The Maserati GranTurismo MC sounds every bit as spectacular as it looks. Its twin sport exhaust pipes, brazened a bronze hue from the intolerable heat of combustion, sing out the V8's tunes with the quickness and expert pitch change of an overcaffeinated Luciano Pavarotti.
At idle, the note is a frenzied rasp that seems to travel a distance before exiting the oversized pipes a foot above the pavement. During steady-state cruise, the sound is mellow, deep and threatening. Under full throttle it wails, screaming as the pressurized sound waves resonate off the tubular stainless steel walls of the muffler. And during deceleration it deliberately pops, cackles and burps as the engine ferociously fights its internal compression.
The sound will move your soul.
It is still morning in San Diego, and we have a full day with the new 2012 GranTurismo MC and its sibling the 2012 GranTurismo Convertible Sport. Life? It's good.
Maserati jokes that it's a company with a lot of black and white pictures – in other words, the Italian automaker that traces its lineage all the way back to 1914 has a very long history. While those old pictures are monochromatic, Maserati's past is very colorful. Its timeline includes ownership by Citroën (1968), De Tomaso (1975) and most recently Fiat (1993). Today, as part of the Fiat S.p.A. group, its siblings include both Chrysler and Ferrari. Fostering close relationships is critical to Maserati, as it relies heavily on those ties for engines, electronics and platforms, just as the Maserati Kubang SUV would share platforms with the new Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The automaker's current lineup includes a coupe, a convertible and a sedan. Our focus, and the primary reason we find ourselves in Southern California, are the upgraded two-door models: the GranTurismo coupe and GranTurismo convertible.
The first GranTurismo coupe debuted at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show. The GranTurismo Convertible (in rest-of-world "GranCabrio" guise) was launched at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. The two Italian GTs share platforms with their sedan sibling, the Maserati Quattroporte V. There's certainly no shame involved, as the vehicles take advantage of the long platform to deliver a 115.8-inch wheelbase – expansive in the competitive segment. Short wheelbases leave rear seat passengers in the Porsche 911, Jaguar XK and BMW 6 Series cramped, while rear passengers in the two Maserati offerings may actually move their torsos, move their legs and breathe.
Early GranTurismo coupe models featured a Ferrari-sourced 4.2-liter V8 rated at 405 horsepower. In 2009, the automaker offered a larger 4.7-liter V8, rated at 433 horsepower. It became standard fare on the freshly introduced GranTurismo S. The larger engine was also fitted to the slightly heavier Convertible Sport model at its debut. Yet, the 4.2-liter wasn't dropped. The smaller powerplant soldiered forth and continues to be standard fitment on the base GranTurismo coupe.
Launched at this year's New York Auto Show were the new 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC coupe (base price $139,900) and 2012 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport (base price $142,800). The MC coupe is a "domesticated" version of Europe's hardcore two-place GranTurismo MC Stradale, but with seating for four. The Convertible Sport is a virtual clone of the European GranCabrio Sport. Regardless of the confusing nomenclature, each vehicle represents the pinnacle of Maserati performance for its body style in the North American market.
Late summer is one of the best times to visit San Diego. The coastal temperatures are comfortable – most always in the mid-80s. Yet somebody at Maserati, a company with Italian headquarters more than 6,000 miles away, decided to turn things up a few notches. Our drive would be more thermally challenging than a simple trek up the cool California coast. We would head due east and venture over a jagged mountain range before dropping into the barren Borrego Desert. The state park is visually spectacular, but it is also fry-an-egg-on-the-pavement hot. In the summer, even the devil avoids it.
Regardless, and with nary a complaint, we slathered on the sunscreen, wiped the smears off our sunglasses and eagerly took the keys.
With sexy Pininfarina styling, the GranTurismo models are arguably two of the most beautiful GT cars on the road. While the Convertible Sport looks nearly identical to last year's model, the fresh lines and sleek bodywork on the MC Coupe were directly inspired by the company's racing department, says Maserati. Not only does the aerodynamic package look good, but compared to the GranTurismo S, the new aerodynamics deliver 25 percent more downforce at the front and 50 percent more at the rear at 124 mph. More specifically, air is now channeled both under the car to improve stability and through the brakes to improve cooling. The vents on the hand-formed aluminum hood are also functional, as they remove excess heat from the engine compartment.
GranTurismo cabins are gorgeous in both MC Coupe and Convertible Sport configurations. Drop into either and you will find them nearly identical in layout, except for the unique use of carbon fiber, aluminum and a rainbow of leather colors. The fit and finish is excellent, the hides top-notch. Our convertible test model had oyster-colored leather, contrasting black stitching and black carbon fiber accents. Our closed-roof coupe, cosmetically-enhanced with carbon fiber for its performance role, featured brilliant red leather and woven carbon fiber accents nearly everywhere we looked. Your author's six-foot two-inch frame fit without any issue, and the driving position is good. The front seats are supportive, sculpted for comfort over cornering support (side bolstering is minimal). The rear seats are habitable too – we put a video guy back there for an hour and he didn't utter a word of discontent.
