It’s not very often a car comes along that, at the touch of a button, instantly becomes a hooligan.
Model Tested: 2010 Maserati GranTurismo S, Auto, V8-cylinder, petrol, six-speed sequential manual and automatic transmissions
It’s not very often a car comes along that, at the touch of a button, instantly becomes a hooligan. Maserati’s gorgeous Maserati GranTurismo S is such a car. Press the button marked ‘Sport’ and, even at a standstill, it opens up its exhaust baffles to liberate a soundtrack that surely ranks with the greatest emitted from any car in history. In my custody, whenever this car’s engine is running, that button is always pressed. It would be rude not to, really…
While Ferrari has struggled to produce a single beautiful car over the past two decades, the GranTurismo proved that when Pininfarina is firing on all cylinders, there’s nobody in the world that can design cars quite like them. It sometimes looks slightly awkward in photographs but see one for real and it’s spellbinding. All the right curves in all the right places and a gaping grille up front that looks like it could suck up the car in front and expel it from those fat, oval exhaust pipes.
But there was trouble in paradise for the GranTurismo never really felt fast enough; certainly not enough to tempt many customers away from Porsche, Aston Martin and the like. It badly needed to offer a proper punch to live up to the promises made by its exotic appearance and, praise be, it’s had it in the form of the S. This is much more like it.
The 4.2-litre, Ferrari-built (but Maserati specific) V8 of the normal GranTurismo has been enlarged to 4.7-litres and it’s basically a retuned version of the mill that powers Alfa’s glorious 8C, which happened to be built by Maserati. The Fiat group really does have everything stitched up, doesn’t it? Speaking of which, it’s important to note that Maserati isn’t really permitted by Fiat to take on Ferrari. This is no level playing field and the GranTurismo is, as the name suggests, just that: a wonderful GT car, not a screaming, psychotic supercar.
Climb inside and, apart from the acres of finest quality leather, the first thing you notice is just how spacious it is inside a GranTurismo. This is a genuine four-seater with plenty of room for four adults with normal limbs – something that immediately gives it an advantage over Aston’s DB9, Jaguar’s XK and Porsche’s 911. The dash and instrumentation is a bit of a mish-mash, with too many switches in too many places. There’s no gear shifter in the centre console, just that Sport button and two others marked ‘1’ and ‘R’, meaning three-point turns can be a bit of a nightmare.
On the move, these niggles disappear as the big Maser covers ground. The standard suspension of the S does show up the car’s stiffer than normal ride but the one I’m testing for a few days has the optional ‘Skyhook’ adaptive set-up and it makes a decent fist of offering greater levels of comfort while stiffening up when pressing on, especially when the roads get twisty. The S has better brakes than the standard car and a thicker anti-roll bar – these things coming together to make the GranTurismo a more focussed car than its glamorous forebear.
This engine loves to rev, just like any Ferrari V8, but the downside here is that low-down torque is conspicuous by its absence. This is a heavy GT car – it weighs a substantial 1880kg – and could do with more grunt in the lower echelons of the power curve. Peak power (433hp) comes at 7000rpm, so it’s a bit at odds with the GranTurismo’s character but it doesn’t half sound incredible.
The six-speed sequential manual gearbox is the same unit that Ferrari fitted to the epic 430 Scuderia and can be used like a traditional automatic. But it’s quite agricultural in feel, with a jolt with every change, particularly noticeable when driving at low speeds or manoeuvring through town. The GranTurismo S Automatic is the model to go for if the thought of shifting gears yourself doesn’t appeal.
Testing the two cars back-to-back, though, shows the Auto to be softer-edged. Its spring rates are eight percent lower than the regular S, which serves to lighten the steering and its excellent ZF transmission is longer geared. The upshot is that it feels slower, although Maserati’s official figures say it only takes a tenth of a second more to cover a standing kilometre.
As a driver’s car, the normal S wins hands down. Forget the Auto mode and take control using the large paddle shifters – that’s how to get the best out of this car. The changes are lightning-quick, as they are in the Scuderia ( as little as just 100 milliseconds) and, when you press that Sport button, two things happen: not only does the exhaust system liberate all its sonic perfection but, once you floor the throttle and climb above 5500rpm, the transmission activates MC-Shift mode, which is when you get those 100ms shifts.
It’s an electrifying experience; the S feels completely planted, utterly composed and very fast – in fact it feels faster than it actually is, no doubt helped by that unspeakably gorgeous engine note permeating the cabin. The deep, burbling resonance experienced at tickover and low speeds is replaced by a staccato scream – lift off the throttle and it sounds like a thousand firecrackers are being let off in the exhaust. Absolutely addictive stuff.
Driver feedback isn’t as instant as that of a 911 or an Audi R8 but that’s when you remember this isn’t supposed to be an all-out sports car – it’s still a GT car at the end of the day. And a mighty fine one it is, too. It manages to hide its weight rather well, it contains body roll, remains composed even in extremis and, despite its 20-inch alloy rims, doesn’t crash over poor road surfaces.
It’s not perfect, though. The seats are a bit too firm – fine for a spirited drive but verging on uncomfortable over a long run. It’s expensive, too, when compared to its key rivals like the venerable 911 and the excellent Jaguar XKR. But all things told, it’s the car the GranTurismo should have been all along. The Automatic didn’t pull at the heartstrings, it just felt a bit remote.
The S with the sequential gearbox and that Sport button (curiously, the Auto doesn’t have the same trick exhaust) feels and sounds like the best Italy has to offer these days and comes highly recommended. It’s been a long time since I wanted a car as badly as this one.