Ferrari Unveils Roma Spider: First Look
By Mark Ewing
Ferrari brands Roma as its Nuova Dolce Vita model, and in my experience driving a Roma coupé for the better part of a week a few years ago, the chassis and powertrain have none of the bitter edge of that famous Italian movie. Roma is one of the sweetest GTs offered in the United States: tidy proportions that fit readily into urban traffic, a chassis that can be sporting or comfortable and luxurious, and an engine that doles out easy power and torque to make any driver look good.
Ferrari has now snipped off the coupé roof to create the Roma Spider, making life with Roma all that much sweeter.
Though fully capable of providing on-track performance worthy of the Ferrari badge—it’s powered by Maranello’s 611-horsepower corporate twin-turbo V8 working through one of the smoothest and quickest dual-clutch 8-speeds available—Roma and now most particularly the Roma Spider are designed for the sweet life the world’s most beautiful places.
Roma’s new folding cloth top is the story, as much else about the car carries over from the Roma Coupé. Ferrari has perfected power soft tops, using variations of the same Z-mechanism in several cars with folding metal roof panels. Tailored to work with Roma’s fabric top, the mechanism performs flawlessly, completing the job in just over 13 seconds.
If the top is not fully stowed under the clamshell rear deck when the stoplight turns green, Roma Spider can finish its work at speeds up to 37 mph, adding another flourish to the top-down experience. Dropping the top along a favorite section of Pacific Coast Highway for an after-dinner moonlight drive will be an act of electro-mechanical beauty.
Whenever you cut the roof off a coupe, the body structure inevitably suffers, growing weaker, willowy, requiring significant buttressing. But we’re living in the 21st Century, not the late 20th, when such convertibles based on coupes were often terribly compromised. To address the structural issue, Ferrari body engineers did the math, played in Solidworks and developed a new and much more robust side sill. Think of it as two stout beams that connect front to rear wheel on each side. We won’t know without a thorough test drive over my favorite California mountains, but it’s likely the Roma Spider’s body has come through surgery in excellent condition, well suited to the unique demands of the sweet life.
If the driver has musical sensibilities combined with sensitivity to the workings of engine and gearbox, he can compose his own Symphony of Revs. The 3.9-liter V8’s flat-plane crankshaft ensures the engine gathers revs quickly—brap-brap-BRAP. Hold the throttle steady just beyond 4000 rpm in the fat part of the range, then shift gears up and down quickly, moving the tach needle directly in your line of sight from 3000 rpm to the 7500 rpm redline. Shifts will prove utterly shock-free and smooth.
Roma Spider’s exhaust system remains mostly unchanged from the Coupé, which means it performs like a Ferrari. Instead of corking up the pipes with too many silencers, Ferrari regulates sounds with bypass valves. The resulting V8 music can be rich and deep in the thick of the torque curve, or a pure operatic scream from 5000 to redline. It never gets old.
Unlike the 8-speed gearbox as used in the SF90 Stradale, which has no mechanical reverse and uses the front electric motors for reversing, Roma Coupé and Spider both have a mechanical reverse gear. It is activated using one of the small, polished alloy levers on the center console. Same basic gearbox, same architecture, with ratios suited to the Roma’s V8, and a mechanical reverse.
Roma Spider is a +2, which means the rear seats are best suited for stowing soft luggage on my favorite weekend trip, the Central Coast wine country. But in a pinch, drop the top and invite two nimble friends to clamber in and settle down for a quick drive to a local restaurant. Or a child might have the thrilling ride of her life out back.
Roma Spider has a full complement of Ferrari stability control elements. Side Slip Control Version 6.0 functions like a super brain, modulating and controlling the actions of all the black boxes related to stability control. In short, Roma will grant access to Ferrari performance and excitement with a considerable safety net available. With a few wise words of caution, your college student can use the car to meet friends for lunch. Just keep the manettino in the comfort setting.
When the owner wants to explore possibilities on a mountain road, the manettino dial on the steering wheel can be twisted to the two most aggressive settings. A safety net will still be there to catch major blunders, but the Ferrari chassis engineers have calibrated considerable latitude for amusement in the top two settings.
Ferrari must maintain the exclusivity of its mid-engine and V12 offerings, which are the central pillars of the brand, along with its ongoing racing legend. But with the world market for exotic supercars has grown so much in the past two decades, Ferrari wants to ease the strain of waiting, particularly for those who are new to the brand. Roma Spider will allow a few hundred more lucky people, maybe a thousand, to revel in the sweet life of Ferrari ownership.