Maserati's latest progeny is a Gran Turismo coupe combining the hotter 433-hp 4.7-liter V-8 engine introduced last year for the Gran Turismo S with a contemporary 6-speed ZF automatic. This new third prong in the Trident's spear is a full-bodied 2+2 groomed with a balanced blend of poise and performance.
Voluptuous Curves, Sensual Sanctuary
Exterior alterations to the facelifted coupe introduced two years ago are limited to more aggressively flared rocker panels and new 20-inch cast aluminum wheels. The flow-formed rims are fitted with 35-series Pirelli P-Zero radials with staggered 245-front and 285-rear section widths and a Y speed rating.
Inside, changes are equally measured. There are new metal and wood finishes for the accent pieces that run through the door and instrument panels, plus a broader selection of leather trim colors. Several custom trim touches have been added to the Maserati Corsa menu of sporting accessories.
The shift lever has both manual and automatic gear change gates, while prominently labeled shift paddles are attached to the steering column. The 9000-rpm tachometer is marked with a 7500 rpm redline as confirmation that this Maserati has the lungs to sing with gusto on demand.
Honoring tradition, the Gran Turismo S is equipped with classic functional attributes -- such as genuine cast aluminum pedals with lightening holes and textured contact surfaces -- in lieu of gimmicks such as push-button starting and radar cruise control. The molded vinyl used to trim most of the instrument panel has the look and feel of genuine leather. Maserati's Media System has been upgraded to include a standard navigation display with traffic information delivery, Sirius satellite radio reception, Bluetooth wireless cell phone connectivity, and a cable hookup for portable media players.
Pedigreed Italian Engineering
Accommodating the new automatic transmission involved a substantial tear-up of the GT model's driveline. Unlike the sibling GT S, which has its 6-speed automated manual box integrated with the final-drive differential in a rear-mounted transaxle, the new automatic edition has its gearbox mated directly to the 4-cam, 32-valve Ferrari-built V-8. While this layout moves the center of gravity forward slightly, the S Automatic still favors the rear axle with two percent more weight than what's carried by the front wheels.
While 4.7-liters is on the small side in today's world of muscle-bound supercars, the S Automatic musters a good show of speed with sub-5.0-second 0-60 mph sprints, and a top end just over 180 mph according to the factory. More importantly, it whips up 90 percent of its maximum torque by 3000 rpm and the horsepower curve climbs enthusiastically to a 7000-rpm crescendo. Features that distinguish this engine from those used by Ferrari include wet-sump lubrication, a civilized 90-degree crankshaft, and variable valve timing restricted to the intake tracts.
But thanks to well-tuned dual pipes, an X-shaped connector, and active mufflers, the S engine still sings out motor music with a grand tenor's gusto. Every adjustment of the throttle cues an endearing growl or chortle and even at the redline the howl is modulated and mature in tone. Porsches may pass you and Ferraris will shriek by in an auditory fury but no other GT carries on a conversation quite as engaging as this Maserati's.
Dynamically DelightfulPower steering that's loose and lifeless on center cinches up the moment turning or higher speeds are involved. No minding is necessary to maintain an arrow-straight trajectory during 100-mph cruising. That said, a hefty hand is needed to muscle this willing stallion into tight switchbacks. When major portions of the tenacious road grip is exploited and the stability system intervenes, it's the front tires that receive the helping hand. The tail remains obediently in place and is never perturbed by redline upshifts or blip-throttle downshifts while arcing into a bend. What Maserati calls Skyhook, an inertia-based dynamic sensing system, quickly adjusts damping to keep body motion in check without punishing occupants with impact shock, harshness over textured pavement, or jiggly reactions to road ripples.
The chassis tuning and the mellow powertrain blend harmoniously to uphold the classic standard of grand touring with annoyances held at bay. The new transmission also sings from the same score. Paddle-triggered upshifts are quick and decisive. Downshifts are accompanied by automatic rev matching to avoid upsetting the chassis's grip and attitude.
Unlike the automated-manual alternative, this box will automatically upshift approaching redline. Keying the Sport button lifts the rpm for those shifts while also activating firmer damper settings. With the shift lever in the manual gate, there are no automatic kickdowns exiting a bend. Instead, the driver cues that action with a nudge of the shift lever or a click of a paddle. A winter driving mode providing second-gear starts is also included.
The unavoidable one-two upshift occurs at 7000 rpm, a few hundred revs below the power peak, presumably to protect the transmission. Other upshifts go off at the 7200 rpm peak, so there's no opportunity to use the full 7500 rpm offered by the tach.
An excessive quest for comfort leaves the bucket seat cushions and backrests sadly short of lateral support. Thick windshield pillars can mask the view to corner apexes. On bright days, the center speaker grille is reflected in the windshield. And while the rear seats are genuinely accessible and accommodating, hot sun beats down on the necks of passengers transported there.
The brakes respond to a longer instead of a harder push of the pedal, frustrating modulation during racy driving. And with a curb weight well over two tons, the Gran Turismo is in desperate need of a crash diet program.
To the casual observer, the Maserati Gran Turismo S Automatic is a Ford Mustang with a grossly inflated price but there's more to this car's soul than a couple of extra camshafts and valves. It begins with an old world bloodline modernized with useful technology and a discerning grasp of the driving dynamics nuances. True grand touring is a balancing act of speed and style. Aggressive moves must be tempered with a caring posture. Here, the price of admission is high, but there are few rivals capable of matching this Maserati's gracious persona.
Maserati Gran Turismo S Automatic
Base and as-tested price: $125,900 (includes gas guzzler tax)
Horsepower: 433 @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 361 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic