First Drive: 2021 Ferrari Roma Review
So you’re thinking of buying an Aston Martin Vantage or a Mercedes-AMG GT are you? Or perhaps a Porsche 911 Turbo? Well now there’s another option to consider: the Ferrari Roma.
The Roma is a front-engined, rear-drive V8 GT, a relatively compact car intended to be usable more often than something like its big brother, the 812 Superfast. The Roma’s character is also much more focused on the everyday, with two small seats tucked away in the back. In short, if you’re looking for a Ferrari to use as a daily driver but the GTC4Lusso is too big and the 812 Superfast too lairy, the Roma should be the one to get.
- Engine is superb
- Ferrari's traction and stability controls are faultless
- Weighs less and has more power than the Portofino
We don't like
- Gear selector switchgear feels a little low-rent
- Gearbox isn't always the smoothest without much throttle
- Touch controls on steering wheel take some getting used to
This is a very different beast to every other car in the current Ferrari range, and as a result there’s a lot that could be said here. But the single most suitable word to use when looking at the Roma, and one that cuts straight to the point, is ‘simplicity’.
Ferrari’s designers are keen to explain that they took inspiration from the company’s front-engined GTs of the 1950s and ‘60s, cars like the 250 GT Berlinetta SWB and the 330 GTC. The nose of the car is angled forward, for example, and stretches out into the distance for that classic GT look, even though the engine is tucked way back behind the front axle. But perhaps with the exception of the front splitter, the line of which flows back down the car with the sills to the rear diffuser, the Roma does without visible aerodynamic devices. The result is an incredibly clean, smooth, flowing look, the likes of which I don’t think we’ve seen from Ferrari for quite some time. Even something as simple as the door handles have been hidden away, both for aerodynamic efficiency and so as not to interrupt the Roma’s form.
However, you should be in no doubt the Roma’s cleanliness has not come at the expense of aero performance. On first inspection there might appear to be very little to push the Roma into the tarmac, but, working in conjunction with the splitter and the diffuser, there are vortex generators under the nose that put the air rushing underneath to good use, sucking it to the ground. And at the tail there is a rear spoiler, the panel below the rear window rising up out of the body from a low drag to medium and high downforce configurations depending on the speed and drive mode (it isn’t something you can play with manually). Speaking of speed…
Performance and Handling
The Roma uses a 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8, similar to that of the Portofino. But you’d be mistaken for thinking the Roma is a hard-top Portofino. Not only can the turbochargers spool up more quickly and to higher speeds, but the engine itself has been treated to some software and mechanical upgrades. The result is 620PS and 760Nm, with a redline of 7,500rpm. The Roma’s chassis is 70 per cent new and weighs 100kg less than the Portofino’s, and the gearbox is an eight-speed double-clutch unit, the same ‘box you’ll find in the SF90 Stradale, albeit with a reverse gear added in (the hybrid uses the electric motor for backing up). Compared to the Portofino’s seven-speed gearbox, this new unit is smaller, faster, can cope with more torque, has longer top gears to increase fuel consumption and is 6kg lighter. Truly, this is not a Portofino with a tin-top.
The engine is brilliant. Turbochargers do not mean a muted soundtrack, and with peak power so close to the redline you’ll be revving it out as often as the road allows. And if you listen carefully in the higher gears at lower revs, you’ll hear the turbochargers working their magic, too. The performance is pretty exciting, too, with 62mph rushing up in 3.4 seconds.
The gearbox is at its best with a healthy boot full of throttle and revs, the changes scintillatingly fast and smooth on the way up and on the way down. It’s also an incredibly smart gearbox, as moving to a more sporty drive mode (more on those in a moment) it doesn’t immediately jump to an unnecessarily low gear, instead waiting for a poke on the accelerator before knocking itself down a few cogs.
With less throttle and the ‘box in manual, however, the changes, particularly on the way down, are a little more ponderous. That being said, as lovely as it is to change gear manually (the aluminum shift paddles are gorgeous), it’s a clever enough ‘box that you don’t need to DIY to have fun.
