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Maserati GT driven

2008-04-15 07:42

Egmont Sippel

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like ... victory."

Famous, or infamous, words by Captain Kildore in the movie Apocalypse Now.

The Maserati GranTurismo smells like victory, too.

Or drop the "like".

The GranTurismo smells victory.

How can it not, with such a wide and brash and brutish nose? Even Little Red Riding Hood would know that such protruding nasal architecture was designed for more than sniffing about, low as the snout scouts over the earth.

It's for feeding and cooling the gut as well, this massively mean grille, ensuring that eight over-square cylinders nestling in a "V" under the Maser's blue heads (versus the red of a Ferrari's) are well taken care of in the bowels of the beast.

And let me tell you: Chris Barnard could not have positioned the heart of this car any better than Maserati did. Deep in the innards it is buried, fully behind the front axle, weighing in at a light 180 kg.

Ouch, yes, that depends on exactly which appendices are measured as well. BMW's official figure for the M3's 4.0-litre V8 is 206 kg; we can hardly imagine the Maserati mill being 13% lighter.

What 180 kg indicates, however, is that this aluminium-blocked masterpiece doesn't carry any extra fat. Not an ounce of the V8 is felt on turn-in, in any case.

That's also because the 4.2-litre is so perfectly poised in a neat little cradle between the car's firewall and a rigid cross bar tying the tops of the front struts together.

Now, the GranTurismo obviously plays a couple of heavyweight cards straight away in terms of looks, luxury and performance. But the hidden secret might well be the V8's positioning, ensuring an ideal 49:51 fore-aft weight distribution, even though a transaxle is no longer in use.

It has a massive effect on handling, this architectural layout. And a massively beautiful one, too.

But we'll get to dynamics in a minute.


First, the looks. That's where it all starts, not so?

Now, for many years - from the first eponymous car built in 1926 by Bologna's six Maserati brothers (called Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore, Ernesto and Mario) - the focus had been on racing. Fangio drove for Maserati in F1. So did Louis Chiron and Prince Bira.

In 1957, though, the Marquis de Portago, a Spanish aristocrat, crashed at 240 km/h in the Mille Miglia in Italy, near Guidizzolo, killing himself, his navigator and a dozen spectators, half of them children.

Much in the fashion of Mercedes-Benz's withdrawal from racing after an even worse crash at Le Mans in 1955, it spelt the end of Maserati's racing days.

The focus then shifted to road cars, and after an initial burst, Maserati fell onto hard times. Citroën took over in 1968, followed by De Tomaso in 1975.

Yet, beautiful classics like the Mistral, Bora, Indy, Merak and Khamsin never stopped rolling off the assembly lines.

Note the model names. They were as exotic as the cars themselves. Yet, circumstances conspired until Fiat's financial muscle had to rescue in 1993.

By the time the Trident's 3200 GT was launched in 1999, Ferrari had taken full control of Maserati, the latter having been evolved from a sports car to a luxury sports brand competing against Aston Martin, Jaguar and the like.

Reverting back to Fiat control in 2005, Maserati is now grouped in a sport and luxury division with Alfa Romeo.

Quite a mottled history, then, at times pockmarked with survival prospects no better than slim.

But even in turbulent times, one thing stood firm: fantastic design.

Check out road-going versions of the Tipo A6, for instance, like 1953's A6GCS/53 Berlinetta by Pinin Farina (two words, in those years) and 1954's A6G54 2000 by Zagato. Or what about '60's icons like the Giugiaro-styled Ghibli, Bora and Merak or the Marcello Gandini-styled Khamsin?

Note the names, this time of designers. And ask yourself how much better cars can possibly be drawn, than this?


Enter 2007's Maserati GranTurismo.

With its extreme beauty of line, shape and form plus perfect proportions the GranTurismo flows with the ease of a breeze.

Yet the killer touch is the savage aggression of the face.

It starts with evil eyes squinting through angry slits. Cut at flared angles from steeply rising fenders, these slits, in turn, are forced wide apart by a gaping mouth that positively shouts the car's presence.

It is pure personification of a primitive predatory power. Yet, amazingly, the beastliness is gradually resolved by a sleek and civil shape, until lines and curves sculpture together in a softly-rounded derriere.

The trick undoubtedly was not to let the design go limp at the back. So, to preserve the testosterone of the initial full-frontal attack, the power and tension are kept alive by a confident, athletic stance. Wheels plant widely, whilst neatly-trimmed arches get stuffed to the hilt by big, bold and beautiful alloys carrying fearsome rubber.

Nothing works as well as proportions, though. The Maser keeps it going with a dramatically raked windscreen and flat roof over a sleek, flowing waist line.

The rear, in turn, is characterised by triangular taillights, slightly oversized like Sophia Loren's eyes, but effectively spreading the butt flat and wide. The pointy bit at the bottom of each light is also a cursory nod in the direction of four big-bore pipes framing the deep diffuser with a Bazooka-like warning against attacks from behind.

All in all, the GT successfully merges the extremities of elegance and menace into an impossibly alluring object of desire.

As such, Pininfarina has given the world another classic. The Maserati GranTursimo is simply one of the most breathtakingly beautiful cars ever to have graced this planet.


We're not going to dwell too long on the interior. It picks up from where the exterior has left off to relentlessly pursue quality, class, mood and ambience.

Apart from flat-surfaced plastic surrounds on the centre console and fairly straight-forward instrument graphics, the GT's cabin seems to have been lifted from the House of Supreme Craftmanship.

Materials, fabrics and textures are rich, warm and inviting to the touch. Seats are well-shaped and supportive in all the right places.

The steering wheel is well-designed and sporty to grip. Upper and lower parts of a two-tone dash are separated by a swoopy contour line in brushed aluminium.