As mentioned, both the coupe and the convertible share the same engine and powertrain. Sourced directly from Ferrari, the 4.7-liter V8 features all-alloy construction with steel cylinder liners for durability. It is a conventional wet sump design, with a single timing chain to improve engine response and reduce overall complexity. The engine, complete with red crackle-finish valve covers, is rated at 444 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 376 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 rpm and power output is identical for both vehicles.
Grunt is sent to the rear wheels through a proven, and near bullet-proof, adaptive six-speed ZF automatic transmission that has been on the scene for many, many years (we've seen it in the BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Audi A8 among others). Custom software manages the wet gearbox for a Maserati-like attitude. More importantly, a unique "MC Auto Sport" mode executes near-perfect throttle blips on downshifts and will hold the gear at redline until the driver chooses to shift – that's exactly the way we like it.
Suspension components differ slightly between the two. The Convertible Sport features an upgraded version of the automaker's Skyhook adaptive suspension. Its aluminum dampers continuously adjust the ride based on a new performance calibration. The MC coupe, on the other hand, is fitted with single-rate dampers and larger anti-roll bars to minimize body movement (Skyhook is optional). The race-tuned setup arrives in conjunction with a special Maserati Stability Program (MSP) allowing a bit more sideways action. The MC coupe is also fitted with a mechanical limited-slip differential as standard equipment.
Brakes are dual-cast Brembos, with aluminum hats and iron rotor surfaces to keep weight at a minimum, and all of the rotors are drilled and slotted. Up front, six-piston aluminum calipers are tasked with the disposal of kinetic energy while the rear task is left to four-piston units. While finished differently, both of our test cars were wearing the same 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels wrapped in Pirelli PZero Corsa tires (245/35R20 front and 285/35R20 rear). It is interesting to note that the tread pattern is not the same on the front and rear tires. The front tire tread is directional, for better wet weather grip, while the tread at the rear is asymmetrical (large blocks on the shoulders) for improved cornering grip.
Nearly all of the MC's body panels, with the exception of the hand-formed ventilated aluminum hood, are steel. The rear decklid is composite, so the GPS antenna may talk to the satellites. The Convertible Sport, however, has a non-ventilated steel hood, and a power-operated folding soft top replaces the fixed steel roof found on the coupe. As expected, there are small compromises that must be made for the opportunity to sunbathe while touring. First, the trunk space drops from an already mediocre 9.2 cubic feet to just 6.1 cubic feet (it was hard to fit our large camera bag). Second, the fuel tank is reduced in capacity from 22.7 gallons to 19.8 gallons, cutting precious cruising range (EPA fuel economy rating is 13 mpg city/21 mpg highway for the MC Coupe, and 13 mpg city/20 mpg highway for the Convertible Sport).
Gravity pulls the Maserati GranTurismo MC Coupe down on the scales with a weight of 4,145 pounds. The Convertible Sport, at 4,365 pounds, is about 220 pounds heavier. With the engine set low and well behind the front axle, weight distribution for both the Coupe and Convertible is a well-balanced 49 percent front, 51 percent rear (lower the soft top and the convertible's weight balance moves one percent rearward). According to Maserati, the lighter MC Coupe will hit 60 mph in 4.8 seconds, with the slightly heavier Convertible Sport reaching the same benchmark in 5.2 seconds. Top speed on the convertible is 177 mph, while the MC will hit a drag-limited 185 mph. (Despite Joe Walsh's 1978 song "Life's been good" with the famed lyrics, "My Maserati does 185, I lost my license now I don't drive," the MC is the first showroom Maserati in North America to ever hit that velocity.)
We dropped our torso into the MC Coupe first. After a quick turn of the key, the 4.7-liter fired up and settled to a smooth idle. This particular vehicle was fitted with the performance exhaust option – it's less restrictive innards allow more sound, but no measurable increase in power. The audio track is a hurried growl, almost muted. A stab of the console-mounted SPORT button (to the top left of the NAV screen) opens an internal bypass valve and instantly changes the exhaust pitch. It is every bit as hurried, but much angrier and sounds wonderful.
The transmission shifter is configured with a standard P-R-N-D sequence (with manual mode to the left). We adjusted the mirrors, slid the transmission into Drive and set off towards the desert a few hours away.
