: 620hp at 5,750rpm
Torque: 561lb ft at 3,000rpm
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
Top speed: 199mph
Fuel economy: 25.2mpg
Weight: From 1,570kg
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