Monday, 27 February 2012

Co-Pilots' Notes #2:- '08 Maserati GranTurismo S

If only I had seen it coming. Had I kept my eye on the Radar I would have know that the Maserati would be present, and would have made arrangements to take it for an “evaluative appraisal”. As it was, I was only able to experience the machine from the passenger seat.

Time, then, for one of my ultra-cheaty, pinch-o’-salt Co-Pilots Notes instalments, and only the second Maserati to make it to the electronic pages of this here journal.

It’s a big car, the GranTurismo, very big. It looks imposing through a combination of acreage of metal and a sharp set of clothes, tailored by Pininfarina and friends. It’s a striking machine with bags of presence, a kind of assertive, aggressive ying to its stablemate, the Quattroportes’s yang. It can be fairly admitted, though, that this isn’t one of the best Farina shapes. It doesn’t have quite the astonishing attention to detail that the four-door does.

Still, there are angles from which the GranTurismo is best viewed, and from those it has a kind of violent brutishness that appeals to something latent within you. The gaping front grille is as good as anything ever to issue from between the Bolognese or Milanese factory gates. Its vicious teeth and proud trident badge punch through from underneath a bonnet of almost obscene length; in plan view actually slightly reminiscent of the early Jaguar XK8, but with sexy little haunches directly above the wheels and a laid-back windscreen that suggests loping along a Riviera autostrada, just around sunset, to the tune of  “On Days Like These”.

Tug on a door handle (markedly inferior, incidentally, to the ones on an Alfa Romeo 156; Maserati could have benefited from a little parts-bin rummaging), and make your way inside to an unashamedly opulent interior where every surface has been considered in isolation. All notable plastic surfaces are lightly rubberised for tactility, all that doesn’t need to be plastic is hewn from timber and all that couldn’t be timber is smothered in the softest, warmest leather. Furthermore, an explorative venture aft saw me more-or-less fitting in the rear seats. Amazingly I had at least as much space as I do in a Ford Probe. Amputees or those with no head would find it very comfortable indeed.

Quality-wise it’s a difficult thing to quantify. A thoroughbred Italian car follows a different set of priorities from the best Germany has to offer. In an expensive German car the interior is constructed with molecular exactness, but out of materials chosen for reasons of suitability rather than any artistic justification. It will probably last for the rest of time, dazzling generations of people with its extreme competence, whereas the dashboard of a Maserati will most probably disintegrate within a relatively brief period of time. But when it does collapse it will do so into a pile of jewel-like pieces, each one more beautiful than the last. An Italian car interior is food for the soul.

Much is said of the aroma of certain cars, but this particular Maserati stands out as having had the most evocatively perfumed interior air I have every had the joy to breathe. The closest I can think of to a match is the owners stateroom of a range-topping Sunseeker yacht, it’s heady and intoxicating, and goes some way to distracting you from the inevitability of your next pleasure, starting it up and actually driving it.

Alas, my doleful expression and attempt at puppy-dog eyes were ineffective and my colleague kept the keys firmly grasped. I would have to make do with the co-pilots seat. A bit unsporting of him, but then the car came into our dealership as his deal, I guess it’s not unreasonable for him to enjoy the fruits of his toil. 

So I kicked back into the semi-reclined left-hand perch and he twisted the key. A brief chatter of starter and a momentary clearing of the throat before the 4.7 litre 90degree V8 settles to a loudish but unspectacular tickover. We trickle out of the compound and onto the main road, before my colleague, predictably, guns it.

It’s quick alright. I’d imagine it feels quicker from the passenger seat than from the drivers side, it always seems that way. From a rolling start there’s the merest hint of transmission lag as at he ZF sequential automatic makes its mind up, you then lunge forward with some haste, albeit not as much as you think you are. It’s strange; I don’t know whether the car was developed specifically with urban environments in mind, but the car feels like it’s geared to show a particular talent for the nought-to-forty dash; the traffic-light Grand Prix. From forty mph upwards, it merely feels extremely nippy, not pulverising. It can’t offer the same kind of preposterous acceleration from any speed to any speed as a full-fat AMG, for example, but lets face it, those specialist uber-Mercs are designed to warp your preconceptions. Acceleration like that is greedy.

And AMGs are boring, anyway. Once you’ve performed  few launch-control starts the novelty has worn off and you need a new set of rear tyres. The more refined way a Maserati goes about its business is, to me, a far richer experience. The sound is better, too. An AMG is ever so shouty; it’s a marvellous sound but it’s the same sound every time.  With the exhaust note of every current Maserati, every facet of what the enthusiast enjoys about fast cars is represented. At the low end, on a trailing throttle and just above tickover, are healthy hints of old-school pushrod V8, giving way gracefully to a flat-plane midrange before hardening to that outrageous Formula One howl at the death. 

It’s an utterly wonderful cacophony of sound, but there’s a caveat. I may well be talking pish and fie, but I swear blind that the Quattroporte sounds even better. Could it be that extra exhaust silencing gives the majestic saloon more of a Jekyll and Hyde character? I think it might. For such a stately conveyance to issue such an astonishing and unseemly noise is simply magical. The GranTurismo, if I can use this as a criticism, just sounds like a wonderful sounding sports car.

Handling: Well, the ten or so miles I spent in the GranTurismo highlighted two things; that the ride quality is very good indeed and that the name GranTurismo is very apt. It seems responsive enough but there is certainly an amount of heave and sway going on when driven in extremis. A bit like a Quattroporte, really. Providing the electronics that govern the Skyhook system don’t fritz out, and based on he form of previous experience there’s every reason to believe they might, the Quattroporte handles every bit as well as you can reasonably demand, certainly not an order of magnitude less well than the GranTurismo.

You may have noticed a theme here. It’s not my fault, I can’t help it. The GranTurismo and Quattroporte are cut from the same bespoke Italian cloth. They’re based on the same platform, the iconcally named M139 that also appears, much modified, under the Ferrari California. They feel closely related, as you might imagine. Unfortunately, for me, this very fact is also the partial undoing of the GranTurismo.

That interior, while made from lovely things, just isn’t as nice as that of its sister. The looks, as I have mentioned, are arresting rather than inspirational. The handling is better, but not overwhelmingly so. The GranTurismo is faster, but not by an enormous amount. Plus the Quattroporte is more comfortable, has space in the back for properly-formed passengers and costs either the same or very slightly less.  I’m bound to say that, unless you desperately crave the indulgent status of a car with just two doors, the GranTurismo less and less sense every time you think about it.

I’d take the Quattroporte, even though Bono has one.