Roma Round The Alps
MOTOR Magazine Australia|November 2020
The highest road border in europe is the target. Can ferrari’s roma elevate itself to the pantheon of maranello greats?
Ben Miller

8 AM PIAZZO VITTORIO EMANUELE II, POLLENZO EIGHT O’ CLOCK, AND the chiming of ancient bells rolls around the cobbled piazza as it has done for centuries. Overhead, yesterday’s clear skies have 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/mid-engined 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 like timelessness, elegance and day-to-day usability. The Roma’s a 21st century Ferrari that, in its remit, style and heart-swelling romance, calls to mind masterpieces like the 250 GT Lusso – or so Ferrari hopes. Fast, engaging to drive and beautiful, it’s Maranello’s 911, if you will, albeit with a list price north of $400K.

Ask chief technical officer Michael Leiters for clarification on whether the Roma’s a GT or a sports car and his 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 100kg or so, and the centre of mass is lower, thanks to the deletion of the Portofino’s folding-roof mechanism. This 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 in 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 truck 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 kilometre, 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 legroom 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 legroom…) and the boot small, but this is, frumpy and plasticky steering wheel aside, a nicely crafted and reassuringly expensive sports car interior.

No, the issue is Ferrari’s new-generation infotainment system. It debuted in the SF90 and comprises a 16-inch multi-function curved driver’s display, capable of cycling through three views (a stripped-back racy one, a fullmap ‘I’m really lost’ one and the one you’ll actually use, with a giant revcounter centre stage) and an 8.4-inch, portrait-orientated touchscreen that repeats much of the same functionality – nav, media, phone – while also taking care of climate control. Both screens look great, particularly the crisp, bright and vast one ahead of you in the instrument binnacle. But the lack of Audi-style haptic feedback (there’s an audio response instead) and some lag in the system (Ferrari insists customers’ cars will be sharper) makes for a painful combination. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility will surely help but the former will be an option priced at around $7000 in Australia. It wasn’t available on our early test car, but Ferrari system’s voice recognition is at least first rate. To activate it, simply say ‘Ciao, Ferrari’.

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