A few months ago I drove a Ferrari F8 Tributo for review. It was, to undersell the experience … an experience. My conclusion was, rather obliquely: ‘nice car, shame about the car.’
The reason for this seeming prevarication was down to the price. Not because the vehicle was expensive per se (although the £325,042 you would have had to lay out for the specific car that was given to me for review would tax even a Russian oligarch’s pocketbook these days) but because, on Britain’s roads, with our prevailing weather, it is a singularly unappealing place to sit and steer.
Hold on though I hear you shout. What’s that got to do with the price? Well … if you want this particular model then, realistically, you would need to dig a little deeper and find £554,731 – an extra £229,689. Because to own the F8 Tributo you would also need to own the subject of today’s review which is the Roma, a car that the Ferrari marketing spiel trumpets as having ‘harmonious proportions and elegantly balanced volumes’. Whatever that means.
For the F8 is really just a road-legal track car (I use the word ‘just’ advisedly and with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek because on a track it would actually make a certain amount of sense). Therefore, to enjoy the F8 properly you need to put it on a trailer and get your mechanics to take it to Silverstone or Donnington or, better yet if your pocket is deep enough, buy your own track for you to enact your jollies with accompanying garage / workshop and team of grease monkeys. Then the lunacy can be left there in its natural habitat for future enjoyment while you go home in the Roma.
The difference between the hard-sprung, rawly tuned F8 Tributo and the Roma is something to behold. Of late there seems to have been a trend of supercars of this ilk and price bracket being built as rear-engined, shouty, adrenaline-injectors. Enzo Ferrari himself though was one actually to put the horse ahead of the cart and, with the Roma, and a front-engined V8, it’s a welcome return to type. To return to the marketing language of Maranello’s press release it’s seen as ‘an F1 car in evening attire’ but that’s doing a wonderful car rather a disservice.
While the F8 could certainly be seen as a ‘baby’ F1 car here we have something completely different. This is very much a gran turismo vehicle built in the honoured tradition that has been a Ferrari hallmark since old Enzo stepped out of his racing overalls and founded his eponymous company in 1947. The template segued into mid-engined vehicles in the mid-1970s with the 308GTB as it was realised that the world’s high net worth individuals would pay premiums for potty-trained versions of the company’s racing cars and it never really returned until now.
So the Roma is something of a rebirth for Ferrari. There’s no shoutiness from either the engine or the looks and your nonna would cluck approvingly rather than in disapprobation. Is this a complete reset for this most famous of Italian marques? Well it may just be that whether it is or isn’t it’s serendipitously timed.
To get ahead of myself and my concluding paragraphs, I rather liked it, especially in the Grigio Corsa paintwork (a £7,000 option – Ferrari doing their usual job of hugely pricy add-ons). It’s very much designed for those drivers who don’t want the double-take, those who aren’t necessarily of the look-at-me Instagram generation.
With the world of the superwealthy becoming more unstable maybe an under-the-radar Ferrari is the happy medium.
The exterior is beautifully crafted and well-proportioned with the usual ‘shoulders’ that give it a heft that the swooping lines might disguise. From the front it’s got a shark-ish nose that certainly moves Ferrari’s styling forward from the somewhat blunter offerings of yesteryear. The lines aren’t just aesthetic either – there are vortex generators and a deployable rear spoiler which go towards keeping the 1,472kg on the road should you decide to engage your right shoe and open the taps on the 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 to access the 612bhp that's on offer.
I’m long past my dislike of turbo engines and it’s largely thanks to Ferrari that I can now not only accept them but admire them. Here, taking the platform of the Portofino’s turbo V8 (not necessarily a good thing as it wasn’t an engine over which poets would swoon), Ferrari have shown what can be done with a salty dose of imagination, a peppery shake of engineering and a healthy dollop of budget.
It’s not the fastest-ever engine but it’s more than fast enough and gets the blood racing before you’re really aware that the adrenaline pump has kicked in. Allied to an all-new, smaller, 8-speed gearbox and a flat-plane crankshaft, there is almost instantaneous throttle response that impresses as swiftly as it delivers.
Inside though is something of a tale of two halves. Up front Ferrari has completely redesigned the HMI system. There wasn’t anything wrong with the previous one in my eyes but there you go. It’s good, as you would expect, but I do rather take a little bit of issue with their ‘eyes on the road, hands on the wheel’ philosophy and the plethora of switches and buttons that now adorn the round thing that makes you go left or right.
To get so many functions into such a small space requires the physical toggles themselves to be small and it is far too easy to indicate left when you were actually trying to switch on the wipers or change the radio station. The philosophy itself is noble but it really is a pet hate (and not just associated with Ferrari) that we’ve ‘advanced’ too far from our analogue antecedents and things could perhaps be dialled back a bit for easier management.
Having said that though, it is a lovely place to sit and pass many miles. The engine is barely audible in the cabin but continues to whisper seductively in your ear until you decide to overtake a hay truck on a B-road.
Then, with a bark as surprising as a Brian Blessed monologue, the 7,500rpm-baritone announces proudly that, hey, you and your Roma are coming through.
The seats are hyper-adjustably comfortable and, notably, straightforward to get into and out of, despite the roof being close to waist-height when I stood alongside.
The ride itself, a combination of a manettino that allows you to optimise the car for what’s underneath (Comfort, Sport, Race, Wet and ESC-off – only for the truly barking among you) with shortened ratios in the lower gears and the most intuitive stability control on the market, is essentially the most mannered performance on the motorway I’ve come across. The steering is reassuringly linear, there’s little to no body roll in the corners and the brakes would stop Comrade Putin’s tanks.
The second, and less optimal, half of the inside though is behind the driver. The Roma is designated as a 2+ coupé and, as with other vehicles with this layout, there’s simply no point. Unless a manufacturer is looking for a super-niche marketplace – that of owners who have legless children – no-one can sit in the back.
Why, oh why don’t they just do away with the pretence of these seats, engineer in an advanced bulkhead with a parcel shelf and increase the available storage in the trunk. From the back of the driver’s seat to the rear window is simply dead space.
The rear compartment is not a reason not to buy the Roma though. The back seats do fold down to underline that this is a proper GT car rather than a softened sports car and, whether you’ve popped to the shops for a pint of milk or raced to Monte Carlo to check that your superyacht hasn’t been impounded by the authorities, you’ll get out energised and ready to face the day. It’s the Ferrari we didn’t know we wanted when it came along, one that can be used prosaically every day but with a fizz of pleasure and a buzz of excitement.
Even the voice recognition works (will wonders never cease?). So the final word on this beautiful car goes to the wake-up call to engage the system. Ciao Ferrari.