'The new sweet life': why the Roma marks a new direction for Ferrari

The new car, unveiled last week in Rome, is the first salvo in the Maranello carmaker's diversification plan

Now loyal fans and shareholders can expect the Ferrari Purosangue SUV to launch next year. Courtesy Ferrari
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Supercar aficionados have for some time now been quietly muttering that Ferrari has forgotten how to make truly beautiful cars. Sure, the Portofino, F8 Tributo and 812 Superfast are by no means hard on the eye, but where are the classic beauties to rival models such as the 246 Dino and 250 GTO?

Right on cue, the Maranello-­based carmaker last week unveiled the achingly pretty Roma in the city it was named after, underscored by the tagline "la nuova dolce vita", which translates to "the new sweet life". The Roma is due to go on sale in the UAE in May next year and will be priced at about Dh900,000.

It's the first instalment in a Ferrari diversification plan that's believed to include a V6 hybrid sports car, as well as the long-awaited Purosangue crossover that will enable the marque to barge into the burgeoning premium SUV segment. For now, the company aims to hook new customers by using the Roma's stunning appearance and its user-­friendly driving characteristics.

Ferrari Roma is unveiled during its first world presentation in Rome, Italy, November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

Although it uses the Portofino's platform as a starting point, the Roma is meant to incorporate 70 per cent new components that save weight while boosting rigidity. Ferrari's chief technology officer Michael Leiters says the aluminium-rich Roma is about 10 per cent stiffer than the Portofino, yet its kerb weight of 1,570 kilograms undercuts the drop-top by almost 75kg, despite being a bigger car.

Leiters says this newly developed modular architecture will serve as a template for the brand's coming front-engine offerings, including the Purosangue crossover and replacements for the Portofino, GTC4 Lusso and 812 Superfast. The modular approach will simplify Ferrari's production process while also delivering economies of scale through shared componentry across different models.

Ferrari's Chief Design Officer Flavio Manzoni speaks during the first world presentation of the Ferrari Roma in Rome, Italy, November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

It's the Purosangue that's shaping up as the most interesting addition to the range, particularly as far as our SUV-loving region is concerned. Due to go on sale in 2022, the high-­sided all-wheel-drive vehicle is a necessity in a market that's shifting ­dramatically towards crossovers, even in the ultra-premium segment. This is the reason why in the past four years we've seen the debut of the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Maserati Levante, with Aston Martin's DBX also in the pipeline.

Ferrari has been forced to concede that going down the all-terrain path is the way to guarantee the brand's future economic viability, despite having been adamant it wouldn't, with former chief executive Sergio Marchionne vehemently opposed to such a move. Purosangue translates to "thoroughbred" and there's a hint of irony in the name as a chunky, lofty wagon is as far removed from Ferrari's core DNA as you can get. However, company officials insist on referring to it as an "FUV" (Ferrari Utility Vehicle) rather than an SUV. Chief executive Louis Camilleri has said: "I abhor hearing Ferrari and SUV in the same sentence."

Basing the Purosangue on much of the same hardware as the Roma – even though it's a completely different type of car – will make it cost-effective to develop and build. That said, Ferrari promises it will be more of a bespoke offering than what is currently available in the segment, even though the car's main purpose is to chase greater sales volumes. Ferrari last year sold 9,251 vehicles across the globe and pocketed a net profit of 787 million (Dh3.2 billion) in the process, but the company is aware it needs to adapt to changing buyer tastes and market conditions to maintain profitability.

“I’m convinced on this car [the Purosangue] and the technical concept,” Leiters says. “I think we’ve found a concept and a package which is on one side a real SUV and will convince SUV customers to buy it, but on the other side there’s a huge differentiation of concept to existing SUVs.”

Ferrari Roma is unveiled during its first world presentation in Rome, Italy, November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

What Leiters is indirectly referring to is that while offerings such as the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus share their core architecture with the mainstream Volkswagen Touareg and Audi Q7, the Purosangue retains Ferrari's blue-blood credentials. Although Leiters won't be drawn into too many technical specifics regarding the Purosangue, he says the new architecture debuted by the Roma can accommodate all-wheel-drive hardware, mated to V6, V8 or V12 engines, as well as plug-in hybrid powertrains.

The last in that list is vital as Ferrari needs to adapt to tightening laws in Europe that call for a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from 130g/km to 95g/km from 2021 onwards.

It's not difficult to guess the markets in which the Purosangue would be welcomed most. The US and China would be at the forefront, but the Middle East punches well above its weight in the take-up of premium crossovers, so the mould-breaking Ferrari is likely to find a willing audience here as well – at least among the well-heeled set. They'll never get their tyres dirty out in the sand dunes, but that's almost irrelevant.