Driving a Ferrari is always a pretty special experience but believe me when I say that driving a Ferrari on rural roads in Italy is on a whole different level again.
This started to dawn on me at the launch of the convertible version of the Ferrari Roma - the Roma Spider - on the Italian island of Sardinia during a roadside chat with an elderly chap on a bike who wanted to know all about the one I was currently struggling to get Android Auto to work on.
It was driven home a bit more after several hours of flashing headlights, toots, waves and excited yells of “Bella macchina!” from the Sardinian locals.
But what sealed the deal was when I was edging slowly past a road maintenance crew who had closed one lane on a narrow coastal road to clear a small slip and the woman operating the stop/go sign began gesturing wildly at me.
A momentary flash of panic gripped me. Did green mean stop in Italy? Had I just committed some egregious road-user sin and had somehow gravely offended her?
However, the fact that she whipped out her phone and started taking pictures of the striking blue Roma Spider, closely followed by all the maintenance crew downing tools and running over for selfies with the car, quickly put my mind at ease - everyone loves Ferraris in Italy and the locals take huge pride in the fact that these gorgeous works of automotive art are created in their country, even to the point that they will happily hold up traffic to take photos of them...
The Roma Spider is Ferrari’s first front-engined soft-top in more than 50 years, with the last being the 365 GTS/4 - otherwise known as the Daytona – which it only ever produced 122 of between 1971 and 1973.
While the Roma is all a part of Ferrari’s “La Nuova Dolce Vita” concept that apparently "embodies the stylish essence of the Rome of the 1950s and ’60s", the car itself sparks more than a few memories of the iconically 1970s Daytona, particularly in convertible form.
The locals take huge pride in the fact that these gorgeous works of automotive art are created in their country, even to the point that they will happily hold up traffic to take photos of them...
The Roma Spider features the same underpinnings as the coupe, including the fantastically flexible 456kW/760Nm 3.9-litre turbo V8 and 8-speed dual clutch transmission that both do duty in several other Ferraris. But it also features a few clever tricks of its own, including the retractable soft top and one of the best wind deflectors you will ever experience in a convertible.
The soft top consists of five layers of materials, complete with sound deadening, with the top layer made from a material unique to Ferrari, and it is available in five different colours including the awesome iridescent red "technical" finish that has a metallic 3D effect.
While the Roma Spider shares its windscreen with the coupe, the frame has been subtly reshaped to improve airflow when the roof is raised. This makes the Spider 5mm taller than the coupe, but also improves the line of the roof when it is in place. All of which means that the Roma Spider is a stunning looking car regardless of whether the roof is up or down. No easy feat for designers to pull off.
Underneath, the Spider’s sills have been strengthened, as well as the rear structure behind the seats and around the rear axle. Engineers also paid a lot of attention to the area immediately underneath the A-pillars with the aim of eliminating scuttle shake.
While Ferrari's engineers worked hard to make up for the Spider’s lack of a roof, its chassis is still 30 percent less rigid than that of the coupe, but the incredible aspect is that you really don't notice it; on the road the Roma Spider feels as rigid as a car with a roof, while with the top up, it is also every bit as quiet.
This isn't exactly the best sounding V8 Ferrari has ever produced, with a slightly flat, farty tone, but the more revs you give it the better it sounds.
But why would you want to put the top up when Ferrari has put so much effort into what is possibly the most impressive aspect of the Roma Spider – no, not the engine; the wind deflector.
Yeah, yeah, I know – it is a Ferrari with that brilliant V8 and the wind deflector is the most impressive aspect? Well, that wind deflector actually makes the V8 even more enjoyable, almost entirely eliminating wind buffeting inside the cabin meaning you can not only hear the V8 better, but you will also want to put the top down at literally every opportunity.
The deflector is actually the back rest section of the rear seats, popping up at the push of a button to form an aerodynamically shaped surface behind the front seats (only when the rear seats aren’t in use, obviously) that channels air away from the front seats and creates a ‘bubble’ of still air in the cabin.
So effective is it that I spent the entire time I had the Roma with the top down and a sheet of paper in the passenger's footwell that immediately started flying around when I moved off. It simply fell to the floor and didn't move again when I popped the deflector up, no matter the speed.
While it may seem like a small detail, the incredible effectiveness of the deflector makes the whole point of a convertible version of the Roma even more appealing. Hell, even the air conditioning is effective with the top down and the deflector up.
While the Roma Spider is very fast indeed, it is never intimidatingly fast. In fact, nothing about the Roma is intimidating or overwhelming.
The soft top is extremely well sound-proofed too, so dropping it does let you hear the song of the V8 better, which is always good.
Now, it does have to be said that this isn't exactly the best sounding V8 Ferrari has ever produced, with a slightly flat, farty tone, but the more revs you give it the better it sounds and, while it never quite reaches a traditionally Ferrari V8 shriek, the belligerent roar is still supremely satisfying.
Of course that roar is complimented by the presence of various pops and bangs when shifting gear or lifting off the throttle, all of which comes across as slightly contrived, but massively pleasing all the same.
While the sound of the engine mightn't be one of Ferrari's best, its sheer flexibility is staggering. Placid and docile at low speeds, the V8 instantly changes character when you apply a generous amount of throttle at any speed, propelling the Roma forward at a serious rate.
The transmission is a slick-shifting unit, but is somewhat reluctant to join in the fun too eagerly in its normal/comfort mode, but flick the gorgeous little steering wheel-mounted manettino into Sport or Race modes and it becomes every bit as eager as the engine, slamming through the gears with authority regardless of whether you are using the paddles or letting it handle things itself.
The Roma is undoubtedly one of the prettiest cars Ferrari has built in recent times and the Spider is arguably even prettier. But it is also one of the most accessible and flexible cars it has ever built.
While the Roma Spider is very fast indeed, it is never intimidatingly fast. In fact, nothing about the Roma is intimidating or overwhelming, with even its handling feeling absolutely razor-sharp, but always controlled and extremely predictable.
The rear end is absolutely welded to the road through corners, unless you don't want it to be and a bit more throttle will have it playfully wagging to any degree you desire, while the nose turns in with startling accuracy and precision.
Of course, this is largely to be expected from a Ferrari, but what isn't necessarily so expected is the impressive ride quality, particularly over the rough and occasionally broken Sardinian B-roads (which are quite similar to New Zealand roads). Ferrari has even added in a 'rough roads' setting that drops the Roma's suspension into the comfort setting, regardless of the drive mode.
On the inside the Spider carries over the Roma coupe's interior, which means a beautiful looking, high quality cockpit, some seriously good seats and those gorgeous slim sliders that operate the transmission. This also means it carries over the infotainment system which, while equally attractive to look at, is also totally unintuitive and overly complex.
The Roma is undoubtedly one of the prettiest cars Ferrari has built in recent times and the Spider is arguably even prettier. But it is also one of the most accessible and flexible cars it has ever built. Supremely easy to drive, the Roma is also satisfyingly exhilarating at maximum attack. Add in the the impressive serenity with the top down and that wind deflector up and you have the a remarkably complete package.
FERRARI ROMA SPIDER
ENGINE: 3.9-litre turbo-petrol V8
GEARBOX: 8-speed dual clutch transmission, RWD
CONSUMPTION: 11.2l/100km (WLTP)
PRICE: $489,337 ($6900 CCD fee)