FIRST DAYS OF ROMA
Car India|October 2020
Evocative of the 1960s and a brighter period in human history, Ferrari’s new Roma 2+2 is here to save 2020 from misery
Ben Miller

8.00 am

PIAZZO VITTORIO EMANUELE II, POLLENZO

Eight o’clock in the morning and the chiming of ancient bells rolls around the cobbled piazza as it has done for centuries. Overhead, yesterday’s clear sky has given way to a bruised, claustrophobically low ceiling of cloud that entirely cloaks the distant mountains. The air is thick, warm like a bath, and heavy with the scent of storms. In half an hour (and not a moment before, sadly), I’ll be given the key to my Roma. Until then, there’s time enough for another espresso and to ponder all that we know about Maranello’s latest, a front/midengined 2+2 GT that, with neat symmetry, feels like a timely nod to Ferrari’s glorious past just as the fearlessly progressive hybrid SF90 forges into the future.

The Roma is, depending on your generosity, either nothing more than a Portofino with that car’s folding hardtop roof welded shut or one of the most intriguing Ferrari in years, one uninterested in outright performance and the race-inspired visual clutter of cars like the F8 Tributo and keener instead on qualities such as timelessness, elegance, and day-to-day usability. The Roma is a 21st-century Ferrari that, in its remit, style and heartswelling romance, calls to mind masterpieces such as the 250 GT Lusso — or so Ferrari hope. Fast, engaging to drive and beautiful, it’s Maranello’s 911, if you will, albeit with a list price just north of £170k (Rs 1.61 crore).

Ask Chief Technical Officer Michael Leiters for clarification on whether the Roma’s a GT or a sports car and his deadpan answer is ‘both’, delivered with a grin. Consider the engineering and he may have a point.

The Roma’s aluminium structure is based on that of the Portofino; same wheelbase, for instance. Maranello claims 70 per cent of the body and structure is new or substantially modified, but the new exterior metalwork surely accounts for the lion’s share of that. Weight is down, by 100 kilograms or so, and the center of mass is lower, thanks to the deletion of the Portofino’s folding-roof mechanism. This, in turn, has allowed Ferrari to keep the same front spring rates as the Portofino (on adaptive dampers) and go 10 per cent softer at the rear while still reducing body-roll by 10 per cent for a given rate of lateral acceleration.

This is all good news, as is the fact that this is the first Ferrari GT to get a five-position manettino (your options run from Wet through Comfort, Sport, and Race to ESC Off; pushing the toggle now accesses the ever-useful bumpy-road mode). 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 in safety. This is also the first Ferrari GT to get proper underbody aero, with vortex generators on the floor to create useful downforce despite the very clean body’s conspicuous lack of wings.

8.28 am. Finally, my obvious impatience wins through, one of Ferrari’s new keys is dropped into my hand (a little rectangle wearing the prancing horse, which feels both perfect and a bit nasty, like something a gap-year student might pin to their foul-smelling backpack) and the Roma and I can go. Wake the V8 (now via a touch control on the steering wheel which is, frankly, a backward step over an actual button), note the pleasant exhaust note, and roll out of Pollenzo before those clouds flash-flood the place.

9.15 am

THE TEDIOUS SP8, HEADING FOR THE HILLS

One moment you’ve decided against endless overtaking, happy to just tune out and — inshallah — get there when you get there. The next a Sprinter van helmed by a local specialist comes past you, the three cars ahead and the lorry holding you all up, in the process making a very compelling case for not being quite so lazy.

I twist the manettino round to Race, tug the new eight-speed gearbox down to third, and begin to leapfrog my way to freedom using the V8’s apparently endless urge. Humming west with more conviction now, the mountains growing bigger with every mile, one key aspect of the Roma begins to seduce even as another breeds frustration.

First, the bad news. The Roma gets an all-new cockpit big on graceful curves and a welcome sense of minimalism, but that’s not the bad news. Rear-seat leg-room may be virtually non-existent (reaching behind the driver’s seat with it set as I want it, there’s, perhaps, two inches of rear leg-room…) and the boot small but this is, frumpy and plasticky steering wheel apart, a nicely crafted and reassuringly expensive sports car interior.

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