The grand touring Ferrari that makes no qualms about not being a hybrid
Photos: Leow Ju-Len and Derryn Wong
As it goes, Ferraris are terrifyingly expensive, somewhat impractical for daily use, and draw attention everywhere you go even when you don’t want to. But they’re also magic. There’s a reason why it has often been said that Formula One wouldn’t be anything without Ferrari, and Ferrari wouldn’t be as magical without its history as a Formula One racing team.
The brand is more than just about fast cars or a lifestyle. There’s something intangible about being behind the wheel of a Ferrari that you really can’t find anywhere else, which brings us to the new horse in the stable, the Roma.
At S$888,000 without COE and any options, it’s the cheapest new Ferrari that you can get now. But like its sister car the Ferrari Portofino convertible, and also their predecessor the Ferrari California, car snobs and would-be purists simply love to deride them as ‘soft’ and not pure rear mid-engined Ferraris.
But that’s only if you’ve been raised on a steady diet of 80s and 90s Ferraris from the Testarossa, 360, 458 and their like. Front mid-engined grand tourers have always been part of the Ferrari collection since the 1960s, with cars like the iconic 250 GT and the Roma is a continuation of this lineage.
This could also be one of the cars that historians will look back on and see that it’s one of the last purebred non-electric Ferraris. We’re in a sea of change with a major push for electrification worldwide, and even the great Ferrari is not immune to this.
It may be a softer Ferrari when compared to the F8 Tributo and SF90, but that’s like saying that the USA is more powerful than Russia because it’s got more nuclear warheads in store. The point is, just like nuclear weapons are for sabre-rattling bragging rights, you’ll never get to use all of the Roma’s 612 horsepower on any public road anyway, so even if it’s the ‘softest’ Ferrari at the moment, the Roma still has more horses under the bonnet than any sane person would ever need.
That’s 612 of them which come roaring out from a 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8.
The Roma may have the engine in front of the driver, but it’s called a front mid-engined car rather than front engined because the front wheels are still ahead of the engine. In other ‘normal’ passenger cars the engine is ahead of the front wheels to allow for more cabin space, but this compromises dynamic ability because hanging a heavy lump of metal at the very front of the car isn’t the best way to keep things well balanced.
The compromise of a front mid-engined car is that the cabin tends to be smaller. But this is a Ferrari and no one really minds that in one of these.
Current-gen Ferraris operate almost entirely electronically. Besides the digital dashboard screens, the Roma’s gear selectors are click switches, the door opens with a button, and even the engine start button isn’t really a button at all but is a touchpad at the base of the steering wheel. You won’t find turn indicators in the usual spot. Rather, they are a pair of thumb-operated buttons on the steering wheel, which in the usual Ferrari tradition is festooned with knobs, dials, and other buttons.
It actually makes a lot of sense and comes straight from Formula One: when the car is going really fast, you don’t have the luxury of hunting down random buttons on the centre console so just stick them all on the steering wheel.
There are two tiny seats in the back with nearly no legroom, complete with Iso fix child seat anchors, but really, no human over six years old is going to fit in there. So much that Ferrari officially calls the Roma a 2+, and not a 2+2. Meaning that while there are concessions for a back row, no properly sized person is expected to fit behind the driver and front passenger. It’s best to think of those ‘seats’ as luggage space to complement the reasonably sized boot.
Moving off involves pulling the right side paddle shifter to engage first gear, rather than the regular way of shifting to ‘D’. The self-shifting transmission is eager to keep reaching for the highest gear possible when the car is left in Comfort mode, which is likely designed for maximum economy and lowest emissions possible. It never feels out of step though, and there’s so much torque on hand that you could expect the car to go at any speed even if it had just one gear to work with.
It’s a given that any Ferrari is fast, and the Roma goes about its business as expected. There’s really no room to explore the upper reaches of the car’s performance, but you don’t need speed to realise that the car is impeccably well-balanced. Just find a couple of tight corners and the Roma treads through them all accurately with a steering feel that you can only find on a properly thought-out supercar.
Just remember that all the stability control systems in the world can’t defy the laws of physics so you really do need to know how to drive a car quickly or risk flinging the whole package off the road.
The obligatory manettino mode selector on the steering wheel lets you quickly access all the different drive modes of the car, but unlike the heavy-handed approach of lesser cars, the Roma’s suspension damping still rides very smoothly even on the Sport setting. The 0 to 100km/h sprint time of 3.4 seconds doesn’t seem so impressive these days after the rocket-like launch of an electric Tesla, but at least in the Roma the old V8 rumble is still nicely charismatic. It’s not annoying loud, but like the car’s svelte overall design is just enough to feel very special without going overboard.
And so here’s the magic of the Ferrari Roma. It’s increasingly clear that the heyday of the internal combustion engine has gone, and within the next decade there will be a big sea of change. The Roma is still very much a Ferrari in the way you’d expect it to be, but also a comfortable long distance drive that will not draw as much attention as an F8 or Lamborghini Huracan.
There are plenty of nice pre-owned Ferraris on the used car scene and if you’re already a supercar owner or would-be supercar owner you’ll have connections to know where to look, but if what you really want is a new Ferrari coupe to scratch that itch, the Roma is a delight that also isn’t a one-trick pony.
|Engine||3855cc, V8, twin-turbocharged|
|Power||612hp at 5750-7500rpm|
|Torque||761Nm at 3000-5750rpm|
|VES Band / CO2||C2 / 255g/km|
|Price||S$888,000 without COE|
|Verdict:||The most affordable Ferrari is still a magnificently crushing car to drive, but also capable of a plush cruise for long distance comfort.|