Thanks to modern speed enforcement, the idea of leaping large continents in a hugely fast, spectacularly comfortable car has become something of a quaint notion. And yet, upscale manufacturers still compete to build the ultimate GT (Gran Turismo). Reflecting the concept’s European origins, the short list of candidates for this honor all originate on the other side of the pond: the Mercedes CL63, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB9, BMW 650, Jaguar XKR and the Maserati GT. Having owned or reviewed all but the new Maserati, I decided to see if the mad Italian has what it takes to trump its continental cousins.
Aesthetically, the Maser has their measure. It’s the Jessica Alba of GTs. From any angle, the Italian coupe offers seemingly endless, perfectly shaped curves; all exactly where they should be. From its 60’ F1-style curvilinear maw, to the subtle swell of the front wheel arches, to the gracious sweep of its rear air spoiler, the GT tells the world that Maserati’s roots rock.
The coupe’s wheelbase accounts for much of the design’s success; only the epic Mercedes CL eclipses the Maserati’s 116" length. At 192" from nose to tail, the NBA proportions help make that delicious body look longer and lower than it really is.
Despite its size and girth, the GT’s trunk is puny; hard luck for hard case schleppers. To make matters worse, there is no spare. Since the trunk is opened via an electrically actuated lock, the battery’s location in the Maser's micro-compartment seems ill-advised. The side doors offer a choice of mechanical or electrical opening— which makes their operation feel less than bank vault-like during normal operation.
Maserati has dressed their deeply sybaritic cockpit with a myriad of highest-quality, owner-selected leathers, trim, stitching and wood finishes. It’s elegant, fragrant and sumptuous. On the downside, the seat is strangely unyielding, lacking all but the Jaguar’s range of adjustments. And the headliner is an effrontery in this class, bereft of the Quattroporte’s faux suede option. Even so, only the Bentley Continental GT’s interior can match the Maserati GT’s cabin for sheer indulgence.
A DVD-based navigation system dominates the Maser’s modern dash. Unlike the German competition, the Maserati GT lacks a complicated electronic interface– as there aren’t enough toys requiring mass manipulation. Unforgivably— at least for a GT– there’s no satellite radio, iPod-compatibility or Bluetooth connectivity. That said, the coupe's built-in 30-gigabyte hard drive jukebox and Bose-designed sound system is excellent. Sunroof fans should also look elsewhere (Mercedes is the only GT group member to offer a sliding sunroof).
No push button start contrivances here. Just insert the key, turn and experience the fabulous snarl of a Ferrari-built, 405hp V8. The noise competes with the exterior beauty as the vehicle’s best feature. Sadly, revving the engine at standstill is about as good as it gets.
The previous Maserati coupe must have been judged too sporting for its audience; most of the performance and road feel has been engineered out. With the six-speed automatic transmission left in normal mode, the ride and shift quality is decidedly placid– which magnifies the heft of the helm. The GT’s two-plus tons of mass announce themselves in the corners, with lazy turn-in and relentless understeer. Brake feel is similarly muted and somewhat wooden. Despite the test vehicle’s 20” wheels, the car felt like it wanted to cruise the boulevards rather than bomb the Autobahn.
Pressing the sport button tightens the Maserati GT’s road feel, and the shifts become a little crisper. But there's no dynamic urgency built into this vehicle. Acceleration from naught to 60 takes a little more than five seconds, which is decidedly mid-pack for this category. The avoirdupois makes it feel slower.
I'm told that another 50 horsepower is on the way before the end of this year. It could not come too soon. Overall the GT’s driving experience feels dialed-back many notches from its full potential. At best, it’s a competent cruiser that encourages a relaxed demeanor– the antithesis of BMW’s 6-Series.
Aside from its outward beauty and glorious exhaust note, the Maserati holds one more trump card: its MSRP. The GT stickers at $117k, with most of its meager toys intact. The price undercuts the Mercedes, Aston and Bentley, and slightly exceeds the BMW and Jaguar. Just don’t expect an aggressive lease program; the residuals are dreadful.
The ultimate problem with the drop-dead sexy Maserati GT is endemic to its category: the GT Coupe has lost its original raison d’etre. Since the Maserati lives to look and sound good, perhaps that’s all that’s necessary to compete in a segment of declining relevance. As most wealthy pistonheads already have a plenty fast four-door, perhaps something a little smaller, lighter and less refined would serve their needs better. Audi R8 anyone?