In the lofty niche of high-end four-seat convertibles, few stars shine brighter than the new Maserati GranTurismo. With the heater on high, the bum warmers on max, and the polished twenty-inch wheels shod with go-anywhere Pirelli SottoZero tires, it was a real pleasure to thumb a nose at winter from behind the wheel of this drop-dead gorgeous Maserati. There's no doubt about it: Maserati made the right decision when it halted the production-ready retractable hardtop in favor of this roomier, prettier, and more involving softtop.
The GranTurismo convertible (which will be known elsewhere as the GranCabrio) is the third and final iteration of the Quattroporte platform that was first unveiled in 2003. Although this component set was originally not meant to go topless, Maserati is now claiming best-in-class torsional rigidity as well as unrivaled rear leg- and headroom. The latter is an important asset: after all, 72 percent of convertible buyers order cars with more than two seats. Predictably, the numerous reinforcement measures required increased the weight to 4365 pounds. That's 220 pounds heavier than the GranTurismo coupe and almost 300 more than a Jaguar XKR convertible but about 30 pounds less than a BMW M6 softtop. Despite strengthening efforts, cowl shake is an issue when driving on undulating surfaces.
Italian motorways are no longer what they used to be. In the past, all one needed to do before dropping the hammer on such arrow-straight stretches as the three-lane A1 between Milan and Bologna was to memorize the often-inoperative stationary radar traps. More recently, however, a system called Tutor, which times your average speed over longer sections of ten or twenty kilometers, was introduced. At the end of the zone, you can actually see the flash go off as the speed camera takes a picture, but since our preproduction test car had no front license plate, assigning the penalty points might be a bit trickier than usual.
Located about midway between the touristy seaside town of Rimini and the vast estuary of the river Po, the city of Ravenna became the capital of the Western Roman Empire in 402 ad, just prior to the Visigoths' sack of Rome, but it was not until the fifth and sixth centuries that the region started to flourish. Like all historically important Italian cities, the center of Ravenna is strictly cordoned off from traffic - which is bad news when you want to photograph a beautiful new Maserati in an equally pretty urban environment. Enter Luigi and Carlo, who circumnavigated the surveillance cameras in their police car, led the way to the breathtaking Piazza del Populo, and didn't leave until we had all the pictures in the can. Grazie mille, ragazzi! Tiptoeing past buildings that are more than 1400 years old was indeed a very special experience. Elsewhere, pedestrians and cyclists might have objected to the outspoken V-8-engined intruder, but in the heart of Ferrari and Maserati country, the GranTurismo convertible attracted admiring crowds.
By midday, the temperature had risen to one degree above freezing, but with the wind chill and open top, the cold winter air still felt like full facial anesthesia. Even in these adverse conditions, it takes exactly twenty-eight seconds to raise or lower the roof, which disappears beneath a flush, leather-covered lid. For enhanced effect, the whole procedure can be staged at speeds of up to 19 mph or while standing outside the car and turning the key in the door slot. All four side windows retract fully, creating an elegant silhouette even with the top up.
When you travel with only two people onboard, a wind deflector can be clipped in to reduce buffeting from behind (by 70 percent). What Maserati can't provide are up-to-the-minute features such as Mercedes-Benz's Aircap and Airscarf. But the far bigger omission is the absence of a decent luggage compartment. When you pop the trunk lid for the first time, it's hard to believe your eyes. The casually carpeted cubicle is only 6.1 cubic feet in size and so oddly shaped that a custom-fitted luggage set is mandatory.
Italy isn't full of only charming ancient cities, a picture-postcard coastline hemmed with an intriguing mix of sleepy fishing villages and chic resorts, and enough historically important sites to keep travelers busy for an entire lifetime. In addition to these trademark attractions, the country also offers a rare mix of secluded mountain ranges and charming inland waterways that beg to be explored at exactly the leisurely pace convertibles are made for.
We didn't have enough time to visit heavenly hideaways like Maremma, Umbria, or Cinque Terre, but we did tour the equally stunning flat marshes and wetlands between Ravenna in the south and Padova in the north. Dotted with lush rice fields and vast reeds, the region known as Polesine harbors a maze of lagoons, reservoirs, canals, and saltwater lakes that attract bird-watchers, hikers, fishermen - and the crew of a light silver droptop GranTurismo. In this microparadise, there are no major villages, no gas stations, no roadside cafés, not even the odd country restaurant. Just the occasional carefully carved-out pattern of manicured farmland within the vast framework of one of the country's biggest nature reserves.
Since some of the patchwork surfaces looked so worn that they could almost date back to the days of Augustus, this was a good place to put the Maserati's dynamic stiffness to the real test. Thanks to the long 115.8-inch wheelbase - that's almost eight inches more than a Bentley Continental GTC - and the extra 220 pounds of structural scaffolding, the GranTurismo convertible mastered the irregular tarmac with the magic-carpet ease of a V-8-powered hovercraft. Although the twenty-inch wheels and the road-hugging sport suspension are tuned for grip and not for compliance, Maserati's GTC still possesses a desirable blend of total sure-footedness with upper-class ride comfort. On this washboard surface, the body-versus-chassis interplay actually helped because it softened responses without blurring feedback. It was only on the really rough stuff - which should have been marked by big "For SUVs Only" warning signs - that an occasional steering-wheel tremble and the odd side-window clatter threatened the physical composure of this born boulevardier.
