2008 Maserati GranTurismo

Every potentially hot company has that big turning point where it would take a truly stupid train wreck of a mistake to ever return to the tough days. This is Maserati’s time.

From what we know of the GranTurismo gestation period, Maserati, its former owner Ferrari, and its mother company Fiat are all to be heartily embraced for making this car happen. From the inception of project M145 (as the GranTurismo is called internally) to the start of production in Modena on July 3, Maserati has had no fewer than four CEOs.

Starting with the beautiful Quattroporte luxury performance sedan in 2004, the clouds over Modena really began to lift. The two-door GranTurismo road tested here is about to catapult Maserati into unfamiliar territory (read: financial success) and we’re sure it can stay this way so long as all future product carries on like this.

We drove the GranTurismo (which employs a shortened version of the Quattroporte’s architecture) for about 200 miles over the Dolomite mountains in northeast Italy and the car is, all things considered, a hit on many levels. First, it is yet another work of art from Pininfarina’s Jason Castriota, the designer who penned the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano and the Maserati Birdcage 75 show car. Also, assembly and craftsmanship are, at the absolute least, on par with the Germans’ best. But the GranTurismo’s personality is all Italian, so it’s far sexier and more special in its execution than any other car in this category.

On these frequently twisting, rising, and descending two-lane roads, the GranTurismo does well. It is not a small car, just seven inches shy of the Quattroporte’s 198.9-inch overall length and riding on a wheelbase of 115.8 inches, but through even the tightest and steepest uphill hairpins, the car moved with aplomb—if not like a bullet from a gun. It is definitely intended for rolling, sweeping, low-fuss touring, but it held its own when the road turned on itself. Whenever the terrain opened up onto vast panoramic mountainsides, the GranTurismo was arguably the best car on earth for fast cruising.

This is a key idea to what the GranTurismo is: not a high-vibe sports car that will duke it out with Ferraris, but rather the definitive stylish 2+2 European grand tourer. Seeing as Maserati has decided to go all the way in this vein, the 400-horsepower rating doesn’t lead us to question the company’s convictions when going head-on with other premium GTs from other companies with differing objectives. This, after all, is the base-model GranTurismo, a car that strives to impress in ways subtler than simple horsepower and torque figures. Believe us: future versions of the car will pack more power. In the meantime, however, we are (as you can tell) sold on this one.

On uphill runs, and especially while overtaking, you do notice the soft torque response through the throttle even in sport mode—even compared with the nearly 240-pound-heavier Quattroporte. But the response is steady and smooth, and the urgency therein is sufficient. For this, thank the ZF six-speed manu-matic gearbox (introduced last year in the Quattroporte). This basic transmission has a long history in Audis and BMWs, and it bequeaths the same engineering maturity to Maserati that it has for so long to the Germans, not to mention the Brits (Jaguar XK, Aston Martin DB9). In sport mode, ZF’s shifts are crisp but never rude, and it will gladly kick down a gear on hard throttle.
If you put your head into sport mode as well and keep revs over 4000 rpm using the shift paddles mounted to the steering column, this grand tourer breathes good fire. All of the engine’s 339 pound-feet of torque arrives at 4750 rpm (compared with 4250 rpm in the Quattroporte), and this low-slung and long-legged beauty walks the walk for all she’s worth. Both the long wheelbase and relative weight of the car (about 4150 pounds) make inducing oversteer through curves tough. But, again, keep the revs high—say between 4500 rpm and the 7200-rpm shift limit—and you can remove almost all understeer tendencies. You also can switch off the stability control system if you’re feeling particularly confident. The electrohydraulic Skyhook active suspension that (happily) comes standard on all U.S.-spec cars helps out, since in sport mode it really comes alive and communicates the road surface beautifully. Braking action is progressive and the quartet of 13.0-inch discs with four-piston Brembo calipers respond in a very traditional manner: to stop faster, you need to push harder on the pedal. We like this, since it takes any high-tech, over-assisted numbness out of the equation. Finally, steering feel is just right as well, not being as disconcertingly feather-light as on the 599 GTB.

The passenger compartment is right on the money for this car’s (and this company’s) image. The chic leather from Poltrona Frau is neither too hard nor too soft, and rear passenger space is actually realistic for taller people. Isolation from road, wind, and engine noise is quite good, though you get enough of each to know you’re driving an Italian car. Noise levels come down, too, thanks to the 4.2-liter wet-sump version of Ferrari’s V-8 engine; with fewer oil pumps pumping, your ability to converse at a normal level improves geometrically. Our car’s tires were the optional, lower-profile twenty-inch set, which certainly aided dynamics on this bone-dry test (although the standard, nineteen-inchers are more in keeping with the everyday aspirations of this base GranTurismo).

The GranTurismo is set to reach North American Maserati showrooms late in September, wearing a $114,650 price tag. Later, expect Quattroporte-style Executive and Sport trim levels, a convertible, and a lightweight, track-biased Trofeo edition. Beyond that, our unofficial Italian grapevine suggests plans are in motion for a GranTurismo with a version of the Maserati-built, 450-horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 from the forthcoming Alfa Romeo 8C.
We foresee grand things for Maserati.