Around town, the GranTurismo MC Coupe is remarkably tame and easy to drive. The accelerator and brake pedal, prominently sporting cast aluminum overlays, are on the same plane with each other (as opposed to being at different heights). It takes a moment to become accustomed to the layout, but it was a non-issue after a few miles. The steering weight is good and outward visibility was never an issue thanks to well-placed exterior mirrors and large side windows. Maneuvering only became an issue when we approached an incline or obstruction (e.g., driveway or parking barrier) as the nose is long and the splitter is low. Take some extra caution pills, and an additional moment to approach from an angle, and things will be just fine.
But who are we fooling? Low speeds are mundane, and this Italian coupe is born to run. As expected, the MC Coupe's strength is its ability to open up all eight cylinders and cover expanse areas of real estate drama-free in short periods of time – and that it does very well.
The naturally-aspirated engine lacks the low-rpm torque commonplace on many late-model forced-induction engines, but the ZF transmission does a nearly impeccable job of managing the available power delivery. Shifts were very fast (reportedly occurring in just 200 milliseconds in Sport mode) and extremely solid. The well-proven wet gearbox may look archaic on paper, but in practice delivers an award-winning performance. As other automakers adapt seven- or eight-speed transmissions in pursuit of fuel economy, and suffer with sloppy responses and gear hunting, the six-speed transmission buried within the GranTurismo may go down in the history books as the pinnacle of traditional torque converter technology. It is that good.
Still marveling at the transmission's adaptability, we found ourselves following County Highway S22 eastward as it dropped steeply into Borrego Springs. Lightly traveled, the asphalt snakes down Montezuma Grade from 4,200 feet above sea level to just 600 feet elevation in just over 11 miles. Completed in 1964, and with an average slope of six percent, it is the longest sustained highway grade in San Diego County. In other words, spectacular.
With the thick leather and carbon fiber steering wheel in hand, we pointed the MC Coupe into the sweeping corners faster and faster as we explored the Pirelli's grip. At about eight-tenths it was the Maserati, not the rubber, which decided to cap our fun. Understeer reared its head and our steering inputs quickly became jerky as we fought to keep the coupe following the line. When pushed, it became obvious that the GranTurismo – all two-plus tons – was tuned for touring over sport. While it looks like something that would readily swallow and digest a BMW M6, the Maserati MC Coupe is much better, and much happier, frolicking at more responsible speeds.
Dozens more turns lay ahead, so we dialed everything down a notch and resolved on enjoying the Maserati MC for its impressive touring capabilities. We'd blast fast on the open straights (just to listen to the hypnotic exhaust), then use the thoroughbred brakes to haul things down before the corners. Passing other vehicles was a breeze, as the transmission seemed to read our minds.
After lunch at Carlee's Bar & Grill in downtown Borrego Springs (population about 3,500, not counting the rattlesnakes), we swapped keys for a Convertible Sport. With temperatures hovering only a few degrees cooler than an operating catalytic converter, we stopped frequently to put the top up and down, a process that takes just under 30 seconds. With our scalps out of the sun, we were able to take advantage of the GranTurismo's powerful dual-zone automatic air conditioning. It worked overtime, but was never overstressed, as it replaced the heat and moisture in the cabin with dry cool air to keep us very comfortable. Of course, the multi-layer top restricts some outward visibility when raised, but it never comes close to being as claustrophobic as say... a BMW 6 Series convertible. Top down, all the soft components disappear cleanly beneath a hard tonneau cover and airflow is well managed around the windshield header, regardless if the windows are up or down.
Maserati's Skyhook suspension also worked well, easily accomodating the added weight of the convertible. We kept the SPORT button engaged nearly the whole time, meaning damping settings were firm, but it was worth it just to keep the exhaust note purring loudly. Like the coupe, understeer was the rule when the Convertible Sport was pushed beyond its comfort zone.
Several hours in the open top GranTurismo, under a variety of driving conditions, gave us plenty of time to play with the "manual" aspects of the gearbox. The Italians have thoughtfully mounted two huge composite shift paddles on the column. They remain fixed in place, but each covers about 45 degrees of the wheel so finding them mid-corner isn't an issue. Our only gripe was that our fingers on the steering wheel would knock the paddles inadvertently on occasion and that their location required the turn stalks to be moved forward half-an-inch, making them a reach. We played with the paddle shifters for over an hour before deciding the transmission was smarter and smoother than we would ever be on public roads.
Back at the hotel, with temperatures pleasantly hovering in the mid-80s, we pondered these two new Maserati. Initially, the GranTurismo MC Coupe, with its sinister snout, ventilated hood and deliciously raspy sport exhaust was our first choice. Then we changed our minds and leaned towards the GranTurismo Convertible Sport. Its dual-role personality delivered open-air enjoyment or coupe privacy at the touch of a button, without much compromise in the driving department.
These new Maserati GranTurismo models don't claim, or even challenge to be, the world's finest sports cars. They are, as the automaker likes to say, four-seat cars of unparalleled elegance and performance, the ultimate marriage of luxury and sports. Well said, and we agree.