What’s Italian for Aston Martin? Want proof Ferrari and Aston are at war? Maranello’s gone and built a Vantage…
Ferrari’s gorgeous V8 GT
It’s remarkable how much confusion you can cause by putting your new sports car’s engine in the front – just ask Ferrari. The 812 Superfast is a near-800bhp two-seater weighing a shade over 1.5 tonnes. It can be optioned with carbonfibre bucket seats, race harnesses and has track-ready ceramic brakes as standard. In short, it is ferocious – a machine to terrify the meek, sweep sideways on a breath of throttle and, should you find the space and the resolve to pin the big V12 to its 9000rpm redline, re-calibrate everything you thought you knew about fast cars in a heartbeat.
But because the 812’s engine is in the front, people think it’s a grand tourer – a big, comfy, suitcase-swallowing armchair of a car in which to bounce to the South of France. It is not. It’s no more a GT than Lamborghini’s batshit Aventador is a nice quiet cruiser.
Now Ferrari has a new front-engined car, and this time – to avoid confusion – it is a Grand Tourer, albeit a not particularly heavy one with a wondrous engine only a few degrees (and four cylinders) less rapturous than the 812’s.
Sensors in the turbos let Ferrari safely wring more from them without showering the engine bay with shrapnel
Ferrari’s chief technical officer, Michael Leiters, is normally a man in possession of such clarity of thought you could cube his ideas and drop them into a really expensive whisky without being sneered at. But with the new Roma, even he’s happy to blur the lines.
‘The difference between a GT and a sports car is quite theoretical,’ he says. ‘In the past, a GT was a sports car you could use every day. That’s exactly what we have in the new Roma.’
Roma. Hardly ‘Daytona’, sure, but it has a ring to it. Faster and more evocative than ‘Portofino’, the other place-named contemporary Ferrari. The similarities don’t end there. While Ferrari is adamant the Roma isn’t simply a coupe version of the Portofino folding hardtop, the parallels are clear: similar architecture, closely-related engine, same wheelbase (2670mm). Key differences are a new interior, complete with an SF90- derived driver’s display and touchscreen interface, the new aluminium body and a new gearbox. The eight-speed unit is related to that of the SF90 Stradale hybrid supercar, and is both 6kg lighter than the Portofino’s seven-speeder and capable of faster and more comfortable shifts.
‘The architecture is shared with Portofino but 70 per cent of the chassis and spaceframe is new or substantially modified,’ explains Leiters. ‘The spaceframe is 10 per cent stiffer than the Portofino’s, plus you have the roof bringing additional rigidity. Of course, we worked to reduce the weight as well as increase the stiffness. [Ferrari claims a 1570kg kerb weight for the Roma, versus 1664kg for the Portofino.] The spring and damping rates are different also, because of the reduced weight and lower centre of gravity.’
This is where the Roma starts to get pretty exciting. The Portofino is a fine car and a genuine step forward over the California that came before, but for all its grip, gripping performance and super-sharp controls – slack-free pedals, quick steering, low-slung seat – the car’s compromised structure and weight distribution make themselves known when you push a little harder. Blame that folding roof mechanism.
The Roma promises to be different. Like the Portofino its engine is squeezed up against the front bulkhead, for a front/mid-engined layout, but the coupe’s also lighter, more rigid and carries its weight lower. And in line with the car’s billing as a Ferrari for people previously too afraid to buy a Ferrari, the Roma also gets Leiters’ latest suite of assistance systems: Side Slip Control 6.0 and Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer, to keep ambitious newcomers out of the wall while making Gilles Villeneuves of all of us.
Reason to get excited number two: the engine. The Roma’s V8 is a reworked version of the twin-turbo V8 that debuted in the 488 GTB and went on to see service (in varying states of tune) in the Pista, GTC4 Lusso T and F8 Tributo, and has since been crowned engine of the year no less than four times. It’s a sublime creation, one that wears its forced induction lightly, with a searing, almost naturally-aspirated rush to the redline not found in many modern turbocharged engines.
It’s been substantially re-worked for the Roma, yielding what could have been a 30-35bhp power increase only for most of that to be lost with the need to meet emissions regs, and to fit particulate filters in the exhausts. Peak output is 611bhp. The Portofino tops out at 592bhp. The engine work runs to new cams with increased lift, reduced back-pressure in the exhausts and new sensors in the turbines able to monitor their speed precisely. These let Ferrari safely wring more from the turbos without showering the engine bay with shrapnel.
The Roma’s cabin is entirely different to that of the Portofino. It uses Ferrari’s jazzy new steering wheel, slimline comfort-minded bucket seats and a twin-cockpit theme, with snug environs for both driver and front passenger. Passengers even get their own digital display. The driver gets a stunning, ultra-crisp new display: a multi-function, 16-inch cluster with three-dimensional curvature and the ability to show the standard Ferrari display – giant revcounter, mostly – or, for example, a giant map a la Audi Virtual Cockpit. On the centre console you’ll find the 8.4-inch vertical touchscreen, and below it a neat layout of powertrain controls designed to echo the old open gate of Ferrari’s great manual ’boxes.
In short, the Roma slots so easily and effortlessly into Ferrari’s line-up at circa £180k (the internet hoped the Roma would be priced in 911, but Maranello isn’t stupid) you wonder what took them so long.
NEED TO KNOW: FERRARI ROMA
What is it? Ferrari’s new front-engined V8 coupe
Tech specs 611bhp V8, 3.4sec 0-62mph, £180k-ish
Rivals? Porsche’s next 911 Turbo 992 and Aston’s cheaper Vantage and bigger DB11 (which comes in £150k, 503bhp V8 or £175k, 630bhp V12 AMR flavours)
Why we’re excited ’60s romance meets 21st century performance and tech
250 GT Lusso-inspired grille shouldn’t work – does. Next-generation Ferrari cockpit is easy on the eye.
Three-position active spoiler makes for a superclean aesthetic. Sensors in the turbos let Ferrari safely wring more from them without showering the engine bay with shrapnel.
La Grande Bellezza
ROMA : AN UNDE RS TATED MODERN FERRARI
CLASSIC OR CLONE?
GUY BIRD I DESIGN GURU
Okay, so there’s no doubt the Roma looks a bit like Aston Martin’s DB10 and Jaguar’s just-revised F-Type. But the Ferrari’s slimmer face, distinctive square-holed grille and sleek bonnet connect it very tangibly with its historic, exalted forebears – the mid-front-engined 250 GT Berlinetta Lusso in particular – and make it more a Ferrari than anything else. For me, this is another hit from the ever-reliable Flavio Manzoni (LaFerrari, Pista) and an elegant addition to the current range.