The new Ferrari Roma shares its wheelbase and engine with the Portofino. That is where the similarities end. This is a completely different brand of Grand Tourer, says its maker. Better to take the cues from its design, which is said to take its inspiration from the '62 250 GT Lusso, no less. Ferrari wants you to think the car beautiful. And to your correspondent's eyes, with that drawn out bonnet and coiled rear end, it is - no matter how much it recalls the Aston Martin Vantage from some angles.
Either way, it has a sculpted presence in the flesh and for once it's possible to drink the whole car in without becoming fixated with an oversized intake or spoiler. If nothing else, that qualifies it as a superior Grand Tourer to the cluttered Portofino. Which is fitting given the model's objectives. Ferrari says it wants to bridge the gap between conventional GTs and supercars. Raffaele De Simone, Ferrari's affable development driver, says the Roma is a car for all occasions - even really, really fast ones.
PH has heard all this before, of course. But he continues. The 620hp V8 is apparently pressed so far back against the bulkhead that it qualifies as a front-mid-engined model and can claim class-leading power-to-weight and a wider peak torque window thanks to new cam profiles and a revised intake. This makes its twin-turbocharged 3.9-litre unit unique to the Roma, a distinction shared by its eight-speed DCT, which was introduced in the SF90, but now it features shorter mid ratios a longer top along with a reverse gear (the SF90 used its electric motor for the latter). There's new hydraulic hardware and a low-viscosity oil, as well as a more compact clutch, resulting in a 6kg weight saving and quicker shifts than the old seven-speed transmission managed. Raffa says the Roma's shifts are actually faster than Ferrari's supercars because there's no need to add in a theatrical thud.
Inside, things get even more 'new'. The Roma introduces features that will be rolled out across other models in the future. Some of the human machine interface tech is carried over from the SF90, with 'Ciao Ferrari' voice activation, an 8.4-inch infotainment screen and 16-inch digital instrument cluster all taken from the hybrid's armoury, along with the passenger display. But the Roma adds a new steering wheel with touch sensitive buttons that control the customisable instrument cluster and adaptive cruise, and finally replaces the red starter switch which can trace its roots back to the F430. It certainly looks the part, although it's hard not to miss the tactility of the old setup.
At least the Manettino dial remains, now accompanied by coloured lights so the wheel looks as impressive at night as it does in the daytime. The switch includes Race, the first time it's done so in a Ferrari Grand Tourer, along with the familiar Wet, Comfort and Sport settings, and the ESC Off mode. Bumpy Road is now accessed by clicking the switch down, and you're given the "coming through" headlight flash and one-swipe wiper controls on the back of the wheel, beneath volume and audio controls. Even the wheel-mounted indicator switches have been extended, so they can be pressed from the front or top of the wheel, depending on preference. Over extensive distances, it means there's little reason to remove your hands from the sculpted grips.
The whole cabin feels very well made and smartly thought out, and the information overload of so many screens is quickly tempered by admirably straightforward layouts and the ease with which they are navigated. The rear seats are for small kids only, although they do fold forward to open up storage space in the boot. And the front seating position is just so; you're placed low with the controls in easy reach and good back support, even if Ferrari's cushioning is on the firm side of comfortable. You can choose to have the dash wrapped in leather or Alcantara. Regardless, the Roma's interior is well-suited to the idea of covering great distances.
The car isn't half bad either. Its gearbox is super smart, seemingly always one step ahead of your intentions in auto mode and every bit as responsive as Raffa said it would be. The V8 has no perceivable lag, pulling hard from tickover with a noticeable increase in thrust from 3,000rpm, when 516lb ft of torque provides a mid-range elasticity that makes the 1.57-tonne 2+2 feel wonderfully light on its feet. The suspension aids this impression, delivering a vertical pliancy well capable of absorbing Italy's lumpy tarmac - even more so in the Bumpy Road mode typically required in the UK. The Roma duly glides over surfaces you instinctively tense for and sacrifices precious little in the way of lateral body control, so cross country progress remains brilliantly controlled. No question, it's the sort of car you aim fearlessly at the Alps from the business end of the tunnel. And that makes it hard to fault as a Grand Tourer.
Tellingly though, it's when you ask the car for an additional layer of performance that it really comes into its own. Here, as promised, it does that thing which tends to distinguish Ferrari from the chasing pack: it turns a flat-out sprint into something like a dance, the sixth-generation Slide Slip Control and E-diff secretly colluding in a back room while you drive like a God in the captain's chair. Whatever algorithms Ferrari is feeding into the setup are working: the Roma moves about so predictably under enthusiastic throttle applications, meaning that the V8's tremendous ferocity and rising flat-plane tone are never made to seem daunting. All that inherent balance helps, too - as does the fact that you sit on the centre line of the car's axis of rotation. But you don't need to know any of that to appreciate how easy the Roma is to read and intuitively place on the road.
It's enough to make the ESC Off mode seem feasible. Electronic net lifted, the rear axle's ability to tighten the line, or develop significant yaw angles is deeply satisfying. To the point of joyous. Raffa made it clear that the throttle, steering and brake responses are the same throughout the driving modes, because they're exactly where they should be from the get-go. He's not wrong. The steering is consistent and very direct but not as hyperactive as in Ferrari's supercars; it convincingly attains weight as the load increases. Meanwhile the brake pedal is long and progressive, so it's easy to modulate the workload of the carbon ceramics. Better still, everything serves the same purpose: making the Roma's towering performance seem not just manageable, but adjustable, too. The car's limits aren't out of reach; they're in the palm of your hand. What you do with them is up to you.
So what do you end up with? Well, a car that's effortless and comfortable one minute, and then immersive and exceptionally entertaining the next. If that sounds like a fairly compelling combination, it ought to. Ferrari has aimed the Roma at similar ground to the McLaren GT - and then slingshotted past its rival because its claims to genuine super-GT status are confirmed by the presence of a V8 engine in the front and (sort of) seats in the back, alongside a level of handling dynamism that would be called revelatory were it delivered by any other manufacturer. Plus, it's £200k cheaper than an SF90 Stradale so a halfway normal person will be able to buy one. A Ferrari for all occasions? Incredibly, yes.
SPECIFICATION | FERRARI ROMA
Engine: 3,855cc, V8, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-spd twin-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 620@5750-7500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 561@3000-5750rpm
Top speed: 199mph
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