Ferrari Roma review – a near-perfect take on the classic GT

Direct, engaging handling and superb ride quality, plus strong performance: the sharp-suited Roma nails its GT brief

Evo rating
Price
from £170,000
  • As impressive cruising down autobahns as it is on a twisting road; elegant design
  • Needs to be on the right tyres, HMI takes some learning

It’s not a Portofino with a fixed roof.’ That’s what Ferrari told us back in November 2019 when it unveiled the Roma. ‘Seventy per cent is new. It’s a GT with a sporting edge; it has Side Slip Control and a five-setting manettino with a Race mode…’ Being healthily sceptical, only when we’d driven it would we know exactly what sort of Ferrari the Roma is. 

Less than 20 minutes after setting off, the answer is that the Roma is a very good Ferrari, because in just a few miles it’s ticked all the important boxes. You’d never guess that it shares anything with the Portofino, except maybe its flat-plane-crank V8, though even that feels utterly different in character. 

The first clue that dynamically the Roma is going to be a bit special comes within yards. Leaving the hotel we find ourselves on cobbled streets, but all that comes through is a soft, quiet pattering. A little further on, there’s some unavoidable, horribly broken asphalt and this also rolls beneath the Roma’s wheels with remarkably little fuss. But don’t go thinking that the Roma is some sort of lazy GT that has a chassis made of blancmange, a coupe that has prioritised ride comfort above all else. As the day will prove beyond doubt, this ride quality is a result of superb wheel control (helped by a bespoke Pirelli P Zero) and comes with satisfying dynamic precision rather than at the expense of it. 

> Ultimate GT group test – Ferrari Roma versus key rivals

Rolling away, the steering weight felt a little light, but that was the last time I thought about the heft at the wheel, a sure sign that it’s very well judged. It feels connected right on centre, responsive to the smallest inputs, but it’s not jumpy, not overly bright. In no time at all the Roma feels direct and confident yet calm and refined. 

Then you get to give the throttle a decent squeeze and the Roma picks up crisply and drives forward with all the thrilling eagerness you expect from a 600bhp, twin-turbo V8, which is something that couldn’t be said of the Portofino. Sure, the Roma is hauling nearly 100kg less, has about 20bhp more and the gearing of its lower ratios is around four per cent shorter, but that combination doesn’t account for the dramatic difference in performance feel. Signs are that this is a proper driver’s Ferrari, so it all feels nicely set up for our day trip to the nearby (100km each way) Alps, chasing up to the Colle dell’Agnello on the French border, with its changeable weather, demanding roads and alpine marmots (a large rodent, not an old Renault-based sports car). 

> Ferrari Purosangue revealed

There’s no question that the Roma is the smoothest, most elegant production car from Ferrari in a decade, in style a successor to models such as the 550 Maranello. Initially shown in suit-like shades – silvers, greys and blacks – the line-up of Romas at this launch included bright metallic blue and red, as seen here.

To classic, fastback GT proportions, Ferrari has added a shark-like nose with a version of the classic Ferrari ‘egg crate’ grille that looks like an original that’s been vinyl wrapped and then someone has punched the holes through with a thumb. Its rump is distinguished by the blade-like upper edge and four integrated tail lights. It has some excellent angles but I was more wowed by the car on its reveal last year. I feel the more sombre colours suit it better. Having said that, on the road it looks stunning; it’s more dramatic in motion, especially when approaching, the bands of the daytime running lights lowering the sharp nose, its stance broad and planted, like it means business. 

The Roma breaks with the current style in using the company’s aerodynamic expertise to hide the air management rather than show its working on the upper surfaces with vents and scallops, scoops and spoilers. On the flat underfloor behind the jutting front splitter are a pair of curved deflectors – vortex generators – that direct the air towards the sills and help smooth the wake from the wheels, while at the rear is a carbonfibre diffuser. The Roma’s muscular haunches are like those of the Jaguar F-type and it employs a similar active rear spoiler solution: a flip-up wing that is stowed flush until needed, its deployment triggered by speed and the manettino setting for a medium or high downforce setting, neither of which adds greatly to drag. There’s no manual override. 

Although it shares the wheelbase of the Portofino, the Roma’s proportions and dimensions are different. It’s 70mm longer, 36mm wider and 17mm lower, and has wider wheel tracks too, greater by 19mm at the front and 36mm at the rear. The 20-inch wheels and tyres are the same size. The lack of a folding hard-top and associated gubbins is mostly why the Roma is 94kg lighter and has a near 50:50 static weight distribution. This compares to the Portofino’s tail-heavy 46:54, rising to 55.5 per cent on the rear with the retractable hard-top folded. Given that the Portofino only feels 600bhp strong at its top end, it’s no wonder it resists oversteer. The Roma promises to be different. 

