Richard Fiennes gets behind the wheel for a road test
Subtle, purposely powerful, beauty is a heady mix anytime and found in only the best sportscars. “Science, freedom, beauty – what more could you ask of life” said Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator. All of these attractive attributes are to be found in the latest Maserati Coupe with the proper manual box.
Unlike some competitors, which overdose you with their looks, this Bertone bodied Maserati is restrained understatement. From the side it might be anything Italian or even Japanese these days. The beautifully proportioned lines are only spoilt by crude door handles. A flush, body coloured button would look far better.
Only the chromed “Maserati” script across the bootlid (the Maserati oval badge can be requested instead) gives the game away to following motorists, now that those famous banana shaped rear lights have gone. Perhaps this alone is enough to send a well heeled person to the nearest dealer with open cheque book at the ready. Otherwise, many people don’t have a clue as to what sort of motors these Maseratis are.
Purposely powerful is apparent when studying the truncated haunches, highlighted by streaks of road dirt after a proper drive in the rain. The beauty is to be found at almost any angle, especially head on. Those lovely curves from the bumper edges, highlighted by the light covers leading the eye to the evocative grille just have an uncluttered lightness of the designer’s pen.
Topped off beautifully by that richly famous trident “Neptune” fishing spear and oval badge, the nose has to be one of the most handsome in the business. Seeing that on your driveway every morning will bring a glow to your heart that no 500SL would ever do.
After all, beauty and allure are prerequisites of any proper GT. Maserati has always symbolised Italian luxurious sporting Gran Turismo motoring and this new manual Coupe is no exception. They have invariably been softer than Ferraris, offering buyers a different take on performance driving, which embraces greater practicality and usage.
Now that the price has fallen to £56,650 the £20 cheaper, current ‘996’ 911 Carrera 2 faces a real threat, as does the Jaguar XKR. Welcome to the party Maserati! Such an evocative name stirs the emotions, amplified when you have the key in your hand. Even before settling behind the wheel you expect great things. The engine will surely sing, unsullied as it now is by twin turbochargers. Will your heart rule your head, or will dynamic flaws appear, spoiling the love affair. The great thing about Maserati’s is that they are not about image - you really do get something intoxicatingly characterful for your money. The company accountants have not been allowed to butcher the heart out of the cars.
Twist the (disagreeable turquoise plastic) key and blip the throttle and the beautiful looking 4.2 V8 roars like a true racer. Spine tingling it most certainly is. The interior is almost top-drawer Italian couture. Hand stitched leather abounds, covering dash top and headlining if you so wish.
The famous oval clock sits bang in the middle of the redesigned centre console, which can be specified with a user friendly sat–nav/TV. Easy to use rotary heater and air con knobs sit below and all switches feel solid enough.
The deep, supportive seats adjust electrically everywhich way:- as does the steering wheel (manually), but are rather unyielding. They surely improve with time. However, the driving position is still rather Italianate, despite the improvement of lowering the seat 25mm. Headroom is fine for tall people. The main hooded instrument binnacle houses six legible Jaeger dials and all warning lights. There is now plenty of room around the pedals for heel and toeing and I like the fact that the clutch footrest is almost at the same height as the clutch. You can just slide your foot across.
Unlike many other GT’s there is room for two adults in the rear. At 6ft I had enough headroom and nearly sufficient legroom thanks to deeply sculpted chairs. If a shortish person were driving, it would be spacious back there. The other shortlisted protagonists come nowhere near. Bravo!
For those that enjoy ruining a good walk, fear not; two sets of bagged metal and wood sticks can be accommodated in the 315 litre boot. No spare is provided, so the tyre well can take a squashy bag. Rattles and squeaks are a thing of the past thanks to a 15% torsionally stiffer bodyshell, plus many changes to comply with both latest Euro and US safety regs. There is the occasional creak from the leather, but that’s part of the romantic atmosphere!
