Wheels – A Star Is Born

The charismatic and practical Maserati Gran Turismo could win hearts of discerning drivers.

Pat Devereux

There are few cars you can get emotional about these days, but the Maserati GranTurismo is one of them. With its heart of a Ferrari, body of a film star, and voice of an opera singer, it seduces you with its charms every time you take it for a drive. It’s thrilling without being scary, classy without being brash, and loaded with character without being unreliable.

Firmly established now as Fiat’s premium sport luxury brand, Maserati — designed to offer an Italian alternative to the world’s luxury car owners — has a special allure. Combining southern European passion with northern European engineering, the cars tend to attract drivers with discerning taste and style.

Slotting into the two-model range alongside the svelte four-door Quattroporte, the two-door GranTurismo builds on the Quattroporte’s best features and, as the name suggests, adds a sporting flavor to the mix. Rare among its ilk, and thanks to its deceptively large dimensions, it’s a true four-seater with appreciable luggage capacity. So don’t write it off as an impractical sports car. You can, and should, use it every day.

Based on the same basic architecture as the Quattroporte, the GranTurismo is 14 inches longer, two inches taller, and an inch wider than the GranSport it replaces. This lifts it away from competing against cars like the Porsche 911 and pits it with the Jaguar XKR, Aston Martin DB9, and Mercedes CL-Class.

The 90-degree, 4.2-liter V8 engine is largely the same as the unit in the Quattroporte. Compared to its German opposition, its power output of 405 horsepower might not sound great, but it’s more than adequate to whisk the GranTurismo to a top speed of 177 mph and hit the freeway speed limit in little over six seconds. Plus, whatever it might lack in numbers, the car compensates with in charisma.

Rather than using the original Quattroporte’s quirky cambiocorsa auto gearbox, the GranTurismo uses the later ZF six-speed self-changer, slightly retuned for the GT. The changes — offered through steering wheel-mounted paddles or the center console shift lever — are quick and precise in any of the four modes you choose. But they’re not so abrupt to make things uncomfortable.

With its racing heritage, you might expect the GranTurismo to be a highly strung sports car, but it exudes a calm that makes it a fabulous car to drive over longer distances. You can make it sing and dance if the mood takes you, but it will always default back to a slower-breathing canter rather than an all-out gallop. If you want more speed or slightly tighter handling, the GranTurismo GT-S will happily oblige. It offers another 35 bhp and a stiffer chassis as standard.

The standard GT’s responses might seem too relaxed at first, but it takes only a few miles to get into the GranTurismo’s groove and take it a bit easier. You get the sense that the engineers who built it decided to give it a more-haste-equals-less-speed approach to life. The steering through the 20-inch wheels is direct but not so direct that you have to correct constantly, the active suspension firm but compliant.

And the fit and finish of the cabin is a world away from Maseratis of even a few years ago. The dash is functional and clean, but the seats and surfaces draw the most attention. Trimmed in rich Poltrona Frau leather (available in 10 colors) that improves with age and with a choice of 13 stitching tones and four headliner colors, the 4 million combinations mean the level of personalization possible is right up there with a Bentley.

Even so, the car’s exterior design is still its best feature. The Pininfarina-penned lines give the GranTurismo a visual head start on all its competitors that no amount of technology or performance can beat. The car radiates a special presence and sense of occasion.

If you want a stylish GT with a big heart that offers fun in functionality without compromising style, the latest GranTurismo — priced from $110,000 — is in a class of its own. You can find more speed and perhaps even better handling elsewhere, but you won’t find another car with more character and class for this money. If your heart says yes, don’t let your head say no. 

Back on Track

Maserati’s latest foray into motorsport — after a 37-year absence — was with the MC12. The company built only 50 of the cars to position Maserati to compete in the FIA GT race series. Each car costs more than $760,000 — and is worth every penny.

Built on the chassis of the venerable Ferrari Enzo, though with dimensions substantially larger, the two-door, Targa-topped MC12 has a top speed of 205 mph and produces 621 bhp — enough to win it the GT1 Teams Championship in 2006 and 2007.

In 2006, Maserati built the MC12 Corsa, a version designed for private owners to drive at track days. Only 12 of these track-only cars were built at a cost of $1.25 million each. As private-use cars, none won any big races, but they surely won the hearts and minds of their owners.