Maserati and Ferrari were once fairly fierce rivals, and both companies were based in Modena, Italy. They competed both on the racetrack and on the street, making gorgeous cars that looked as fast as they went. Ferrari later shifted base to neighbouring Maranello, and both companies’ fortunes saw a downturn during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Ferrari weathered it better than Maserati, however, and the former company saw several different owners before its fortunes were revived in 1999 — under Ferrari ownership! The two companies now share manufacturing facilities, engines and other technology, and Maserati is back where it rightfully belongs, among the upper echelons of the luxury sportscar market, making some seriously beautiful cars.
Take the Maserati GranCabrio Sport, for example — I challenge anyone with even a hint of petrol in his veins to look at this car and say ‘Hmm, I will now proceed to maintain a straight face and effect an air of unperturbed nonchalance’. Nonchalance smonchalance — the GranCabrio is the sort of car that makes you spontaneously combust with sheer, electric desire.
You only need look at it in the flesh to understand what I’m talking about. The standard GranCabrio, the first cabriolet from Maserati, is fantastic to begin with; the Sport ratchets up the gorgeousness to a ferocious level. The car I drove came in a fabulous new paint scheme, Rosso Trionfale (homage to the Gran Prix-winning Maseratis of the 1950s) which accentuated the car’s sinuous lines beautifully. The car’s distinctive grille has been blacked out, as have the headlights (with white reflectors), alloys and tailpipes, and the front splitter and side skirts have been redesigned, to look more aggressive. This car looks like it has flames billowing from its rear when it’s standing perfectly still; it literally sizzles and pops, and I can claim, hand on heart, that it is arguably the most beautiful car in the world.
The cabin is no less enticing, with wonderfully stitched leather seats and classy touches of carbon fibre and brushed aluminium. Settle down in the driver’s seat, drop the soft top (it takes 27 seconds), put on your sunglasses and you will already feel like a god, without so much as having started the car. Fire the 4.7-litre V8 up, blip the throttle a few times and you will feel faint with delight — whatever the Maserati engineers were taking when they produced that visceral engine note, I want a lifetime supply of it. I drove the Ferrari 458 Italia not so long ago, a car with an astonishing soundtrack, and the GranCabrio Sport outdoes the 458 in the audio department; the V8’s growl goes directly from the soles of your feet to the pleasure-centres of your brain.
The car’s V8 engine puts out 450 bhp@7,000 rpm and 51 kgm@4,750 rpm (with 80 per cent of the torque available below 2,500 rpm), very healthy figures indeed, and if you put the six-speed ZF transmission in Manual Sport mode and bury the drilled aluminium throttle, the full impact of all that firepower comes through dramatically, with the Sport rocketing away to 100 kmph in just over 5 seconds — for a car that weighs almost two tonnes, that’s pretty nifty.
With its top down and all its windows fully retracted, you will attract the kind of attention normally reserved for movie stars, even in Italy, where gorgeous cars abound. The attention is not always complimentary, though — several times, I was yelled at by people who were seething with envy! If you really want to go all out, floor the accelerator and that sinful engine note will sing an aria worthy of Pavarotti at his well-fed best. The fact that you can do 285 kmph in this car is actually completely irrelevant — the Sport exists so that you can rumble down a boulevard and soak up all the adulation (and curses) coming your way.
Should you want to start flinging the car around — well, you can. Even though the sport is a big, heavy machine and feels it (how does a 40-foot turning circle sound?), it’s also a remarkably well composed grand-touring sportscar, with an ideal rear-biased weight distribution of 49/51 with the top down, and with very good straight line stability, plenty of grip and fine balance.
The Skyhook active suspension in this car makes precise regulations in the dampers in order to provide the best possible handling. With everything in Sport mode and the transmission set to Manual, corner-hunting is a real pleasure, with apexes being straightened gracefully and tightening sweepers dismissed with casual ease; plus, there’s plenty of scope for tail-out action if you so wish. The brakes, which are grooved, ventilated and drilled, offer plenty of feedback and preciseness, helping you stay right side up. With its extra 100 kg of reinforced weight, and its large 2,942 mm wheelbase, the Sport rides very well too, providing the sort of comfort you’d expect of a grand tourer.
This is not a cheap car (Rs 1.46 crore, ex-showroom Delhi), so the question is, would you break your fixed deposit and spring for one? I’m not sure about you, but I would rob banks and diddle the stock market in order to get my hands on it. There may be more accomplished cars out there, but few stir the senses in quite the same way as this Maserati. It truly is a work of art!
The writer was invited by Maserati to drive the GranCabrio Sport in Italy