Cruise missiles: Ferrari Roma meets Bentley and Aston rivals

Personal taste remains the deciding factor for anyone choosing a new sports car. Nobody can tell you what you like – just as you can’t be told to take to a bottle of Argentinian Carménère, a ribeye steak done ‘black and blue’, or the music of The Wurzels.

Even so, in such a diverse exotic sports car market as we now have, it can be hard enough just to narrow down the options. “So what next, Mr Autocar Road Test Editor? Should I have the really fast one? The hybrid one, perhaps? Or the throwback, lightweight one? What about the heavyweight electric one, or the really wild, hardcore one?”

My stock response tends to be to drive as many as you can and then, barring any revelations or revulsions, to plump for whatever it was that you really fancied in the first place. But whatever you’re favouring, I’d always advise, think carefully about where, how and how often you might be able to actually use and drive it before you sign anything.

For all its many-splendoured variety, today’s sports car market contains only two kinds of prospect when you really get down to brass tacks: cars you can use, and those you can’t. Nothing has more influence on how much you’ll enjoy owning one than usability. It sounds like a simple distinction, but it’s very often either forgotten or overlooked; and it can be a peculiarly personal thing.

Which brings us to the concept of the sporting GT, the sports car made more usable. That’s really all the modern grand tourer is: a car indulgent, exciting, exclusive and special at its heart, but tempered with just enough versatility, practicality and pragmatism to give us more ways and occasions to enjoy it. I love ’em.

A modern GT should slip easily into your life, because that’s exactly what the good ones are designed to do. But some are designed to do it very differently from others. And, it turns out, a brand-new type of front-engined, rear-driven, turbo V8-powered, £170,000 Ferrari GT car does it in a very particular, fresh and dynamically compelling way. One that, you’ll find, is quite unlike that of its nearest equivalent from either Bentley or Aston Martin when you have the chance to compare them back to back, as I just have.

It has long seemed odd to me that a company with the GT-making pedigree of the Daytona, 250 GT and 550 Maranello should have allowed itself to become so under-represented in the modern market for cars like this of late. Ferrari’s more expensive front-engined V12 models have become quite niche prospects, after all.

Advertisement

Advertisement

For this tester, that pin-sharp driver appeal combined with the Roma’s 2+2 seating versatility and its creditable cruising manners give it a broader range of dynamic abilities than either the Continental or the DB11 has, as well as even more spectacular dynamic high notes to hit. With a long drive home ahead of you after a long day’s driving, you might well pick either of its rivals, each of which, in their different ways, makes the miles go by the window very agreeably indeed.

But, trust me, it’s the Roma you’d be thinking about as you dropped off to sleep that night – and GT cars like that don’t come along often.

What price for Ferrari’s grand touring greats?

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti – 2005/05, 37,500 miles: £64,995. Romans of St Albans, 01727 858000: Ferrari’s last big, four-seat V12 car before the four-wheel-drive FF came along. We took a while to warm to its looks, but the 533bhp 5.7-litre engine always convinced. Adult-sized rear seats and a near-200mph top speed.

Ferrari 550 Maranello – 1998/S, 30,000 miles: £89,850. McGurk Performance, 01926 691000: Second-hand values of the esteemed 550 Maranello are now well and truly on the rise, but you can still snag one for less than £100,000. It was only ever a two-seater, but it offers plenty of luggage space and a lovely, analogue driving experience you’ll savour.

Ferrari 456 GT – 1998/S, 44,000 miles: £42,990. Furlonger Specialist Cars, 01233 646328: The 456 has always been the affordable way into owning a modern V12-engined Ferrari, and it still offers plenty of options below £50k. The driving experience is softer, gentler and less sporting than some. This one’s an auto.

Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona – 1971/K, 30,000 miles: £499,950. DD Classics, 020 8878 3355: Most right-hand-drive, ‘matching numbers’ Daytonas get ‘price on application’ ads, but this one risks a price, which reflects the Daytona’s status among classic Ferraris. An old-school drive, but still a 170mph car.