Roma therapy

DESIGNER GENES

WORDS BEN MILLER

FERRARI ROMA

MARANELLO'S 456kW COUPE DELIVERS A SLEEK NEW TAKE ON THE FRONT- ENGINED FERRARI, BUT HOW SUCCESSFULLY DOES IT BLEND TRADITION WITH TECHNOLOGY?

M ID-ENGINED FERRARIS require little explanation. Founder Enzo famously may not have been a fan of the layout, preferring his horses ahead of his cart, but Maranello has long since established itself as a master of the art of otherworldly yet accessible mid-engined performance. Cars like the F8 Tributo and new SF90 showcase the marque’s technological and artistic flair, while also linking its road cars to Formula 1. Elemental and pure, they’re uncomplicated in their remit and their appeal.

It’s not always so straightforward with Maranello’s front-engined cars. The astonishing, V12-powered 812 Superfast is often lumped in with GTs but is, in fact, nothing of the sort, being instead a hypercar ever willing to sweep sideways on a breath of throttle and force you to re-learn everything you thought you know about fast.

And then there’s the Portofino, Maranello’s folding-hardtop entrylevel model. In many ways the least Ferrari-like Ferrari money can buy, it’s also the first Ferrari many buyers experience.

And now there’s the new Ferrari Roma, the 2+2 coupe unveiled late last year. Beautiful and redolent of the past in its ideals if not, thankfully, its design, the $409,888 Roma sits just above the Portofino ($399,888) and promises to be both a GT and a sports car, as well as the first of a new breed of more usable, everyday Ferrari.

Fortunately, much of what differentiates the Roma from the Portofino bodes well for the new coupe’s sporting aspirations. The aluminium structure is based on that of the Portofino – same wheelbase, for instance – but Maranello claims 70 percent of the body and structure is new or substantially modified (the new bodywork accounts for the lion’s share of that 70 percent). Weight is down, by a useful 100kg or so, and the centre of mass is lower, thanks to the deletion of the Portofino’s folding roof mechanism.

So, there’s less weight, and it’s carried lower. This, in turn, has allowed Ferrari to run the same front spring rates as the Portofino and 10 percent softer rear springs while still reducing bodyroll 10 percent for a given rate of lateral acceleration. This is all good news, as is the fact that it’s the first Ferrari GT to get a fiveposition manettino (your options run from Wet through to Race, and pushing the toggle now accesses the ever-useful bumpy-road mode). The good news keeps coming. You also get Maranello’s latest driver-assist electronics, Slide Slip Control 6.0 and Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer, to let you goad the rear axle out of line with a reliable safety net in place. This is also the first Ferrari GT to get proper underbody aero, with vortex generators in the floor to generate useful downforce despite the clean body’s conspicuous lack of obvious aero addenda.

The Roma’s V8 isn’t all-new, being closely related to that of the Portofino, but it features a new valvetrain and more aggressive cams with increased lift, an exhaust system with reduced back pressure and sensors which let Ferrari safely wring another 5000rpm from the twin turbos. The net result would be good for 30kW over the 441kW Portofino were the Roma not also required to wear petrol particulate filters, which knock that advantage back to 15kW, for a total of 456kW.

The engine drives through a new gearbox, pinched from the SF90, which is 6kg lighter and has eight-ratios where the Portofino’s twin-clutcher is a seven-speeder. It’s also faster-shifting and more efficient, with a dry-sump layout and thinner oil for reduced losses. Ratios one to seven are shorter than the Portofino’s, for stronger acceleration, while eighth offers a lazy overdrive.

Inside, the Roma gets an all-new cockpit big on classy curves and a welcome sense of minimalism. There’s Ferrari’s new-generation infotainment, too, which debuted in the SF90. You grasp a new steering wheel  (not the prettiest, with too much bulk and plastic to it, but big on intuitive functionality, including a touchpad on the right spoke with which to navigate menus 11.2L/100km on the driver’s display) and gaze upon  a 16-inch multi-function curved display capable of cycling through three views (a stripped-back racy one, a full-map ‘I’m really lost’ one, and the one you’ll actually use with a giant rev counter centre stage). On the centre stack you’ll find a new 8.4-inch, portrait-orientated touchscreen.

There’s comfort here should you want it, though the Roma is no S-Class-style isolation chamber. The seats and driving position are all-day comfortable and, with the nav talking you home and the powertrain neutered in one of the lowlier driver modes, this is an easy and pleasant place in which to while away the miles. Exhaust noise is ever-present and can grate after a while on boring roads, but there’s less road noise than you’d expect given the amount of rubber the car holds to the road, and the multi-function wheel soon has you idly thumbing the indicators on the hub and nonchalantly flicking though menus via the touchpad. If only there was a little haptic feedback, Audi-style, to work with (you must listen instead for audio confirmation that your input’s been registered) and less lag in the system – Ferrari insists the latter will be ironed out before production and that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will feature before the car reaches buyers. On the plus side the voice recognition is first rate and ‘Ciao, Ferrari’ is way cooler than ‘Hey, Mercedes’. There’s also a welcome element of utility with a 272-litre boot capacity, raising to 345 litres when the optional fold-down rear seats are specified.

