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Maserati - GranCabrio Sport

If you can convince yourself that flaws add to its character, Maserati’s latest GranCabrio Sport is a scream, writes Anthony Ffrench-Constant

A hornet gargling TCP through a loudhailer; Maria Sharapova on honeymoon; routing MDF with a blunt powertool; rapidly opening and closing a sound proofed door on a soprano with stomach cramps; yes, and even Tom Jones bending over to pick up the soap in Strangeways’ shower block…

All of these noises – indeed, pretty much any noise you can conjure that’s loud enough to send you scurrying for cover behind the sofa or cause the hairs on the nape of your neck to spontaneously troop the colour – can now be yours for the piffling sum of just £102,615; the asking price for Maserati’s GranCabrio Sport – a world of noise on gloss black 20” alloy wheels. That, in essence, is what the extra four grand you’ll need to append the Sport tag to a GranCabrio buys you. OK, there are one or two extra tit-bits thrown in as well, so we’d better deal with them before we eulogise any further about the overwhelming din emanating from astern…

The GranTourismo is such a beautiful car that it’s hardly surprising it manages to remain achingly pretty despite the loss of a lid. The new Sport may be readily identified from its more demure GranCabrio sibling through bespoke front corner splitters and side skirts, a back grille and headlamps, body coloured door handles, black exhausts and those massive 20” wheels.

Shunning increasingly ubiquitous, fastest floptop rivalries, the GranCabrio’s black fabric hood eases below decks in its own sweet time to reveal a gently warmed over interior featuring Maserati’s longer, Trofoe racing car-style steering column-mounted shift paddles fitted as standard, drilled pedals and swanky new seat facings.

The specimen I drove adds further ocular yelp via a small raft of ‘MC Sport Line’ options which, I’m told, 40% of buyers will find irresistible; a cool £6120 worth of carbon fibre dotted hither and thither, inside and out. This includes the steering wheel rim, which, boasting soap-on-arope grip levels, is not a good idea. Though all looks generally handsome, a smattering of trim details still lack the quality required of a 100 grand car, whilst the chrome lipped, dark blue driver’s instrument dials now look somewhat dated when mated to carbon fibre (think any one of Hugh Hefner’s recent wedding photographs) and certainly lack visual punch in this context. However, the only real clanger in a GT which should boast genuine, long-haul comfort credentials is the front seats…

The blurb brags of lumbar adjustment, but it’s entirely in absentia here. Rather, if anyone’s lost a prize marrow, I suspect it is to be found inadvertently sewn into this elegant leather seatback. Uncomfortable and undeflatable, this indefatigable intrusion forces the body almost entirely proud of the seat’s lateral support wings, leaving one free to slosh to and fro like the occupant of a button-back Chesterfield on a storm-tossed skiff.

So, now, this is the bit where I write ‘press the start button and all is instantly forgiven’… Not so, actually. The noises off only reach unfeasible proportions with the ‘Sport’ button engaged and, once it has barked into life, the everyday powertrain setting consistently elicits little more racket than the mildly heated thrum of a recently disturbed hive of bees.

This version of Maserati’s all-alloy, conventionally aspirated, 4.7 litre V8 delivers 444bhp and 376lb ft of torque; 10bhp and 14lb ft more than that of the standard GranCabrio. Resultant performance figures of 0.62mph in 5.2 seconds and a full whack of 177 mph equate to an insignificant 0.1 second improvement in 0-62mph acceleration, and a 1mph increase in top speed. More significantly, a thorough undercarriage overhaul includes 15% stiffer front and rear springs, 1mm larger front and rear anti-roll bars, and a particularly well-judged revision of Maserati’s Skyhook electronic damping.

Most significantly, a stab of the ‘Sport’ button elicits a quicker throttle response, stiffer damping, more weight in the helm, 50% faster shift times from the 6-speed automatic gearbox and, once the baffles automatically open at 2500rpm, an exhaust note that’ll punch the wax clean out your ears at 50 paces.

Additional ‘Sport’ mode bonuses include automatic throttle blipping during down-shifts and, in manual guise, the unavailability of kick-down, a refusal of the gearbox to change up on your behalf even with the needle pinging off the rev limiter, and the permanent opening of the exhaust baffles.

Despite the rigorous stiffening of suspension components, the GranCabrio’s ride is entirely impressive, remaining fluid, supple and remarkably comfortable even in ‘Sport’ mode. The car suffers a 30% loss of torsional stiffness compared to the tin top. This might sound significant, but it’s a mere bagatelle compared to, say, the 70% losses of the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet. Scuttle shudders are few and far between, and squeaks and rattles non-existent.

Roof snugly in place for a motorway lunge, 100mph arrives before wind noise becomes noticeably greater than that of the tin lid sibling. Even with the roof off, progress is pleasingly unruffled until you’re really motoring.

Maserati provides a wind-breaker to straddle the rear seats. But most owners would rather be lashed to death by their own quiff than spoil the cut of the car’s jib with such accessories. Besides, leave the boot-based packaging at home and you pretty much double the luggage space – already woefully inadequate for the needs of even the modestly pricey passenger seat popsy.

Akin to swimming in wellingtons (a great deal of activity under the surface for less forward motion than one would like), performance is mildly disappointing. Given that it weighs 100kg more than the tin top, this 1890kg Maserati is never as fast as it sounds, despite ostensibly encouraging figures. It must be worked with unseemly vigour to wring the best out of it and, even in ‘Sport’ mode, the powertrain exhibits a somewhat teenage, ‘What!?... Now!?...’ attitude to rapid throttle requests.

Nor can it be deemed agile. Nothing nearly 5 metres long could ever be deemed agile. True, you can hustle the big Maserati along sweeping A roads at a spectacular lick, plenty of feedback from the steering wheel and active dampers keeping it flatter than a Lancashire vowel through the bends. But it’s less pleasure to navigate round the tighter, twistier stuff, its sheer size ultimately shackling aspirations of true agility.

Particularly since the brakes are so poor. Despite drilling, grooving and ventilation based efforts to get them interested, they remain long in travel, spongy and imbued with all the bite of a glove puppet. I mentioned this to a man I know who owns a GranTourismo. He simply muttered ‘better than they were…’

Everything bar the GranCabrio Sport’s price reminds me of my old flawed yet fabulous 1985 Alfa Romeo GTV6, even unto those recalcitrant brakes. Equally flawed, the Maserati remains deeply elegant, relentlessly charismatic, gratifyingly exclusive and hilariously loud.

Those of a more Teutonic automotive persuasion would suggest you’d have to be as mad as a hat made of butter to want one. But, lest we forget, flaws can add character. It’s merely a question of how many extra moles you’d accept on Cindy Crawford before interest waned.

Now, where was I?... A bull backing onto an electric fence; a horse defecating on the timpani section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Jenny Agutter’s favourite American Werewolf in the London Underground…

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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