On the Road
So to the driving. 390 bhp seems a reasonable amount of power for such a motor and will enable it to hold it’s own when encountering the mentioned opposition. Also the 1,670 kg kerb weight is some 65 kg lighter (average, thin adult) than the slightly more powerful XKR. However, the Maser struggles with 330 lb ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, compared to the Jaguar’s 408 lb ft at a lowish 3,500 rpm.
When hooning down the road though, you would not notice the difference unless you had just stepped out of the Jaguar. This Maserati flies, especially above 4,000 rpm when it climbs onto the cams and goes into warp mode. The acceleration is unrelenting, underscored by a tremendous roar. This Maser really would be ideal for that long distance transcontinental dash, where a 130 mph canter can be maintained, mile after mile. The quoted 177 mph maximum can easily be believed and I’m sure the 4200 Coupe is rock steady at that pace.
Unlike the Jaguar’s relaxing demeanour, the Maser is more highly – strung and true to its Italian parentage. Much more fun! At a lowly 100 mph dogtrot the Maserati is showing 4,000 rpm in 6th, equating to around 23 mph per 1,000 rpm. This goes some way to explaining the 17.5 mpg average. With a 19.4 gallon tank (88 litre) tank, autoroute stops are needed every 300 miles. Press the loud pedal further and it leaps forward, whereas the Jaguar would have to drop a cog or two. Drive sedately, and owing to the great torque 6th gear will suffice, taking you as low as 23 mph. It is almost like an auto in its behaviour and creamy smooth to boot. Some driveline shunt however, can upset serene progress. The engine note in town driving is muted, never intrusive, but musical.
Much has been said of the controversial semi – sequential Cambiocorsa gearbox model with its brutal sport mode and perceived slow changes. The manual version is far better and more enjoyable, especially for track day enthusiasts. The rear mounted box is very close ratioed and you can miss select on upchanges.
Working down through the gears is easier, but let the oil warm up first! The clutch seems fine, if slightly heavy, which I like in such a car. The steering (3.0 turns lock – lock) is reasonably weighted and fairly light, but accurate at high speed. Jumping back into my M635 I reacquainted myself with heavy, meaty feedback. Shame Maserati can’t add some more feel and weighting. Again, such cars should be more involving.
Now that the Skyhook adaptive damping is standard, British roads can be enjoyed as long as you leave the Sport stiffening button well alone. It is way too firm for our potholed roads. It might be fine on Dr. Palmer’s Bedford autodrome blacktop, which is billiard table smooth, but select it on the road and you will regret it as you are thrown around. Normal setting is also firm, whilst compliant enough to soak up bumps and control the body during spirited cornering.
Dinner plate (330 mm, four pot) Brembo brakes do the honours perfectly again and again, aided by smaller 310 mm rears. The weight distribution of 52% front, 48% rear might have something to do with this as well and a good solid pedal is always there, giving utter confidence descending mountain passes. Optional 7 spoke wheels of identical diameter of 8 x 18ins and 9.5 x 18ins rear suit the car admirably and are less fussy than the not unattractive 15 spoke standard items.
The “MSP” traction control is best left switched on in everyday motoring. It even begins to struggle “in extremis” in the wet, but cuts in beautifully just as things become interesting! This I discovered exiting a wet roundabout. No sideways lairiness, but I was glad the quiet assistant was there! Owners will love disabling it at track days, when they might wish to play hooligan. They will also be glad that the Ferrari built 90 deg V8 is dry sumped - no oil surge on rapid cornering. All in all the Coupe has lovely neutral handling, allied with great grip from the Michelin Pilot Sports which are very reassuring in streaming rain. It is very benign to drive and relaxing on long journeys. Does need respect though.
I ended my critique on the Jaguar XKR saying that the ubiquitous Porsche 911 is the “head talking” purchase. Well my heart rules my head with the Maser. This aristocratic sports car is a true joy, with an unburstable heart of an engine. Hang the residuals – lease one instead and keep climbing into the next, ameliorated model. Ferrari ownership now ensures constant honing. Our lives are too brief to miss out on such delights. As Mrs. Doyle often said in “Father Ted”:
“O go on. You will, you will, you will.”