2011 Maserati GranTurismo

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Road Test: 2008 Maserati GranTurismo

This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2014.
By John Phillips of Car and Driver

Bottom Line:

Tracing its genetic code to the Ferrari F430, the Alfa Romeo 8C, and Andrea Pininfarina himself, Maserati’s latest luxo-coupe is a Modenese masterpiece.

Of the seven Maserati brothers, six became renowned mechanics and engineers. The black sheep of the family — Mario — instead became a painter, although he left an indelible mark on the marque. Wandering about Bologna's main square one day, Mario came face to face with a statue of Neptune, whose barbed trident he promptly expropriated as the logo for his brothers' first car, the 1926 eight-cylinder Tipo 26.

Why Mario would associate a racing car with the Roman god of the sea is one of those synaptic misfires mostly appreciated by liberal-arts majors. But it proved a good choice. By the time the brothers introduced their stunning A6GCS road car, Maserati automobiles had become associated with a distinctive concave grille with chrome vertical fillets, lending their products the countenance of a jawfish gagging on tadpoles. Voilà! The marine connection was complete.

Fast-forward to 2008. Were Mario still painting today, he'd fling his palette in joy to behold an identical aquatically themed grille, with huge chrome trident still attached, adorning Maserati's latest, greatest luxo-coupe. The GranTurismo is a Maserati Quattroporte with two fewer doors, a 4.8-inch shortening of the wheelbase, and Pininfarina styling so seductive that the kid running the Ann Arbor carwash wouldn't afford passage until he photographed it with his cell phone.

Apart from its Joe E. Brown mouth, which half our staff thinks is too large, this four-passenger coupe is the quintessence of Italian flash and panache. Its airy cockpit smells like the tack room at Balmoral, chockablock, as it is, with a sumptuous festival of buttery cowhides and burled walnut. Each chunk of wood trim is whole, rather than an amalgam of glued-together pieces. The leather is stitched with thick threads of a starkly contrasting hue, a ploy to draw your eye. Ten shades of skins are on offer, and they can be endlessly mixed and matched to upholster seats, dash, parcel shelf, trunk, steering wheel, shifter, and headliner. Maserati North America PR manager Jeff Ehoodin reckons there might be "four million combinations." If you spent one minute studying each, then selecting your GranTurismo's interior could require 2778 days. The Brembo brake calipers come in six colors. "A different shade at each corner?" we inquired. "No problem," replied Ehoodin, although special orders require a four-month wait.

To access the rear seats, you pull a chrome knob on the front seatbacks, which then glide forward in silence. Climbing into the rear is easier than it looks, and an adult can semicomfortably pass time back there for about an hour — more than can be said of a Jag XKR's rear seats — but it's like sitting in a dark cistern. On the other hand, it's no more claustrophobic than the back half of a Mustang's cabin.

The trunk is small — roughly 14 inches deep, 42 inches wide, and 23 inches long. Supposedly, it will hold a bag of clubs, although maybe not the latest 45-inch drivers. Perhaps Maserati meant miniature golf. The cockpit contains only two substandard items: the radio's plasticky faceplate and a bone-white accelerator scuff plate that is in jarring contrast with the rich black carpet.

Happily, ergonomics are mostly the antithesis of Italian tradition. The driver sits in proper relationship with primary and secondary controls, although the signal and wiper stalks were a little too far from our fingertips. Also, if you like "gettin' up on the wheel," as they do in NASCAR, your right leg will rub the transmission tunnel. Luckily, the steering wheel is widely adjustable for reach and rake.

Driving Impressions
The seat cushions and the seatbacks are quite firm. Some would say hard. They're great for short bursts of spirited driving but can induce some squirming in the second hour of occupancy. Sightlines are mediocre, hindered by a small backlight and the fat A- and C-pillars. Looking out over the hood, all you see is the sensuous left wheel arch delicately kicking up. And peering into the large side-view mirrors, you're rewarded with a gratifying glimpse of muscular hips comprising more compound curves than Michelangelo could muster. The rear quarter-panels look eight months pregnant with Pirelli P Zeros — not a styling cue that would occur to, say, the Germans.