As photographer Aston Parrott and I chuck our gear into its boot, there’s another Roma idling next to ours, a sonorous burble spilling from its tailpipes. There are no silencers in the Roma’s exhaust, sound absorption being handled by the GPFs (gas particulate filters) and the reduced-size catalysts upstream of them, leaving the NVH engineers to play with pipe lengths and diameters to tune the sound. It’s purposeful and similar in tone to the F8 Tributo. There’s an oval bypass valve whose opening is automatic and load and throttle position sensitive. 

Mid-front mounted (its front face is wholly behind the front axle line), the 3.9-litre, twin-turbo, flat-plane-crank V8 has been fettled to over 600bhp for the Roma. The absolute gain over the Portofino is 35bhp, but the GPFs rob some of that, leaving a gain of 19bhp for a final tally of 611bhp between 5750 and 7000rpm, with torque unchanged at 560lb ft from 3000 to 5250rpm. The gains come through increased valve lift and the closer monitoring of turbocharger speeds (as seen on the F8), which allow better matching of the cylinder bank outputs and also allow the turbos to rev 5000rpm higher. 

The boot isn’t huge for a GT, being reasonably long and wide but rather low, though the backrests of the teeny rear seats fold down, Porsche 911 style, for a sort of parcel shelf and load-through. From behind the wheel the Portofino is oddly roomy, but dropping into the Roma is like lowering yourself into the bath, the individual driver and passenger cockpit areas giving a close, low, intimate feel. I’m not so sure about the colour scheme of our car, though, or the amount of chrome, which feels more Portofino than Roma. 

I suspect that the most contentious part of the Roma will prove to be its switchgear. Largely this is shared with the SF90 hybrid supercar and includes a wide, TFT screen with a central tacho and different screens either side, and many touch-sensitive switch pads, some of which revert to black when not in use. The Roma also gets a tablet-like central touchscreen wedged into the cleavage of the dashboard. 

If you want to be able to find things, or change screens, or simply adjust the temperature or audio volume once you’re driving it’s best to spend a few minutes working out how to do this before you get going. Even then, certain functions may elude you. This level of electronic sophistication probably feels appropriate in a 1000bhp hybrid but in a relatively simple front-engined, rear-drive GT, it feels like overkill. Perhaps its greatest crime is that the start-stop button is no longer a physical button. At least the manettino switch still has its little flipper. 

We start in Comfort mode – the others available being Wet, Sport, Race and ESC Off – and it is indeed comfortable, that ride soaking up just about anything the road can throw at it. At the same time the steering is well weighted and the throttle and gearbox responsive. Oddly, there’s little perceptible difference switching up to Sport or Race, no instant change in engine note, no firming of the ride, no uplift in steering weight, though the gearshifts are a bit crisper and keener. I’m not bothered, because the Roma already feels as responsive and controlled and precise as I want. We’ll get to ESC Off later. 

> Aston Martin DB11 review

Compared to the Portofino, the front spring rates are the same and the rears ten per cent softer, reflecting the lower mass at the rear, but there’s appreciably less roll. The Roma feels naturally agile, keen to the steering. Development driver Raffaele de Simone says that it’s not one thing alone that makes the Roma steer more directly. It uses the same physical steering components as the Portofino but the structure of the Roma is stiffer, while the mounting of its rear axle is more positive and so there’s no slack to take up; you turn the wheel and the whole car turns. I reckon the refreshingly slim steering wheel rim enhances feel, too.

The touch-sensitive switchgear on the wheel itself and the busy instrument pack beyond are anything but simple. Later, trawling through menus while Aston is setting up a shot, I find you can add solid colour to the tacho face and this helps, bringing the tacho to the fore and adding definition. But for a while I keep locking him out and have to lean over and open his door as I’m unable to find the central locking button. By chance, we find it is roof-mounted (yes, really) and touch-sensitive, and while there’s a loud confirmation click for certain button pushes, there isn’t one for unlocking the doors, so you don’t know if you have. And while we’re on the doors, there’s no internal latch; instead you press a button on the door pull…

Happily, it’s quite easy to put all this aside because the further you drive the Roma, the more impressive it is as a sports GT. Refinement is good, the seats will still be comfortable after almost 12 hours at the wheel, and the view is pretty special too; the way the front wings rise to help judge the car’s width and the bonnet bulge in the middle are reminiscent of the 550 Maranello. 

