Ferrari’s new fire-breathing beast
It seems right to point the Roma's nose in the direction of Rome, so it's a left turn out of Ferrari's historic main entrance in Maranello. This is the way to fun driving and scenic beauty.
Turning in the opposite direction leads north to nearby Modena, birthplace of founder Enzo Ferrari. The flat, straight roads are dull and often flanked by factories in cubic concrete.
Ferrari's via Abetone Inferiore address is a clue, for those in the know, to what lies to the south. The street is so named because it leads eventually to the Abetone Pass. This road climbs to 1400 metres to cross the Apennine Mountains into Tuscany.
The Roma is Ferrari's newest all-new model. It's a GT rather than a sports car, so has its engine mounted up front, not behind the cabin as in the company's sports cars, and it drives the rear wheels. The 2+2 coupe has a pair of tiny rear seats, but also a useful 272-litre boot.
It's intended to be a better-looking, sharper-handling alternative to the Portofino, the retractable-hardtop 2+2 GT Ferrari introduced in 2017. An updated version, the Portofino M, will go into production around May next year. The changes will align it closely with the $410,000 Roma, but expect it to be a little more costly.
La nuova dolce vita is Ferrari's tagline for the Roma, referencing both Fellini's classic black-and-white film and the decadent early '60s era it depicts. These were the years the company produced some of its most beautiful models; the 250 GT Lusso, for example.
The Roma's exterior is curvier and cleaner than other contemporary Ferraris, and its rear is intended to echo the cut-off Kamm-back style popular 60 years ago. Its nose, on the other hand, features a very modern body-coloured grille design.
Inside, the beautifully crafted cockpit is divided in two by a slanting centre console that's topped by a portrait-oriented touchscreen display. Roma's steering wheel, digital instrument display and gear-selector mechanism are shared with the recent SF90 Stradale, Ferrari's $1 million plug-in hybrid hypercar.
While the Roma shares some of its aluminium chassis structure with the Portofino, and is built on the same wheelbase, Ferrari says its body is 70 per cent new.
Other advantages are the extra ratio of its eight-speed double-clutch gearbox, wider front and rear axles, and an extra 15kW from its version of the high-revving twin-turbo 3.9-litre V8 they share.
On the hairpins and short straights of the Abetone Pass the Roma is superb. While the engine isn't the most musical Ferrari has ever made, its punch and precision are hugely impressive. There's something almost magical to the way the engine, transmission, steering, brakes and chassis work together like a well-tuned orchestra.
Ferrari's expertise in integrating the advanced electronic control systems supervising every aspect of the car is evident, because they don't pollute the driving experience at all. There's an occasional flash from warning lights on the dash to signal electronic activity, but what the driver notices is the fabulous steering, invincible brakes, heavenly handling, neck-straining acceleration and perfectly-timed gearshifts.
The Roma is also superb on motorways. Cruising back to Maranello at the 130km/h autostrada speed limit, the supple ride and rock-steady stability of the GT create a sense of calm, though explosive acceleration is always available.
Only threading the Roma through small towns reveals flaws. Ferrari has deliberately chosen to set up the car's Auto transmission mode to use the highest possible gear whenever possible. It's an understandable emission-reducing and efficiency-improving strategy, but it means the Roma often drones through villages with its engine spinning at less than 1000rpm.
And when the town speed limits are left behind, the software is frustratingly slow to recognise the change in circumstances and shift down gears. The best solution is to take manual control with a tap of the superb paddle-shifters.
It's not perfect, but this is yet another fine Ferrari. Lovely looks and fast-driving finesse are what a GT from Maranello is rightly expected to deliver … and the Roma does.
FERRARI ROMA VITALS
Engine: 3.9-litre V8 twin turbo; 456kW/760Nm
Transmission: 8-speed twin-clutch auto; RWD
Servicing: 12 months/20,000km
Safety: Not rated
Spare: Inflation kit
0-100km/h: 3.4 secs
Originally published as Ferrari's new fire-breathing beast