2008 Maserati GranTurismo

Mark Bramley

Even in the Dolomite Mountains, where tall peaks tickle the clouds, the sight of the new Maserati coupe triggers the same subconscious reflexes as that of a bikini-clad beauty on the Italian Riviera. The proportions! Compared with the Quattroporte sedan from which it's derived, the wheelbase has been cut by 4.8 inches, but the sheetmetal stretches even more voluptuously over the wheels. What a body! It is Coke-bottle slim around the waist, with a neatly detailed, curvaceous rear end complemented by a sculptured front with trademark portholes and a big-mouth grille that recalls Maserati's 1957 3500GT. In terms of head-turning ability, the long, low, and wide GranTurismo gives away nothing to the Ferrari 599GTB.

Although the GranTurismo tips the scales at more than 4100 pounds, Maserati's parent company, Fiat, saddled it with the smallest-displacement, 4.2-liter version of the corporate V-8. It delivers 405 hp, a paltry 5 hp more than in the Quattroporte. Thus, the GranTurismo is a brisk performer but no road rocket. According to Maserati, acceleration from 0 to 60 mph takes 5.1 seconds, which is perfectly acceptable, if slightly slower than the outgoing GranSport coupe. The 177-mph top speed sets the Maserati apart from many of its German rivals, which are often limited to 155 mph. All in all, however, an extra kick in the butt would definitely be appreciated.

At 340 lb-ft, the Maserati's torque summit, too, is overshadowed by the competition's. That's the bad news. The good news is the shape of the torque curve, which looks more like a high plateau than like the pointed peaks of the Alps. Even at 1000 rpm, more than 220 lb-ft are on tap, and between 3750 and 7200 rpm, the driver's right foot is in command of 295 lb-ft or more. Despite the V-8's willingness to rev, there's no need to take it to the redline unless you want to chase the big fish. The engine is coupled to the six-speed ZF automatic introduced earlier this year on the Quattroporte. (The unloved DuoSelect paddle-shift manu-matic is not available.) The automatic's two shift paddles invite you to interfere at will, but unless the lever is pushed into manual mode, the chips will resume control after somewhere between six and twenty-five seconds, depending on driving style and speed. Even in M, the gearbox promptly responds to kickdown orders, but it will upshift before the engine runs out of revs. For an extra dash of urgency, push the Sport button and relish the quicker throttle response, the more brisk gearchanges, and the aggressive shift pattern.

Maserati's adjustable Skyhook suspension, which offers two different damper calibrations and better yaw, roll, dive, and squat compensation, is optional. Dial in Sport, and the suspension will instantly change from mellow to firm. But even when all systems operate in macho mode, the Maserati retains the cool demeanor of a classic GT. Acoustically, it's almost too cool. Unlike a Ferrari, which can crack plaster when you goose the throttle, the civilized Maserati is more interested in virtuoso tonalities than in raw, unbridled noise.

The rack-and-pinion steering isn't surgically precise, but it is prompt and responsive. The car goes where you point it, and it only takes a couple of corners to learn that input and output share the same wavelength. If one were to name the dominating trait of the new Maserati, it would probably be the car's admirable harmony of motion. The extremely well-sorted chassis makes the GranTurismo agile in corners and easy to drive fast.

Maserati engineers are particularly proud of the fact that the GranTurismo needs only 115 feet to stop from 62 mph, but pedal feel is nonetheless rather wooden, initial response is comparatively toothless, and pedal effort is too high.

Tall drivers will wish for more legroom and a better-contoured seat, the 9.2-cubic-foot trunk is too small, access to the rear passenger compartment is difficult, and the rear-three-quarter view is one big blind spot. But these drawbacks are peanuts in the grand scheme of things. The GranTurismo, a modern GT with plenty of old-time flair, puts Maserati firmly back on the map. It's sporty and luxurious, it's a hoot to drive fast, it blends poise and presence, and it's classy and competent enough to be on every connoisseur's wish list.

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