What if every new car test drive included closed-course hot laps driven as if you were in a “Grand Theft Auto” video game? You know, instead of just kicking tires, fiddling with the infotainment system, or playing with the seat’s lumbar support, you could test drive your possible future vehicle in reality the way you do in a fantasy?
That’s exactly the opportunity Maserati afforded me at a recent drive program featuring its current offerings. The site was Pontiac, Michigan’s M1 Concourse, an 87-acre former General Motors manufacturing site transformed into the ultimate cars-and-coffee venue with more than 250 car condominiums and a 9-turn, 1.5-mile road course. Available for evaluation were the 2019 Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans and the Levante SUV, all fresh post-FCA merger designs brimming with the latest technology. But the Maserati that caught my eye was the GranTurismo MC convertible, a classic Pininfarina-penned beauty now entering its twelfth year without any significant changes.
What’s that, you say, the oldest Maser on the lot is the coolest? Yep. That day, anyway.
Of course, I was immediately drawn to the one Maserati with the naturally aspirated Ferrari V8 engine. That’s a Ferrari-built F136 4.7-liter V8 engine under that long, seductively curvaceous hood. Go ahead and take a peek. Hard to stop looking at it, isn’t it?
The only thing that can unglue your eyeballs from the fire red cam covers and snaky induction tubes in the just-revealing-enough engine bay is the glorious cacophony pulsing from the exhaust pipes out back, alive with crackles, pops and lusty burbles.
Never mind that the Maranello-motored Maser manages 60 miles per hour from rest in 4.8 seconds. That’s quick but in a marketplace stacked to the rafters with fast cars—even a bunch of fast SUVs—getting to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds isn’t really a big deal. That’s no fleeter of foot than numerous European sport sedans, even some of Maserati’s hottest versions of the Quattroporte and Levante. And its a half-second slower to 60 mph than a one-fourth-the-cost Mustang GT.
More important is how fast it looks. The GranTurismo can detach your retinas just standing still. It draws a line to Maserati’s storied racing past, when the drivers were fat and the tires were skinny. I mean, would the Mona Lisa look more mesmerizing with a blunt bob?
Okay, snap out of it. It was time to put on my helmet (which by the way is no problem in this car that has a surprisingly generous amount of headroom) and probe the dynamic limits of a $165,000 car on a road course I’d never before turned a wheel on.
Oh, and did I mention that my track time fell between torrential downpours of rain?
Once I easily secured my 6-foot, 2-inch frame into the enveloping but surprisingly comfortable leather sport seat and took hold of the grippy flat-bottomed leather and carbon fiber steering wheel, it was obvious the GranTurismo has been updated in stages over the years. An early 2000’s instrument-panel vibe includes scores of buttons with various fonts pasted onto the dashboard, steering wheel and console. Yet, at the same time, a modern-looking 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen is present, all set to run your Apple CarPlay or Android Auto apps. And this particular Maserati had been “personalized” to the max with enough Alcantara faux suede covering every conceivable surface to upholster Zsa Zsa Gabor’s living room.
I keyed the engine to life and there it was, that deeply satisfying murmur of eight hand-assembled pistons firing in complete harmony. A driving instructor (in a Levante of all things) led my group of drivers onto the track at a brisk pace, four GranTurismos nose to tail like the Blue Angels, going for it.
Immediately, I noticed how refreshingly analog the GranTurismo is. There are no turbos to spool up on that naturally aspirated V8, although it has an Italian soul and loves to play in the 5,000 rpm to 7,000 rpm rev range. The 6-speed ZF automatic transmission cranked off lightning fast shifts and rev-matched downshifts via the oversized aluminum paddle shifters.
The track was glass smooth, so the only thing the high-pressure gas dampers had to contend with was the occasional rudeness of a rumble strip. Buyers can upgrade the car to an optional Skyhook adaptive damping suspension, which delivers an optimum balance of ride quality and body control over less-than-perfect roads.
It was easy to place the big Maser exactly where I wanted it on the track, too, using the precise, hydraulically boosted steering with good feedback. The GranTurismo’s 49 percent front/51 percent rear weight distribution meant the 4-seater was fairly tossable and catchable, a result of the car’s front-midship engine mounting location and rear-mounted transaxle.
Water-lubricated pavement notwithstanding, there was plenty of grip to be had from the Pirelli P Zero performance tires, measuring 245/35ZR20 up front and 285/35ZR20 in the back. The GranTurismo easily reached 100 mph on the longest straight and, with discretion being the better part of valor, the Maser’s big Brembo brakes repeatedly scrubbed off speed from the 4,350-pound open-top 4-seater without experiencing fade or warped rotors.
Though I spent just three laps flogging the GranTurismo, the experience was exhilarating. Who knows what sort of mischief I’d had gotten into during a longer session given time to probe the car’s limits ever deeper.
Keep in mind that the aptly named GranTurismo is more of a grand touring car than sports car. It is based on the previous-generation Maserati Quattroporte 4-door’s platform, so the 115.8-inch wheelbase is quite long for a 2-door convertible.
The side benefit is there are four adult-sized bucket seats in the car, so you can take your friends for a ride and they’ll still be your friends when you‘ve arrived at your destination. Just remember to pack lightly as the convertible’s trunk shrinks to only 6.1 cubic feet to accommodate dropping the top into a well behind the rear seats. Sizewise, think of the GranTurismo as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Cabriolet competitor.
Think S-Class when it comes to price, as well. This top-of-the-line GranTurismo Convertible MC stickers at $164,875 including destination and delivery, and every GranTurismo sold pays Uncle Sam a $1,700 gas guzzler tax thanks to the car’s EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 13-mpg city/20-mpg highway/15-mpg combined.
Is that disturbing? Not really, because where else will you get a brand-new car with a Ferrari engine at as low a price as the Maserati?
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