By Patrick Deveraux,. Photography by Andrew Yeadon
Alive with Italian color and character, the Maserati GranSport V8 competes with the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage on its own terms and in its own special ways. In the same manner that the Porsche 911 is unquestionably German and mechanically focused and the Aston Martin is quintessentially British in its design and execution, the Maserati couldn’t have been created or built in any country but Italy.
First there’s the Guigiaro-designed form with all its flair and brio. It’s a sleek, modern, yet classically influenced shape that appeals equally on mechanical and aesthetic planes. This silhouette can, in best Italian fashion, be accessorized with a subtle body kit that makes it look more muscular and powerful and also helps reinforce the car’s tenacious handling and grip.
Then there’s the engine, all 4.2 glorious liters of it. This roars into life as if you’ve stabbed it with a red-hot poker and sings like a diva whenever you spin it up and over 4,000 rpm. It’s happy to burble along in traffic if you make it, but showing its racer heritage (Maserati’s lineage traces to 1914 via all of the major racetracks of the world), it’s happiest when you have the aluminum throttle pedal as far down as it will go.
Helping you make the most of this aural pleasure is a six-speed Cambiocorsa gearbox that allows you to switch between gears with the merest flick of a finger on your right (down) or left (up) hand. If you haven’t driven a car fitted with a gearbox like this, there’s little to learn. In automatic mode, once you have pushed the small, centrally mounted command lever forward, you need only push on the throttle and away you go — very quickly.
The gearbox has been tuned to optimize the engine’s prodigious output, but also to make the driver feel like a pro. When you downshift, rather than slurring slickly into the gear below, the Maserati automatically makes a quick blast on the throttle to match the revs, just like the racers do. It might not sound like much, but when you’re driving the car, you will swap gears just for the hell of it — guaranteed!
If the GranSport has the looks and all the right noises, it also has true Italian road manners. As befits any car that shares its parents with Ferrari, the Maserati is a true driver’s car. Its steering and handling reward the keen pilot with superb feedback and attitude adjustment and protect the amateur with massive safety margins and excellent active safety.
It does all of this thanks to its actively damped chassis. Known in engineering-speak as a skyhook system (because it feels like the car is suspended from a big hook in the sky with no concern for road irregularities), the GranSport’s clever suspension feels and reacts to any issues — a bump or slide — before the driver even notices them.
The result is a magic carpet-style ride that gets firmer the faster you go — as you’d want it to — but is compliant enough around town to not send you shooting through the roof if you hit a speed bump too quickly. You need not push any buttons or pull any levers to make this happen, either. The car knows what needs to be done and when.
The roof fitted to the Spyder models is similarly fuss-free — no hooks or levers to release. Just press the center-mounted switch and the car tucks the fabric-covered roof away in the trunk in less than 30 seconds, leaving you exposed to the sun and that delicious exhaust note.
The GranSport’s interior features splashes of carbon fiber; swathes of leather; and a typically Italian padded, sparkly material on the dash. It probably wouldn’t work in any other make of car, but it all comes together to create an agreeable space in the Maserati. Even so, for all its style, it lacks a cup holder in the cabin.
But I’m nitpicking. The GranSport V8 deserves its place alongside the Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage as the Italian alternative to those two venerable cars. It does some things better and a few things worse, but it beats both of them hands down at one thing: being Italian. For the enlightened few, that’ll be all they need to know. Say buongiorno to the Maserati GranSport V8 and la dolce vita isn’t far away.