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First Drive:  Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.

First Drive: Maserati GranCabrio
It was revealed in all its beauty back at Frankfurt 2009, and now we've finally driven the Maserati GranCabrio. Worth the wait?

 



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| First Drive | Rome, Italy | Maserati GranCabrio |

This is the Maserati GranCabrio. It's essentially a GranTurismo that's heavier, more expensive and less structurally sound. So why would you?

Here's why...

In the Metal

Ah, Maserati. Beautiful, lovely Maserati. Despite what we're about to say on the dynamics of the GranCabrio, for the duration of its shelf life it will unquestionably get by on its looks alone. It might have about the same useable space as a BMW 3 Series Convertible and, to a large extent, be built to about the same standard, but every crease and contour exudes the sort of flair and class that Bavaria can't hope to match.

As with the Quattroporte, the cabin ambience falls short of the price tag and the promise of the exterior. Peugeot switchgear still features, and while there's a myriad of material, colour and texture options (over 2,000 combinations we're told), and it all looks and feels lovely on the face of it, there's an underlying and inherent fragility. It doesn't feel £100k's worth of car.

Maserati says that the fabric roof, a triple layer of velvety softness, was chosen because cloth keeps the centre of gravity low, thus improving handling. That's true, but soft tops always look better than folding metal ones - just try and name a good-looking 'CC' - so we reckon that the decision was aesthetic too. It completes its folding cycle in 28 seconds, and it does a fine job of keeping out noise and wind, only succumbing to whistle at motorway velocity. Mind, much of that comes from the A-pillars and the gap between the side windows where the B-pillar should be.

The roof does eat up headroom because it's quite thick, although Maserati claims class-leading room for four in the car. Based on our arbitrary shuffle around the cabin there's plenty of rear legroom, but anyone six-foot or over will have a sore neck after a while back there.

What you get for your Money

The UK price of £95,630 buys you a 'basic' GranCabrio, which is about a ten grand premium over the hard top, because it comes as standard with the 4.7-litre V8 and you can't get the lesser 4.2 found in the entry-level coupé and Quattroporte. The soft top is electric, and the cabin is lined with all the usual stuff you'd expect in a car of that expense. Trim levels tend not to exist at this end of the market, and there's only one version of the GranCabrio. Shrewdly, however, Maserati plays the 'personalisation' card, offering a veritable sweetshop of colours and flavours on an options list that you'll probably have to ring your bank manager about before getting your golden biro out.

Here are a few examples: painted brake callipers (£423): space saver wheel (£588); pearlescent paint (£5,288); colour soft top (£940); two-tone interior (£4,055); wood trim (£1,528); Bose stereo (£1,410); four-piece luggage set (£3,525); iPod connector, aka 'small cable' (£254).

You may have already added them up - it comes to £21,821. Unbelievable. But then, as the old cliché goes, this is not a market in which cost is ever really a factor. Still, an iPod cable for more than the price of an iPod is slightly ludicrous.

What you get for your Money

Maserati had a right pain in the backside trying to engineer out the inherent problems associated with chopping the roof off the GranTurismo. The maker doesn't admit that, but it's a feeling you get. A physical one. For while only 100kg has been added to the weight of the coupé in transition to cabrio, that 100kg takes the car to about two-tonnes, and the extra is spread front, back, left, right and underneath.

We're not talking old Saab Convertible levels of agitation, but you could expect a slightly less prominent degree of underlying chassis chatter from a car costing so much and whose remit is not that of open air supercar. On smooth, flowing asphalt it's fine, with an iota of suspension compliance and a well-controlled resistance to roll and dive. But on iffy surfaces - the type found all over post-snowstorm UK - it judders too much.

With the top down that feeling is exacerbated slightly, although the all-important wind buffeting minefield is sidestepped nicely because the Maser shifts the air well over the cabin. Whatever the roof position is, though, Maserati driving characteristics remain: involving if never raw. You sit low, peering through a shallow windscreen with the thick-rimmed wheel ostensibly at head height and positioned unusually vertically. The paddles for the gearshift (another expensive option) have a lovely click-clack action and are finished in Alcantara (or similar) where you touch them.

The drive itself is slightly less visceral, however. The V8 makes a wonderful crescendo, especially after 3,000rpm and with the Sport button pressed (opening valves in the exhaust for extra yowl), but it doesn't have the world-ending symphony served up by the same unit on the Quattroporte Sport GT S. The steering is encouragingly meaty, but it's too slack around the straight-ahead and seemingly sharpens up on turn in, making it difficult to judge at first. The brakes are the same, with a hefty, unassisted feel that makes them awkward initially, but satisfyingly chunky at higher speeds.

And while the engine doesn't lack performance, there's always the impression that it's battling with two-tonnes of car. The GranCabrio's weight distribution is near 50/50 (it changes by a percent or so with the roof stowed), it's balanced and agile, but the fact that the basic 4.2-litre GranTurismo beats this 4.7-litre 434bhp V8 to 62mph (5.4 seconds versus 5.2) tells a tale. Fast and enjoyable, yes, but it's difficult to call it a properly engaging sports cabriolet.

The ZF six-speed automatic gearbox is a good example why: it doesn't do anything wrong, shifting quickly both in auto and manual modes, and holding right to the redline in sport and normal settings - but it's left wanting compared to the best twin-clutch systems around. Blip down two 'cogs' and it pauses too long before sorting its brain out. Plus, it will not allow you to hold a gear, reverting back to auto within seconds of paddle inactivity, which is sometimes infuriating.

Worth Noting

Maserati's press gang passed on an anecdote during the car's introduction. Apparently Henry Ford II (that's a person, not a film) used to lark about in a Maserati Ghibli Spyder. Controversial, you'll agree (even though Ford execs probably all have Astons these days). Anyway, naturally he was quizzed as to why he, the eponymous head of FoMoCo, could possibly do such a thing. "When my engineers build me a car as beautiful as this, then I'll put this one in the garage," came his reply.

Sadly, Henry was long gone by the time the Ford Scorpio arrived.

Summary

It's quite easy to berate the new Maserati GranCabrio for its various flaws, notably including its ride and price, but it's still a compelling soft top with much to recommend. Like everything else Maserati does, nothing matches its unique Italian flair, and the engine remains an event, if a little stifled in this capacity. It's stunning inside and out, exciting to drive in its own sort of way and will be a head-turning rarity where a Porsche 911 Cabriolet or open top BMW 6 Series are 'anonymous'. That will be good enough for some.

Mark Nichol - 12 Feb 2010









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2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.



2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 

2010 Maserati GranCabrio. Image by Maserati.
 






 

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