The theme is continued in flashes of metal ripping along the doors and rear cabin flanks. Chrome highlights are used sparingly, but effectively.

And a classic Maser clock keeps watch over the cabin's kingdom, much like a diamond would shine from a princess's forehead.

The GT is even equipped with all the modern electronic infotainment paraphernalia that keep the bored busy. And yes, the Bose sound system is great. Pity then, about gearshift paddles mounted on the steering column. Not moving with the wheel itself, it creates a problem when trying to gear down in the apex, leaving the car without instant access to exit power.

The air-con also didn't work perfectly; Maserati said they were aware of the problem on our particular test car. Somewhat disappointing, too, was a front passenger seat mixing up its automatic fore-and-aft sequences when called upon to let rear-seat passengers in and out.

Once inside, though, space at the back is not as cramped as one would expect, though the smart bit is a plethora of creature comforts (like great seats, separate air vents, courtesy lights and cup holders).

Starved for style, class and equipment the cabin is not and it imparts a deep sense of having arrived.

Engine and transmission

Except that you haven't.

At least not until you've turned a wheel and driven the car.

That journey, the mere pleasure and privilege of traversing this planet in a Trident-adorned carriage, might in fact not be the end of the line, but a new beginning altogether.

The GT is a grand tourer, after all, which begs to be driven over vast distances. Once you've started, it's difficult to stop. The Maser envelops and infuses one with a sense of well-being, a sense of not wanting to be anywhere else.

It's you, the car and the road. Beyond it lie vast open spaces and tight, twisty mountain passes.

The GT is at home in both environments, except that the steering is way too light for a grand tourer living, in all but performance, on the edge of supercardom. Let?s hope the hot S-version of the GranTurismo rectifies this.

Until then, we have a 4.2-litre V8 using 11:01 compression to deliver 298 kW just short of the free-revving mills 7 250 r/min red line. That's good for 285 km/h on a straight, flat, windless piece of road.

Maximum torque of 460 Nm arrives at 4 750 r/min. It sounds high, but 75% thereof is already delivered at 2 500 r/min. The result is a 0-100 km/h burst in 5.2 seconds.

That's enormously quick for a car weighing in at 1 880 kg.

Or, if it's still too slow, then revel in the sound track. The GranTurismo explodes into life with a deep full-bodied V8 bark - and yes, you have to work the throttle a bit, to fire it up.

The V8 then settles into a healthy idle, before tearing the universe apart with a deep growl as revs rise.

At speed though, the Maser is extremely quiet and refined.


City driving is easy on the rudder, but hard on ride. Notwithstanding softer suspension settings than the previous GT, the GranTurismo is still uncomfortable in town, even with the optional Skyhook system for continuously variable damping.

This all changes at speed where ride quality and control combine with power and poise to guarantee seriously fast and stable cross-country progress.

The biggest revelation comes in the mountain passes, however.

Initially, one is bound to hit the powerful Brembo's too early, scything off unnecessary speed on entry. Especially with such an easy touch needed for turn-in, the synchronicity between heavy anchors and light steering takes a while to get used to.

On top of that, the steering is sharp and sensitive - almost too sensitive - often resulting in an overly tight arc into a corner.

Even so, the rear will religiously follow, not least because of the self-locking differential's limited slip and optimal traction. In this respect, GranTurismo dynamics very much revolve around the car's front end. The latter is incredibly planted, yet superbly responsive, inevitably guiding the Maser like a laser, notwithstanding the long wheelbase (2 942 mm).

Even at the edge of adhesion, a vigorous tuck at the wheel activates the chassis and stiff body shell to easily pivot the GT back into a perfectly balanced line.

It is difficult, conversely, to throw the rear off the front-end scent, although hard work and a bit of violent hooligan persuasion will do the trick.

And yes, such unflinchingly neutral handling is in part facilitated, of course, by that superb engine location. Deep it sits in the belly of the beast, albeit not as low as possible, courtesy of the Maser still lubricating from a wet sump.

The GT's dynamics are therefore a mix of sophisticated delicacies borne from responsive fly-by-wire throttle, a super-fast and smooth ZF auto 'box and extremely sensitive steering, all of the airy and light stuff working off a robust platform offering brutal brakes, massive grip, enormous traction and healthy thrust.

At maximum cornering speeds, it is difficult to guide the mix into a perfectly sweet groove time after time, precisely because of the fixed gearshift paddles plus the wide discrepancy between braking stomp and rudder weighting.

But you can get it 99% right, 98% of the time.

And it is almost impossible to get it all wrong, ever.

Plus a last comment: when last have you driven a car that will kick straight down from 6th to 4th under hard braking?

Now, that's clever and helpful preparation for a corner, I dare say.


The Robb Report is a magazine specialising in luxury products, places and services, like premium-quality yachts, jewelry, wines, vacations, fashion and the like.

To win its top automotive accolade is something special.

The Maserati Quattroporte has won it twice, in 2004 and 2005. The second time around, in Sport GT guise, it beat the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, Maybach 57S, Audi S8 and BMW M5.

The GranTurismo, we venture, operates on an ever higher plane than the Quattroporte.

It carries a greater beauty, to begin with. It is also slightly shorter and lighter. And as a GT, it is more exotic as an object of desire.

In the car world, the GranTurismo smells victory.

Nothing else, after all, offers such an astounding blend of post-modern sophistication and pre-historic menace. The Maserati is primordial and primitive, yet contemporary and cutting-edge in equal measure.

Not aiming to be the sharpest napalm tool in the sports pool, the styling's not quite apocalyptic in the sense of a Lamborghini Reventon's far-out futurism.

Yet the GranTurismo is la bella macchina par excellence.

It is Italy in all its stylish glory.

It is victory.


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