Stretch the V8 and the pace never seems to let up, the rev-counter needle swinging to 7500rpm and the eight-speed DCT slipping instantly into the next ratio so that the acceleration is seamless and relentless. It’s a fast car, the Roma. Being a flat-plane-crank V8, the sound is rather two-dimensional compared with the surround-sound thunder from the offset crank V8s in the Aston Martin Vantage and Mercedes-AMG GT. You can’t fault the response of the Ferrari’s V8 though, or the connected feel of its throttle, and its exhaust note has presence: onlookers swivel to see what’s coming and they all smile when they clock the Roma. Not just Italians, either: when we park at the summit with a view of Italy on one side and France on the other, tourists of many nationalities ask for selfies with the Roma. 

The ease with which it deals with these mountain roads and their difficult, weather-beaten surfaces suggests it will feel right at home on some of our favourite Welsh roads. However, only with the Pirelli P Zero that was developed for the chassis. A car maker always ensures there’s at least one alternative tyre, and in this instance it’s the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S. Normally, the two tyres are closely matched, but here while the Michelin offers similar steering quality and grip, its ride is noticeably firmer, probably because it has been carried over from the Portofino unchanged. On the Michelin the ride is much tougher and the drive modes are more distinct, Sport and Race being firmer still. There was no need to use the ‘Bumpy Road’ button at all on the Pirelli, but it gets a lot of use on the Michelin. 

As mentioned earlier, the Roma is a Ferrari GT that comes with all the sports car electronics. These include Side Slip Angle Control (SSC) 6.0, Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer (FDE), E-Diff3 and F1‑TCS, and I guess if we’d got time at Fiorano the Roma would have impressed with its balance and poise. Even scratching around here on narrow, hairpinned roads it feels properly handy: responsive, balanced and grippy, on the Michelin. 

Drive it to the limit of front grip – if you dare – and you’ll be flying, occasionally leaning heavily on the powerful (and standard) carbon-ceramic brakes with their fine feel. Get on the power early to give the rear its share of the workload and traction control quietly asserts itself, releasing the torque only once the car is pretty much straight and the traction is undefeatable. Just as you’d hope, then.

Flick the manettino to ESC Off and you appreciate just how much grip there is and how hard the E-Diff works to maintain traction. Even once you’ve turned in sharply to a hairpin, it takes a proper slug of throttle to unstick the rear. Once it’s out there, the Roma feels comfortable with a twist of opposite lock and comes back into line reasonably neatly, and it’s much the same in the wet, the rear axle finding a surprising amount of grip and traction. 

The Roma is an impressive car, a proper Ferrari, a proper GT and definitely not a fixed-head Portofino. The Portofino (née California) has always felt like Ferrari’s SUV – a car it feels it needs to make to bring in a new audience. I reckon it’s a harder car to make because it needs to feel, look and sound like a Ferrari but be docile enough for any customer. A Ferrari with its claws clipped, its roar muted. 

The sharp-suited Roma has been developed with no such constraints. Imagine the F8 Tributo reformed as a front-engine, rear-drive coupe and you’re pretty much on the money. Yet while it’s as dynamic and fast and sporty as you want, importantly it also nails the GT bit of the brief as well. 

On the Pirelli tyre, Raffaele de Simone and his team have absolutely nailed the ride, which is exceptionally supple yet tightly controlled and quiet. To this essential piece of the GT armoury you can add refinement, all-day comfort and effortless performance. Yes, it would be awesome with a 600bhp V12, making it a true 550 Maranello successor, but as it stands the Roma is a brilliant, authentic introduction to Ferrari, a first step on the ladder that I suspect many will linger on for a while, so well does it deliver on its promise.

Prices and rivals

The Roma will set you back just over £170,000, a figure that will quickly rise with a delve into the extremely long and expensive options list. Its rivals include the Bentley Continental GT and Lexus LC500, but it's the Aston Martin DB11 that sits closest in terms of space inside, performance and price point. You'll need to splurge on the V12-powered DB11 in order to match the Roma's pace, though. 

There's a few new rivals for the Roma to contend with from 2023 including the new Mercedes-AMG SL63. In its higher specifications, it's priced within £10k of the Roma, but comes with more tech both inside the cabin and under the skin. Maserati's new GranTurismo is another rival, although its twin-turbocharged V6 does give away a decent chunk of performance despite the clever new all-wheel drive system. If straight-line speed is higher on your priority list, the all-electric Folgore could also be considered. 

Specs

Engine3855cc, twin-turbo
Power611bhp @ 5750-7000rpm
Torque560lb ft @ 3000-5750rpm
Weight1570kg (395bhp/ton)
0-62mph3.4sec
Top speed199mph+
Basic price (2023)£172,631

This review of the Ferrari Roma was first published in issue 278. To subscribe to evo magazine, click here