Leaving herons, egrets, and divers behind, we eventually returned to civilization near Ferrara. On the wide two-lane superstrada heading north, there were plenty of opportunities to check out the different dynamic settings. In Normal mode, the Skyhook control-arm suspension permitted more emphatic body movements and more relaxed wheel travel. Sport mode tightened the reins, but not to an extent that would make the occupants suffer. Instead, it introduced a welcome dash of immediacy that extended to the throttle action and the response of the six-speed automatic transmission. Most important, however, Sport upped the tempo of the concerto grosso for sixteen intake valves and two exhaust manifolds from relatively restrained to positively passionate. At 3000 rpm sharp, the rhythm changed again, this time from fists in the pockets to so overtly aggressive that even the three seemingly deaf old women walking to evening church service swirled around in sync like hooded ballet dancers. As it was storming to the 7200-rpm redline, the 4.7-liter V-8 went through such a rich spectrum of beautiful noises that it took a hot bath in the evening to make the goose bumps go away.
Delivering 433 hp at 7000 rpm and 361 lb-ft of torque at 4750 rpm, the melodious engine takes only 5.2 seconds (factory measured) to accelerate the Maserati from 0 to 60 mph. Top speed is 176 mph with the top up and 170 mph in case you are brave (or foolish) enough to go all out with the roof down. The weight distribution, too, will change as you raise or lower the roof, but it always remains rear-biased (49/51 or 48/52, respectively), which is uncommon for a front-engine car. This equilibrium is mainly due to the transaxle layout. The key benefits of this configuration are fine handling balance, enhanced grip and traction, and almost stubborn directional stability.
Thanks to the torquey engine and the ambitiously short final-drive ratio, this car can either be Mille Miglia-like rev-hungry or tiger-purr relaxed in top gear. With the transmission in Sport, the mighty Maserati will beam itself from 50 to 75 mph in a claimed 4.2 seconds. With the cogs in normal mode, the Italian speed limit of 81 mph equals a totally casual 3000 rpm. To switch from laissez-faire to l'état c'est moi, you can either flick the transmission lever to the manual gate or address the shift paddles, which are positioned conveniently close to the steering wheel.
Like all current products bearing the trident badge, the GranTurismo convertible is a highly addictive blend of GT and sports car. Every droptop looks good when it's coasting down a tree-lined avenue at a casual, catch-the-sun pace, but this one also feels good when you don a helmet and racing gloves. All it takes to light up those fat 285/35-series rear Pirellis is a stab at the MSP OFF button, which temporarily puts traction and stability control on hiatus. With all systems in Sport and the transmission in manual, we went chasing bends, which isn't easy in the Northern Italian flatlands. Unlike the GranSport Spyder, which was tail-happy even before a corner came into sight, its replacement remains remarkably unfazed by such challenges as tightening sweepers, third-gear esses spiked by wild camber changes, and low-speed, low-friction kinks. Instead of breaking loose early and indulging in crazy drift angles, the GranTurismo waltzes past apexes with poise and grandezza. This car invites you to lay on torque early so that there's plenty of attitude on tap through the long exit onto the next straight. Applause, curtain, encore!
Tech hobbits who get a kick out of dual-clutch automatic gearboxes, trick all-wheel-drive systems, ceramic brakes, active steering racks, and racy multiple-turbo engines may not be overly impressed by the GranTurismo convertible. This is a relatively conventional car with few electronic wizardries but plenty of solid engineering. Instead of asking too little from the driver, who consequently expects the car to sort out tricky situations all by itself, the Maserati requires attention, involvement, respect, and more than a beginner's level of car control.
When pushed, it indulges in a riveting mix of grand gestures, serious pace, and inspired handling. Yes, there is a fair bit of roll, yaw, and pitch; there is brake dive and acceleration squat accompanied by a mechanical backup choir; there is random power oversteer in first, second, and third. The steering is sharp and communicative enough to ensure a healthy relationship between drama and confidence. The level of roadholding depends a lot on the quality of the road, which is an old-fashioned way of addressing the matter but in line with the seasoned character of this car. The brakes are made of conventional materials, but thanks to a new hydraulic-assist system, they bite more promptly, thereby reducing stopping distances significantly, particularly at high speeds.
Early winter sunsets seldom look as dramatic as the one that presented itself on the wide plains near Rovigo, where the planet draped a quickly darkening blood-orange good-bye filter over the spidery poplars, the stubble fields, and the solitary barns. After a quick coffee stop at an art-deco Agip station, we turned around and headed back to the ranch.
Would I spend my own money on this centerfold convertible? If the budget stretched to $139,700 (which includes gas-guzzler tax and delivery charges), I would certainly be tempted. After all, the GranTurismo is not only one of the prettiest and most involving softtops money can buy, it also comes fully loaded. Included in the list price are power everything, navigation, and a twelve-speaker Bose sound system, not to mention one of the sexiest drivetrains on the market. Buyers can specify more than 400 million different color, trim, and roof combinations. In addition, the Maserati is quick enough, fast enough, and entertaining enough to satisfy cruise captains as well as drift-challenge pros. The only serious drawback this car suffers from is impossible packaging. What good is the ability to seat four when there isn't enough room for anyone's bags? In the end, the GranTurismo convertible is a wonderful car to look at, to be in, and to drive the socks off of, but it makes, in all probability, for a strangely compromised ownership experience.
2011 Maserati GranTurismo convertible
Base price $139,700
Engine: 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement: 4.7 liters (286 cu in)
Horsepower: 433 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 361 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission type: 6-speed automatic
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, front: Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Control arms, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires Pirelli SottoZero
Tire size f, r: 245/35WR-20, 285/35WR-20
L x W x H: 192.2 x 75.4 x 53.3 in
Wheelbase:: 115.8 in
Track f/r: 62.4/62.6 in
Weight 4365 lb
Fuel mileage: 12/19 mpg (est.)
0-60 mph 5.2 sec*
Top speed 176 mph*