If you’re worried that the performance could be a little too much to handle then fear not, as Ferrari’s driver aids are some of the best out there. They’re good not just because they stop you spinning off the road but because some of them are there only to help you enjoy performance you wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. There are five modes on the jelly-bean like, steering wheel-mounted ‘Mannettino’ switch, namely Wet, Comfort, Sport, Race and ESC-Off. Within these modes adjustments are made to the traction and stability controls, giving the powertrain quicker reactions and the rear tyres more freedom. But there’s also the latest generation of Ferrari’s ‘Side Slip Angle Control’, which in basic terms allows you to control how big of a slide you want, safe in the knowledge that the car will only let you go so far but it’ll also allow you to hold it at that angle. So you don’t get the rear moving, get to a certain point and the car brings it back. Instead you get the rear moving, get to a point and the car will help you keep it there. It’s like an art teacher in school that would always say ‘well done, good job’, even when your attempts at a watercolour landscape look more like a canvas shot with a paintball gun. It’s incredibly flattering, and really good fun as a result. Just make sure you’re friendly with a garage that has a healthy supply of tyres. Perhaps a Pirelli loyalty card would be handy?
The steering is accurate and incredibly fast, but arguably too light given that the Roma is a car to be driven more regularly and even a bit slower than something like an F8 Tributo. The brakes, meanwhile, carbon-ceramic as standard, are more than enough for the road, and the ride is actually very comfortable thanks to the magnetic damping (thisties in to the drive mode settings to soften or harden the ride as appropriate) and the reduction in spring rates (you don’t need as firmer springs when the car’s weight is significantly down).
There’s a lot of new tech in the Roma’s interior, but in terms of the physical environment it is a very pleasant place to sit. The driving position is good, although personally I wouldn’t mind being able to add a little more angle to the base of the seat, and at speed it’s quiet and relaxing. Remember there are two rear seats as well which might not be for long distances but will get the kids to school.
What feels a little out of place for a £170k machine is the gear selector on the centre console. Given that the paddles are big aluminium items that look and feel expensive, the selector for reverse, manual and automatic, that Ferrari says should remind drivers of the open-gate manuals of old, just looks and feels unimpressive.
Technology and Features
The Roma nabs the basic gearbox from the SF90 Stradale, but it also takes some of the interior, too, specifically the ‘Human Machine Interface’, essentially everything you see and touch. In short, the Roma has a very different cabin to that of a Portofino. There are no physical dials in front of the driver, instead a 16-inch curved and customisable screen that shows the rev-counter and speed front and centre, with tyre pressure info, the navigation, a g-meter and all sorts of other information on display elsewhere should you want it to be. There’s also an 8.4-inch screen in the centre of the dash and an optional and very skinny 8.8-inch display for the passenger too.
Like all modern Ferraris there are no indicator stalks behind the wheel, with indicator buttons mounted to the wheel itself, and there are physical, wheel-mounted controls for things like the wipers, lights and, of course, the Mannettino switch. But other than that, Ferrari has ditched many physical controls in the quest for cleanliness, meaning touch controls that respond to delicate pokes and swipes that then disappear when the car is turned off. Ferrari’s goal was to make accessing the car’s various controls easier, with less time spent looking at the wheel than the car. It’s clever and it works, but why throw away the big red Ferrari starter button too?
As an experience dynamically and as a machine to use and enjoy every day the Roma feels like a formidable match for the Vantage, AMG GT and the 911 Turbo. Yes, the former two do not have rear seats and the latter, with all-wheel-drive, is probably the most usable of all, but they are all fast, fun GT sportscars, and the Roma lines up alongside them all with a confidence the Portofino doesn’t have. The haptic buttons on the steering wheel will take some getting used to and the gearbox isn’t perfect, but revving out that V8 will never get old.
3.9-litre twin-turbocharged V8
620PS (456kW) @ 7,250rpm
760Nm (562lb ft) @ 3,000-5,750rpm
Eight-speed double-clutch, rear-wheel-drive
Reviewed by Seán Ward