The GranTurismo's V-8 is built in Maranello and for good reason. It is a 405-hp, 4.2-liter wet-sump iteration of the engine you'd normally locate in the middle of a Ferrari F430. Fitted with a unique induction system, Maserati's version offers gentle step-off, pulls seamlessly from as low as 2000 rpm, then rips to its 7250-rpm redline faster than you can say "cavallino." It is as vibrationless as a BMW inline-six. At idle, it engenders not a quiver in the dangling key fob. And the sound it makes is one-third angry cougar, one-third Ducati, and one-third Pavarotti, who, by the way, loitered frequently among Maserati's 600 Modena-based employees. Eighty dBA at wide-open whack, however, is a lot of sound. But at least it's a good sound.

Disable the traction control and the GranTurismo leaves hard. Sixty mph arrives in 4.9 seconds — 0.4 second behind a Jag XKR but 0.6 second quicker than a BMW 650i. And through the quarter-mile, the Maserati is as quick as an Aston Martin V-8 Vantage.

The yowling V-8 is mated to an equally impressive ZF six-speed automatic that is telepathic about reading your intentions via throttle inputs. It knows when to hang onto gears for engine braking, and it knows when to hold a heady bundle of revs for rocketing out of turns. It is one of the most versatile transmissions extant. Feeling lazy? Just leave it in full-auto mode. Want to row? Move the shifter into its manumatic track: Push forward for downshifts, pull back for upshifts. Need both hands on the wheel? Select gears via paddle shifters behind the steering wheel — left paddle for downshifts, right for upshifts. No matter which mode you fancy, every shift is a crisp rifle shot preceded by matching revs, followed instantly by a big green LED informing what gear has been summoned. In sport mode, the shifts crack off even harder, and gears are held longer. Overall, this transmission leaves you wondering what purpose a manual clutch and linkage would serve.

In the hills, we were ever aware of this coupe's 4374-pound heft, but the car always felt stable, nicely planted, and free of extraneous body motions. Better yet, its ride, even over Michigan's ravaged roads, was appropriate to its luxo-coupe mission — firm but never intrusive. To enliven your commute, engage the sport mode, and the shocks will subjectively stiffen by about a third. Along Hogback Road, this induced all manner of jitters and shivers, but it would likely work wonders on Angeles Crest Highway in L.A.

The brakes are easy to modulate — you can maintain deceleration right on the threshold of ABS intervention — although we'd prefer the pedal were slightly firmer in its travel. In any event, 70 mph is dispelled in 157 feet, same as in a Saleen S7 Twin Turbo.

Perhaps the GranTurismo's chief flaw is its steering. It is too heavy at all speeds, there's some slop on-center, and never does it transmit much information about road textures or available grip. At least it tracks like a bloodhound, requiring few corrections. Push this GT hard and it's often the superb stability control, rather than the steering, that whispers the first word of warning.

Maseratis have traditionally been long on personality in a weird and quirky way, which always felt like an accident, as if the builders didn't really know how the car was going to turn out. In contrast, the GranTurismo feels engineered with a purpose. It is competent, solid, sumptuous, and capable of serving as a daily driver. Heck, it fired right up on a minus-six-degree Michigan morning. Yet it diverges colorfully and joyfully from its purposeful, businesslike Teutonic competitors — notably the BMW M6 and Mercedes-Benz CL550. Every editor who climbed out of the GranTurismo said, "Wow, that was refreshing."

Compared with the Germans, this Modenese masterpiece feels very much hand-tailored instead of off the rack. In an era when all four Benz CL models fetch in excess of 100 grand — yet remain almost ubiquitous on the streets of L.A. and Miami — this Maserati's $113,750 base may well persuade many a Mario to stand out from his brothers.

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BB01 - 8/23/2014 8:50:46 AM