An Italian Goodbye for Maserati's Gorgeous Ferrari-Powered GranTurismo
A first (and last) proper drive in a teenage dream car—and the end of an era at Maserati.
If the enthusiastic brand leaders in Modena are to be believed, big things are in store for Maserati. Electrification is chief among the proposed future advancements, including—finally—the Alfieri two-seat sports car along the same lines of the Jaguar F-Type and Mercedes-AMG GT. According to a recent release, every new model wearing the trident up front will incorporate both some form of electrification and at least Level 2 autonomous technologies.
So, as the 104-year-old automaker moves into an electric 2020, it is to be expected that Maserati will cut ties with some of its more lovable, non-electrified staples as they exist today. The long-serving GranTurismo and GranCabriolet models (the latter known as teh GranTurismo convertible in the U.S.) will be the first to wail off into the sunset. Both 2+2 grand tourers are expected to wind down 12 years of production by the end of this year before eventually being replaced by a new-generation model. I'd wager my last gasoline-soaked dollar that the next-generation GranTurismo models, with their electrified, likely turbocharged powertrains, will share little more than their names with today's eight-cylinder, naturally aspirated versions.
I've had my eyes on the Maserati since its debut way back in 2007. Before my days as a jaded automotive writer lucky enough to sample the latest wares from across the industry, I cut my car teeth photographing high-end luxury cars and supercars around the greater Dallas metroplex. I was a kind of ur-carspotter, only without a profitable Youtube channel or a popular Instagram profile. Whenever I spotted a GranTurismo in the affluent areas of my Texas hometown, I'd go out of my way to capture a few subpar pics—maybe this had something to do with my not being a famous car-chaser—of the svelte coupes and, later, cabrios that spilled out of local valet lots.
Lest you think I'm just up here on my soapbox yelling into the void about an aging Italian vehicle that I've never personally sampled, consider that the two-door Maserati is freshly seared into my memory. I was lucky enough to be invited recently to Modena to celebrate the end of the GT lineup. The experience kicked off with a stroll through the Modenese Maserati factory, where every single one of the 40,000-and-change GranTurismos and GranCabrios were built over the past 12 years. In sharp contrast to past factory tours I've participated in, the gathered media was let loose, completely unsupervised, onto the workshop floor. The final 20-some GTs in various states of assembly sat silently by, waiting for interiors, headlights, or drivetrains. Deep bins of bolts and trim fasteners sat at each station, while trays of Maserati badges lay next to complete drivelines, pallets of window glass, and rows of unpainted body panels. How did we get here? How did the GranTurismo?
From the moment Maserati yanked the cover off the GranTurismo at the 2007 Geneva auto show, the coupe was genuinely in a class of its own. Sure, there were some tertiary price-tag competitors, such as the Aston Martin Vantage (much more sports car than GT), the Bentley Continental GT (nearly 1,000 pounds heavier and $50,000 pricier), and the Mercedes-Benz CL550 (less sporting and way less special). But the Maser cut its own path with a blend of Italian driving spice and Riviera-cruising luxury.
As with so many Italian vehicles, the real star of the GranTurismo show hides under the hood. Maserati sniffed out every opportunity to mention how the GT's V-8 engine can trace its lineage to Ferrari. The prancing-horse brand is purported to have had a headlining role in the motor's development and production, and the engine itself falls under the sizeable Ferrari 136 engine umbrella whose huddled members also powered the Ferrari F430, 458 Italia, and others. Skeptical that this is all marketing B.S.? While the Maserati version of the engine missed out on Ferrari's signature flat-plane crankshaft for a more ordinary cross-plane setup and was larger, at 4.7-liters, than any Ferrari V-8 ever, its sound leaves no room for mistaking Maranello's influence.
What a sweet, buttery V-8 it is, too. In its final iterations, the GranTurismo's 4.7-liter is rated at a respectable 454 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. This power is routed to the Maserati's rear wheels through a ZF-sourced six-speed automatic transmission. Thankfully, most U.S.-bound GTs carried this traditional auto, as opposed to the recalcitrant, fragile, and endlessly temperamental MC-shift electrohydraulic automated manual used in earlier U.S. examples and those bound for other markets.
Did someone just say the GranTurismo looks old? I say you're delusional. The rakish coupe remains one of the best-looking designs on the market, even though it was designed in the late 2000s, which might as well be a century ago in automotive years. After all, since the GT began production, three distinct generations of both the Ford F-150 and Honda Civic have come and gone. Maserati (and its customers) seem to agree that little was done to the design over the years. The most dramatic aesthetic differences to appear are found on the car's many special edition and performance-oriented permutations, but even these packages rarely moved past aggressive fascias, carbon fiber trim, hood scoops, and a reworked rear bumper. So, the GT enters its casket wearing its fine Modenese duds that don't appear to have aged one bit, mostly because they actually haven't.
From day one through its final days, the Maserati GranTurismo had all the finest gourmet ingredients for one whopper of a sports coupe. And yet, the GT never quite captured the level of respect or public enthusiasm you'd expect of an undeniably exotic, Ferrari-powered 2+2. Tests of the earliest examples found it too heavy, too dull, and not quick enough to match its own hypersonic looks and killer engine soundtrack. Maserati honed later iterations with more performance and features, but the results always seemed to lag behind the competition, playing catch-up. I didn't care. The GT, no matter the configuration, has long been a personal indulgence, something I recognized as beautiful, if flawed. Ever since my car-spotting days in Dallas, I would watch GT videos, read GT reviews, and make hurried detours into parking lots where parked Masers lurked to grab photos and behold the things in person. In many ways, the GranTurismo is a cornerstone of what made me an automotive enthusiast to begin with, warts and all.
