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The 2021 Ferrari Roma.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Upon seeing the slippery new Ferrari Roma glide into view recently, a friend asked, ‘what is a Ferrari?’ It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer because the brand has its fingers in so many pies. The Italian firm sells prancing-horse-branded sneakers and overly-large wristwatches, in addition to multi-million dollar sports cars that make collectors climb over each other just to put down a deposit. Ferrari also has its own theme park, not to mention the longest-running Formula 1 racing team on the planet; theirs are the red cars you see racing around in Netflix’s popular Drive to Survive F1 show.

Like Coca-Cola or Apple, Ferrari is among the world’s strongest brands, which is shocking when you consider that every year, only 10,000 or so people in the world actually buy a new car emblazoned with the proud prancing horse badge.

The company went public in 2015 and its stock has trended upward ever since. The company’s current success is largely due to the fact that its core product – its cars – have been consistently excellent lately, which wasn’t always the case in decades past.

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It only takes a few city blocks in Ferrari’s most affordable new car, the Roma, to confirm that it too is a supremely confident product made by people who know their business. It’s not without flaws, but if you’ve been dreaming about owning a Ferrari some day, this is the most realistic way to make that dream a reality, and you won’t be disappointed.

“The objective for sales is 70 per cent new-to-marque buyers,” said Emanuele Carando, head of product marketing for Ferrari.

Priced at $251,665, the Roma is poised to tempt buyers away from high-end Porsches 911s, Mercedes-AMG GTs, Aston Martins and Bentley Continentals.

Ferrari is among the world’s strongest brands, which is shocking when only 10,000 or so people in the world buy a new car emblazoned with the proud prancing horse badge.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Open the Roma’s door and you’re invited into a sumptuous cabin separated into two separate single-seat pods. It’s like sitting in a speed boat, with the wraparound cockpit and an endless hood stretching out in front of you. The quilted leather seats are wide and flat, no doubt made with larger North American behinds in mind. The absence of aggressive bolsters is a clue that this car is intended as more of a grand-tourer, unlike Ferraris high-strung midengine cars or one of its V12-powered hellions.

The infotainment system is Ferrari’s newest, and it’s impressive to look at but comes with a steep learning curve. There is a lot going on. Every inch of the driver’s screen is customizable, and, once mastered, the touchpad controls on the steering wheel can perform pretty much any task. Saying “ciao, Ferrari” brings up a voice assistant. There are three display screens in total, including one in front of the passenger. In use, the system can be slightly sluggish to react, and the steering wheel touchpads are too-easily pressed accidentally.

The Roma’s closest relative is the Portofino M convertible, which is roughly $13,000 more expensive, but the Roma has a lower centre of gravity, less weight and a wider track which fundamentally changes how the car behaves. Compared to Ferrari’s previous front-engine V8 cars, the Roma is more aggressive. It reacts to a flick of the steering wheel in a way that borders on urgent, like the student in class whose hand always shoots up immediately in response to the teacher’s questions. The steering itself is light and quick, which makes it a breeze to thread through traffic, but at speed you’d better be paying attention. The Roma is either a sharp GT car, or a comfortable sports car, depending on how you look at it.

It rides with the relative ease, even at low speeds, thanks to Bumpy Road mode, a feature as useful in Rome as it is in Toronto. You select it by pressing the steering-wheel mounted manettino dial. Twisting the manettino, which cycles through various driving modes, you’re meant to fantasize about being an F1 driver, setting up the car just so for the next big turn – even if it is only into a parking lot.

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In Sport mode the dual-clutch gearbox is eager to shift up, so you’ll want to use the slender carbon-fibre paddle shifters frequently, if only to get the most possible sound out of the twin-turbo V8. It’s never quiet – a certain sect of Ferrari fans will always wish for more noise – but there’s a satisfyingly deep rumble at idle. Above 4,000 rpm, the noise begins to resonate through your skull. The engine note lacks the maniacal edge of Ferrari’s V12s, but it’s undeniably glorious. The only problem is finding a stretch of road where you can truly let the engine sing while remaining within the bounds of the law.

All told, the Roma is easily the most convincing entry-level Ferrari yet, feeling sharper and more entertaining than any before it. It’s more special than a Porsche 911 Turbo S, more practical than a Mercedes-AMG GT R, and more nimble than an Aston Martin DB11. It’s too soon to say which of those cars is best overall, but, in the Roma’s favour is the undeniable fact that it is a Ferrari.

The Roma is poised to tempt buyers away from high-end Porsches, Aston Martins and Bentleys.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2021 Ferrari Roma

  • Base price/as tested: $251,665/$338,160
  • Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
  • Transmission/drive: eight-speed dual-clutch automatic/rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 12.4 combined (US EPA rating)
  • Alternatives: Porsche 911 Turbo S, Aston Martin DB11 V8, Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes-AMG GT, McLaren GT

Looks

Making a front-engine coupe that looks great is par for the course. (See also: Aston Martin DB11, Mercedes-AMG GT, Jaguar F-Type.) Ferrari’s take on the genre is clean and elegant, a new design direction for the brand. This car’s Blu Roma paint costs, wait for it, $13,485 extra.

Interior

Open the Roma’s door and you’re invited into a sumptuous cabin separated into two separate single-seat pods.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

It’s spacious and comfortable, but some of the details are grating. The selector for the automatic gearbox, which is meant to evoke the metal-gated manual shifters of old, is a gimmick too far, and the chrome “Ferrari” lettering above the central screen seems a bit gauche.

Performance

With 612 horsepower and 561 lb-ft of torque, the rear wheels don’t stand a chance. There’s more power than grip here, but thanks to very clever electronics, the Roma is surprisingly friendly, at least at any sane speed. It takes 3.4 seconds to get to 100 km/h.

Technology

The infotainment system is Ferrari’s newest, and it’s impressive to look at but comes with a steep learning curve.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Some of the tech you’ll want comes only as laughably expensive optional extras; charging $4,556 for Apple CarPlay, for example, is highway robbery. Say what you will, but this is Ferrari and its customers are paying.

Cargo

The Roma does come with rear seats.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

There are rear seats, which makes the Roma practical in the same way a Porsche 911 is practical, in that it’s an easier purchase to justify since you can argue, ‘well, the kids could go in the back seat if they needed to.’

Verdict

The best entry-level Ferrari yet should give Porsche something to sweat about

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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