The ride, even without recourse to bumpy-road mode, is surprisingly sweet for such a poised, responsive car, the Roma breathing with some pretty abysmal surfaces and refusing to deviate from your chosen line even when you run into some rough stuff mid-corner. Such pliancy benefits both aspects of the car’s dual personality, making for comfortable miles when you just have distance to cover and the confidence to attack when you’re pushing the car harder, safe in the knowledge the Ferrari won’t be skittled off-line or caught out by typical Aussie B-road mid-corner bumps.

Around $400K buys some fairly serious machinery such as the McLaren 570S, Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2 or Aston Martin DB11, though you’d be hard pushed to find much as explosively fast and yet as effortlessly approachable as this one. Thank a combination of the intrinsic ‘rightness’ of the front/mid layout, Ferrari’s mastery of driver support electronics and the Roma’s brilliant fundamentals: deftly calibrated suspension; keen but calm steering; awesomely powerful yet delicate brakes (carbon-ceramic).

Switch up to Race, chase the power at the top of the rev range (as ever, Ferrari deliberately holds back torque at lower rpm for driveability and to maintain the theatre of the top-end rush) and the Roma covers ground at a breathtaking rate, the engine’s responsiveness, strong mid-range and awesome top end effortlessly dispatching multi-car overtakes and mountain passes alike.

Gearshifts are complete before you know you’ve asked for them, and the car’s grip at both ends is generous and deftly communicated. The firm, short-travel brake pedal breeds enormous confidence, as does the front axle’s refusal to understeer, and it feels like it’d take a huge error of judgement to get things properly wrong in the Roma, so sorted is it.

Again, there’s a duality to this handling prowess. You can go at things like a terrier, charging up and down the gearbox and stuffing the car into corners. Or you can stay in a higher gear, go easier on the throttle and brakes, and just use the car’s easy corner speed and graceful momentum to shrink crosscountry distances.

Put it to Ferrari test driver Raffaele de Simone that, given its front-engined layout and cutting-edge driver-assist systems, the Roma might be the easiest Ferrari yet in which mortals can indulge in life at – and indeed over – the edge, and he agrees, with the caveat of environment. For him, the F8 Tributo is king in steady-state cornering on track; the Roma the standard bearer on the road. That this Ferrari is as malleable, approachable and as forgiving as a P300 Jaguar F-Type while boasting more than twice the power is one hell of an achievement.

The GT versus sports car conflict is semantics. For me, the Continental GT Bentley is a GT; fast, luxurious, heavy, easy, but not the last word in delicacy or man/machine interplay.

The Roma is, by dint of its rear seats, more conventional layout (mid-engined cars draw attention, and can intimidate) and elegant form, a more usable kind of Ferrari, though you’d still be brave (or in a most agreeable postcode) to leave the thing parked on the street overnight.

And this, being a Ferrari, is still a sports car at heart. Keener, more potent and more convincing dynamically than the Portofino, the Roma nevertheless complements that car well to give Ferrari a very attractive Boxster/Cayman-style pairing – in philosophy if not price – at the less expensive end of its range. Some aspects of the Roma’s interior don’t entirely convince, from the sometimes clunky and needlessly busy infotainment to the cheap-feeling shift paddles and less than beautiful steering wheel.

But on the move, preferably on the kind of roads worthy of cars this special, this is a true Ferrari, one that feels impeccably timed to shine a light on the marque’s glorious past just as cars like the SF90 forge into the future. The Roma is the Ferrari we didn’t know we wanted but, now that it’s here, want it we most certainly do.

Chase the power at the top of the rev range and the Roma covers ground at a breathtaking rate

DESIGNER GENES

Manzoni on the Roma 

JUST DON'T CALL IT RETRO 

The Roma's design ethos is a modern take on minimalism, as Chief Design Officer Flavio Manzoni explains: “The long bonnet and compact coupe glasshouse recall the Italian design language of the sixties, but this car is not nostalgic in any respect. It’s extremely modern: the soul of the Sixties in a contemporary design. We had been wanting to create very formally pure Ferrari tourers for some time. Elegant cars with lines kept as sober as possible and influenced as little as possible by the technical requirements.”

TIME HOP

Roma vs 599 GTB

HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT PROGRESS? 

Spool back the clock just 96 months to 2012 and Ferrari’s flagship production car was the 599 GTB. Its rippling Tipo F140C V12 engine made a hearty 456kW and 608Nm, using the same block, heads and sump as the Enzo hypercar. It was capable of ripping to 200km/h in 11.0sec. Now Maranellos's entry-level coupe trounces it. The Roma will hit 200km/h in 9.3 seconds, delivers exactly the same power output but enjoys a massive 153Nm torque advantage. Better tyres, smarter electronics and a superior power-to-weight ratio spells a slam dunk for modernity.

THE SPECS

Model Ferrari Roma 

Engine 3855cc V8 (90°), dohc, 32v, twin-turbo 

Max power 456kW @ 5750rpm 

Max torque 760Nm @ 3000rpm 

Transmission 8-speed dual-clutch 

Weight 1570kg 3.4sec (claimed) 

0-100km/h Economy

Price $409,888

On sale Now