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Ferrari prescribes a Roma therapy

Luxury manufacturer is gunning for customers from other sports car brands, with a new car that costs less than S$1m here

A front-engined coupe with a long bonnet, smooth lines and fastback silhouette, the Roma is Ferrari's fifth new car for 2019, making the year a record one in terms of product rollouts.


A BUSY 2019 for Ferrari just got busier. On Wednesday the luxury sports car maker unveiled a new car named after the city in which it was launched to the public: the Roma.

A front-engined coupe with a long bonnet, smooth lines and fastback silhouette, the Roma is Ferrari's fifth new car for 2019, making the year a record one in terms of product rollouts.

Ferrari is capitalising on its roots in Formula 1 (F1) racing to highlight the Roma's performance, but is ultimately aiming the new car at the Grand Tourer (GT) market, where customers want cars that are fast but comfortable.

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"Think of the Roma as an F1 car in GT clothes that you can drive from the racetrack to the opera in style," Flavio Manzoni, chief design officer at the Ferrari Styling Centre, said at its launch.

While those might sound like classic Ferrari attributes, the Roma is something of a departure for the brand. It has 2+2 seating (meaning two seats in front and two smaller chairs in the back best reserved for children or shopping bags) and a coupe body with a V8 engine in front; front-engined Ferrari coupes typically have 12-cylinder engines.

Enrico Galliera, chief marketing and commercial officer for Ferrari, said the Roma was a response to customer requests for something "a little bit understated" that they could drive every day, in all conditions.

"We started looking at our history and it became immediately clear that what the clients were asking for was perfectly consistent with our heritage," he explained. "The 1960s was full of beautiful cars, designed in a very elegant way, but also immersed in an environment that was very elegant in the way of dressing, in the way of living."

The Roma is meant to embody the simpler, more-elegant lifestyle of that period in an updated way. "My team and I are constantly focused on understanding the brand's DNA, and then we look for ways to innovate and make new concepts that are very modern and contemporary," Mr Manzoni said.

But the Roma is also capable of delivering the high performance that Ferrari customers expect. Its 3.9-litre, twin-turbocharged engine produces 620 horsepower and 760 Newton-metres of peak torque, and powers it to 100km/h in only 3.4 seconds.

It has an eight-speed transmission that is six kilogrammes lighter than the seven-speed unit in the Portofino, a convertible that serves as Ferrari's entry-level car.

By itself, the transmission helps reduce fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions, while providing faster, yet smoother gear changes.

And while the Roma drew inspiration from the 1960s, its cabin is fully digital, with a vivid wraparound 16-inch LED instrument cluster for the driver, a central 8.4-inch vertical tablet for major controls and a co-pilot display for the front passenger.

The Roma also has Ferrari Dynamic Enhancer, a driver aid from the brand's track-focused sports car models intended to make it easier for novices to control when sliding through corners. The system is a first for any Ferrari GT.

Given how the Roma seemingly straddles Ferrari's hardcore sports car range and its more comfortable GTs, it might be perceived as a gateway car to the brand.

Pricing for Singapore has yet to be announced, but the Roma is expected to cost slightly more than the Portofino, which is priced at S$855,000 without options or certificate of entitlement.

That makes it a slight financial stretch above such cars as the Aston Martin Vantage or the higher-end versions of the Porsche 911, but the combination of comfort, understatement and Ferrari's prancing horse emblem for less than seven-figures could be an enticing one.

Ital Auto, Ferrari's local distributor, has yet to collect orders for the Roma, which Ferrari will start manufacturing in the middle of 2020. But the company says it has seen a "flurry of interest" for the car, mostly from potential customers who own cars from other brands.

At least one fan deems the new car an interesting prospect. "The Roma's looks are a big win for me," a long-time Ferrari owner who only wanted to give his name as Roger, told The Business Times. "I'm glad that Ferrari has finally introduced a compact, gentleman's sports car that combines practical sportiness, refinement and dynamism worthy of the prancing horse emblem."

It's no accident that the car's smooth looks are a draw. "With the Roma, we wanted to have something pure, sophisticated and poetic. We wanted to be able to draw the car with a single stroke of the pen," added Mr Manzoni.

After launching more cars this year than any other in its history, Ferrari can at least say it ended 2019 in style.