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Friday 12th February 2010


DRIVEN: MASERATI GRANCABRIO

Rain doesn't stop play for Mark Nichol in Maser's new glamour-puss


Before any of us had stepped foot into the GranCabrio (or jumped into it, roof down, like The Fonz would) Maserati spent some time justifying the car's existence: it's steeped in tradition (despite being the first Maser four-seat soft top); it's bigger and roomier than anything in its price bracket; it's pretty much as good to drive as the coupe; research shows it fits the Maserati customer profile perfectly; and something about 'brand contribution'. I don't know what that means.

And it's all piffle anyway. Look at the thing. It makes you want to swear at first, in a good, cathartic way - most would agree that Maserati knows a thing or three about styling a car. Disagree if you wish, but for me the GranCabrio is stunning, cloth top and all. Maser claims a folding hard top setup was eschewed wholly on 'centre of gravity' grounds, but to be honest, look at any CC-type car and it's fairly obvious that the guys from Italy were always going to duck that big ugly stick. It's far easier to resolve a cloth hood than an origami metal one.


But it's still a clever roof. Three layers of fabric make sure that when it's closed it does a decent job of mimicking the sound deadening properties of a fixed head, only succumbing to wind whistle at motorway speeds. What it can't do, though, is fully emulate a proper roof's strength - and there lies the GranCabrio's big, gaping problem.

The chassis strengthening, which includes strut braces in the engine bay, and bolstering beneath the door skins and floor, undoubtedly smothers some of the scuttle shake, but never all of it. In fact, the Maserati's ride is almost its undoing. The Italian roads we drove the car on - mostly urban - were in awful condition, and the GranCabrio at times couldn't cope properly. You always expect a convertible's chassis weaknesses to be exposed on the worst extremes of road surfaces, but the Maser capitulates regularly, with an underlying rumble and persistently fidgety ride.


Firm springs, fast dampers and super thin rubber don't help, seeing the Maser smack into divots in a suspension-troubling way. There is some give in the chassis, so it's far from unbearable, but there's an uncomfortable blend of stiffness, chassis lard and structural compromise to deal with.

The thing is, it's not enough of a problem to put off those who adore its looks, and who hear its sensationally vociferous engine. As ever, the Maser's annoyances are forgivable because, like Paul Daniels, it has a unique personality and a few brilliant tricks up its sleeve, and thus a propensity to attract disproportionally hot members of the opposite sex.


The 434bhp V8 is familiar now, but no less appealing. You can tell it's hauling along a big car, which perhaps explains the lack of a 4.2-litre option for the GranCabrio, but it still sounds like the devil's chainsaw from 3,000rpm onwards - and more so if you open up the exhausts by pressing the 'sport' button.

Dynamically the weight throws a lardy spanner in the works, but again it's not to the extent that it stops the car being enjoyable. It never feels mega fast, (a 5.4-second 0-62mph dash is slower even than the base 4.2-litre GranTurismo's), but it performs adequately, and there's the distinct feeling that Maser has stuck to its guns and tried to keep it a driver's car. The steering is slack around the centre, but it's heavy and gets sharper with turn in, which means it takes a little getting used to, but is rewarding once you do. Ditto the brakes, which initially feel under-servoed, but reward harder effort with plenty of feel.


The inertia of weight never goes away, but it's still quite an agile car, and one that, like the Quattroporte, allows quite lethargic steering correction to power oversteer. The 'box is a ZF automatic, which in a twin-clutch world seems a little docile - especially when changing down more than one gear at a time - but which in D mode shifts quickly and smoothly enough. It won't stay in manual though, automatically putting itself back in auto within a few seconds of a shift, which is annoying.

Ergonomic details like the high set, very vertically positioned steering wheel, and the line of Alcantara on the contact point of the gearbox paddle shifters, make driving the GranCabrio an event. And what the cabin lacks in the outright build quality of, say, a high priced German, it makes up for in design flair and good use of contrastingly coloured and textured materials. If you can ignore the Peugeot switchgear, that is.


There's a well-worn adage that people drive cars like this for one reason alone... and you don't need me to tell you what it is. I don't buy that, necessarily, but for those who conform to the stereotype there's a good-looking, great sounding cabriolet here which oozes class and Italian credibility.

Those people won't get their neatly trimmed chest wigs all tangled either, because during our brief stint with the top down (it was miserable and damp in Rome); the GranCabrio did a good job of directing the hair-troubling gusts well over the cabin.

In spite of berating the GranCabrio's various flaws, most notably its ride, as a genuine four-seater for those with £100k-plus to spend, soft-top tendencies and a more casual approach to the finer and details dynamic behaviour it's actually quite appealing.

It sounds remarkable, looks sensational, goes fast, has a hood that works properly as a roof in the rain, is relatively refined and, well, it's a Maserati. Enough for some.

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