Fast forward to my Italian trip to say goodbye to the ol' GT. After moving through the piles of parts awaiting fitment to the last of the production GranTurismos, I came across what amounted to a wake of sorts for the car. Company executives stood at the ready to pull the cover off the very last GranTurismo, which would ultimately find itself interred in Maserati's own collection. The final example proudly wears the name "Zeda," or "'Z' in the Modena dialect," per Maserati. Aside from bespoke "Zeda" script on the front fenders, the last GT's most striking feature is a tri-color paint job that fades in a gradient from dark electric blue in front to a gunmetal gray and then to a satin silver, which looks closer to bare, unfinished metal than conventional paint.
The car seemed a bittersweet tribute, although it was not enough for me. Until that moment, I had only ever found myself behind the wheel of a GranTurismo once before, and even then only for a brief drive up the California coastline during time stolen from the workday. I parted ways with that Sophisticated Blue GranCabrio MC without giving it a proper shake-down, but acutely aware that I had just sampled something truly special. Maserati gave me a shot at making up for lost time as soon as the factory tour and a dizzying hour spent in its de-facto in-house car collection at the Panini Motor Museum came to an end.
In pissing rain outside, there sat a gray GranTurismo MC—and Maserati said it was mine for a drive. Covered in fallen autumn leaves and beads of water, it still looked as killer as it did in Dallas more than a decade ago. With a twist of the key—no push-button start here—the staccato bark of the 4.7-liter broke the gentle pitter-patter of the rain-muffled farmland. Someone or something must want me to never enjoy a proper spin behind the wheel of a GT, because out on the Italian Autostrada, the rainfall swelled, pummelling the ground with fat drops that flooded portions of the road. The Maserati hydroplaned over these, and it bears repeating that even though 454 horsepower doesn't count for much these days, it's still not a great pairing for cold, wet roads. So, I kept my foot out of the V-8 until the Autostrada gave way to two-lane country lanes.
The title of this story might include "2019," but the Maserati's driving experience is very much frozen in the early 2010s. The ZF six-speed automatic transmission is far, far smoother and responsive than reviews would have you believe, if not anywhere as quick-witted as today's best dual-clutch automatics. Nevertheless, the GT's systems give off an endearingly analog vibe. The steering, for example, is hydraulically boosted—a delight in this era of artificial-feeling, electrically boosted steering racks. Inputs through the thick leather- and carbon-fiber-trimmed steering wheel felt direct, the steering's weighting is perfect.
It is that 136 engine that steals the show, however. Amongst today's high-powered engines, with their sound synthesizers and faux intake rush, the genuine roar that penetrates the GranTurismo MC's cabin from beyond its firewall is intoxicating. Bystanders are treated to a gutteral rasp that jaggedly flows as the revs climb, like a synthesis of Detroit's thunderous V-8s and a delicate Ferrari mill. Slick tarmac made getting a read on how strong (or limp) the acceleration was, but even the low-traction push I felt seemed like a good match for the 4.7-liter's sounds and the GT's looks. Either way, when the final 136 engine leaves Maranello's factory floor, the world will be a duller place for it.
Drunk from the 4.7-liter's delicious tones, I pulled over to let my passenger take the wheel for a while. Settling into the leather and Alcantara sport seats, I explored the interior, marveling at the rich and well-represented materials. (Well, aside from slightly too much soft-touch plastic around the climate controls near the bottom of the dashboard.) As this GT example was the performance-oriented MC, most of the transmission tunnel and dash structure came trimmed in stitched Alcantara. The vibe was old-school chic more so than "old," and only the car's infotainment system and analog gauges (instead of the digital gauges we're so accustomed to today) betrayed its true age.
With my time in the GranTurismo terminating in a vehicle swap for a modern Maserati Levante SUV, I was keen to grab some photos before saying goodbye for good. Just before handing over the GT in the sleepy, Medieval town center of Castelvetro di Modena, I got back behind the wheel and pointed the car down a narrow alleyway that spilled out into the cobbled courtyard of a cathedral. I parked and killed the engine. The rain had retreated to a shivering drizzle, and the cooling Maserati buzzed and sizzled to the rhythm of the precipitation, lit by the warm, yellow glow of a lone streetlamp. There, soaking wet in that small rain-slicked plaza with my camera in hand, I recognized this as a watershed moment in my automotive career 12 years in the making. I had come full circle, face-to-face with the car that helped spur me to leap into this industry.
The GranTurismo isn't faring quite so well. Maserati's Modena factory will be retooled by the end of December 2019, although for what exactly, I'm not yet sure. It'll be electrified and likely turbocharged, two add-ons the GT sorely doesn't need, in my opinion. Let's just hope whatever replaces the GT has half its magnetism. As a Maserati press release from 2007 put it, "The Maserati GranTurismo will certainly find his own place in the 'hall of fame' of the automobile history." I know it found a place in mine.
2019 Maserati GranTurismo MC Specifications
|ENGINE||4.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8/454 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 384 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/20 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||193.3 x 75.4 x 53.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec|
|TOP SPEED||187 mph|