Fifty Ferraris. Roughly £25 million worth of metal, carbon fibre, rubber and leather, driving through Italy’s greatest backdrop, Tuscany.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt ‘context’ to be an important thing when making judgements. So, when it comes to road testing a car, being surrounded by 49 of its brothers, sisters, cousins and uncles in its own back garden should certainly be considered sufficient.
On a sunny morning in late September, I found myself, along with my steadfast photographer Michael Shelford, sitting in the most expensive traffic jam we’d ever seen, waiting to set off on the first leg of our ‘Ferrari Tour’. This is an event organised by the brand to encourage owners to come together, share their cars and compare their stories, their specs, and passion for the Prancing Horse.
We had the enviable task of using the trip to road test the wonderfully curvaceous Roma. As 50 cars are clearly too many to effectively drive in convoy, we were divided into groups of eight cars which felt more manageable and gave us our own little familial dynamic.
In our group, we had the bombastic 812 Superfast, our patriarch – a bespoke monster GT with a quarter of a million pounds worth of extras (so the modest owner tells me). The Portofino, our classy matriarch – an elegant 2+2 with soft cream leather seats and a permanently folded roof. Then the sleek F8 Spider, our eldest child, an immaculate two-seater painted Ferrari Rosso, sensibly specced, but with that big brother strength. Then there were the warring twins: the 458 Speciale, a yellow punchy track-focused two-seater, and the 488 Pista, a red-and-white striped, more track-focused two-seater. Finally hanging out in the background was the 599 GTO, our rogue uncle – considerably older than the young bucks but just as fun to hang out with.
That was the family. So where did the Roma sit in the mix? I’d say the demure, understated but never to be underestimated youngest. The sibling that the parents quietly agree was a case of saving the best till last.
As our familia finally hit the tarmac, the dynamic was immediately there for all to see – who was leading, who was following, and who was overtaking when we’d been explicitly told not to. Needless to say, the 488 Pista was rather a handful and would certainly have been a regular at after-school detention.
The Roma is undeniably beautiful, with a long, elegant nose harking back to the 550 Maranello and Daytona and rear haunches that feel almost E-Type-esque. Residing among this group only served to highlight the car’s elegance – with the neighbouring stripes and spoilers feeling loud and showy in comparison.
Our Roma was metallic black (‘Nero Daytona’) which arguably made it a little too understated. Too subtle. But perhaps the collection of ‘look at me’ supercars it was surrounded by made it feel more pedestrian.
Let’s pivot to less superficial judgements about the Roma. Let’s talk brains and heart. Pretty, yes, but she is no wallflower on the road – there’s nothing ‘entry level’ about the car’s performance; a four-litre twin-turbo V8 producing 612bhp, with a zero-60mph of 3.4 seconds and a top speed of more than 200mph.
That, ladies and gents, is a supercar. Not a demure, 2+2 GT cruiser. The best thing about those stats is that when driving in convoy with the rest of the clan, I had every opportunity (and often necessity) to prove it.
We weren’t racing, but we certainly had to stick together, so when following the 488 Pista, which was being driven as though it was on the run from Interpol, it took a little muscle. Suffice it to say, the Roma can hold its own – it has the pace and the handling to stick with the big boys on country roads and it does it with great finesse. I didn’t feel like I was hanging on for dear life or the wheels were about to fall off just to keep up with the racers.
The soul is there – the red beating heart of all Ferraris – but the brain in these modern Fezzas is getting a little fussy for me. I’ve driven a few recently and continue to be irritated by the touch sensitive ‘haptic’ buttons on the steering wheel – it’s just one tech step too far for me. Touch screens? Yes please. But they don’t have to be everywhere, sometimes we humans are happy to press, or flip or click something. Thankfully the iconic Manettino is still a physical bit of switchgear, even if the graphics around it aren’t.
And lastly (promise) the start/stop button is now not one. Again, it’s a ‘hapless’ touch sensitive area on the bottom of the steering wheel. I’d rarely ask Ferrari to look to Lamborghini for inspiration, but I’d prefer their consciously exaggerated ejector seat button that evokes Top Gun rather than Ferrari’s smartphone interface. I found myself peering into the cockpits of the older 458s and 488s and envying their more analogue switchgear. It feels more utilitarian but retains the luxury and class of a Ferrari.
Coming back to context: there was more than just being surrounded by its people, we were also surrounded by its place. Cut Italy open, and Ferrari would be running through its veins. The tall iconic Cypress trees, the earthy browns and beiges of the hill sides mixed in with lush greens. The crumbling old farmhouses, winding tarmac and customary Nonna sat at the side road watching the world roll by.
There is perhaps nothing more evocative than driving a Ferrari in Italy. It’s like The Beatles at The Cavern or Elvis in Vegas. You also get a taste for the importance of the brand to the people, everyone waved, everyone smiled, everyone stopped to see. And throughout the trip, we never did see so much as a sniff of the police. It’s as if they’d had a word and decided on a collective day-off. “Ferrari’s in town… let’s have another doppio espresso.”
As for the trip itself: it was a wondrous, wafting, eye-watering tour through some of the world’s prettiest landscapes, in the world’s prettiest cars, stopping at the world’s best restaurants. So, yeah, it wasn’t half bad.
But nothing will compare to whipping this wonderful car around tight corners, hairpin bends and down long rural straights with a yellow 458 Speciale in my crosshairs and a fiery 488 Pista in my rearview. The fact that my passenger spent most of the trip being sick was probably a testament to the quality of the roads, and not last night’s negronis.
It can’t all be good surely? One worries when writing about Ferraris that you spend the whole time gushing and complementing – surely my British cynicism can be utilised?
Well, yes, I’ve mentioned the irritating non-buttons and also feel that the boot reminds me of a postbox, good for Moonpig’s largest offering at best. However, we are reminded that one can fold the back seats down (which we all know aren’t really seats) to enlarge the post box to receive more long, thin, flat things. And apparently golf clubs. But to be honest, I’m just happy gushing.
The Roma is a great car. Accessible, comfortable, extremely fast, beautiful, classy and dripping in technical prowess. It holds the lauded Ferrari name high and proud and reminds us all of the icon it is, harking back to the 2+2 legends of yesteryear.
Nowadays, the Italian giant heralds its hybrid supercars – unicorns like the LaFerrari, mould-breakers like the Puro Sangue or endlessly track-capable iterations of their mid-engined titans. Words like Pista and Speciale and Competizione and Monza bounce around after lots of letters and numbers that we pretend to understand.
But sometimes we need Ferrari to just make a pretty car that you can drive to the South of France – or, indeed, to Tuscany. It needs a simple name. (Which doesn’t require a PhD in aerodynamics and automotive engineering to explain.) And that’s what we have here. It’s called the Roma – and it’s the pretty one.