Walking towards the Maserati GranTurismo S, I felt like a teenager trying not to stare at a Playmate’s breasts. While the “base” GranTurismo’s elegant lines, dignified proportions and powerful stance had captivated my attention, the S dared me not to look. I know; it’s stupid. At the ripe old age of near-50, I’m supposed to have left my spoiler infatuation with the pet rock slowly starving to death in the basement. And yet, somehow, the GranTurismo’s tail made the Maser’s design pop, blending pole position with pole dancing. Yes, well, I’d just driven the base Maserati GranTurismo and found the brakes, seats and handling wanting. So I was ready to be disappointed. If you’re jump aversive, here’s the bottom line: I was and I wasn’t.
Stylistically, well, I think you know where I stand (so to speak). Suffice it to say, Maserati’s blessed both GranTurismo versions with dopey-looking, hideously expensive, ready for curbing wheels. [NB: here's hoping the S' pun projectors don't fall flat; full size spare? Ha!] The only other external upgrade for the S: “integrated side skirts” (as opposed to?) and more attractive letterbox exhaust pipes. All of which isn’t very much. The S ain’t no AMG throwdown. Crunch time: the S had better offer something in the way of dynamic delights for that extra $10K or else why bother? Of course, that’s the exact same question afflicting the non-S GranTurismo, but there you go.
Fire-up the S and the resulting roooart indicates a much-needed power upgrade. Or at least less exhaust baffling. This iteration of the detuned Ferrari 4.7-liter V8 stumps up 433 hp (up 30 hp on the base model), and places 22 more lb·ft of twist (361 in total) underfoot. You’ve still got to wring the Maser’s bloody neck to get your wet sump adrenal system working—she redlines at 7600 rpm. But the GranTurismo S feels/sounds like a far more willing dance partner than its lesser-horsed sibling.
And it would be if it weren’t for the f’ing Ferrari F1-style cog swapper. Although the Maserati’s six-speed sequential robotic gearbox [their term] is smoother than the Quattroporte’s DuoSelect disaster, that’s like saying a hungry Rottweiler makes a better family pet than a deranged Doberman. Even in Sport mode, Mr. Roboto’s still significantly less capable and enjoyable than the DSG gearbox found in a $25K VW GTI. (Hence the news that Ferrari and Maserati are installing DSG in their models ASAP.) As for the Maserati GranTurismo S’ automatic mode, it might as well not have one. Clunk-a-chunk. I guess someone forgot what GT actually means . . .
OK, if I have to drive like my capelli’s on fire to get the best out of this beast, so be it. This time around, it all begins to make sense. First, and most foremost, the S’ Brembo brakes are firm friends. The anchors are powerful, controllable and dependable. If you’re in the market for a GranTurismo (did I just write that?), the Maser’s stoppers alone are worth the premium. Second, the S’ mechanical aria arrives unfiltered. Those of you partial to the sound of an Italian V8 (i.e. anyone with a pulse) should note that the GranTurismo S’ symphony of wailing, thrashing and screaming is as good as it gets. Short of a Ferrari. That shares the same engine. And offers more cachet.
Yes, there is that. It must also be said that Maserati’s porky two-plus-two is still more than slightly corner aversive. Long sweepers at stupid speeds? Andiamo! Rapid changes of direction? Boxster please. This despite the rumor that Maserati created the GranTurismo S—punishing gearbox and all—for track days. Seriously. The Italian brand has some major racing pedigree, and the stock GranTurismo would most assuredly die of one thing or another on a closed course. But the resulting GranTurismo S is neither fish nor fowl, neither balls-out sports car nor tennis-balls-in-the-trunk grand tourer.
Now, if they could fit the Maserati S with a proper autobox, you’d be looking at an entirely different proposition. A gorgeous, comfortable car that could lope as well as tear ass (albeit in a straight line). Needless to say, that’s exactly what Maserati’s doing with the next gen. Says so right on the box: Maserati GranTurismo S Automatic. Unfortunately, Maserati just can’t get their head ’round the whole luxury wafting thing. To wit: their recently unveiled “MC Sport Line.”
In short, the GranTurismo S demonstrates Fiat’s branding stragegy for Maserati. They’re positioning the storied marque as an “entry level” (a.k.a. budget) Ferrari, rather than a distinct, luxury-oriented brand. An Italian Mercedes, if you will. Given the GranTurismo S’ sheet-metal siren song, the aural appeal of its Fezza-derived V8 and the none-too-shabby urge, I’d say they’ve succeeded. Only one problem: that $100K 12K-mile Ferrari 360 sitting on the lot nearby. Which would you rather have? Well exactly.