Maserati has removed the roof from its handsome Granturismo coupe to create the stunning Maserati Gran Cabrio. Does the Gran Cabrio continue to deliver the intoxicating blend of good looks, GT performance and four-seater space of the Granturismo? Or does the Gran Cabrio's appeal disappear in a riot of scuttle shake and wind buffeting once asked for more than boulevarde cruising?
Read on for our first drive review of the new 2011 Maserati Gran Cabrio...
Maserati GranCabrio: the tech spec
The Maserati Gran Cabrio is powered by the 4.7-litre engine from the Granturismo S. Delivering 440bhp at 7000rpm and 490lb ft at 4750rpm, the melodious 4.7-litre takes only 5.4sec to accelerate the Gran Cabrio from 0-62mph.
Top speed is 175mph with the top up and 171mph in case you are brave (or foolish) enough to keep the roof down. The weight distribution, too, will change as you raise or lower the lid, but it always remains rear-biased (48/52 or 49/51) which is exceptional for a front-engined car.
This perfect equilibrium is of course above all due to the transaxle layout which positions the gearbox and diff unit between the rear wheels the way we know it from other Maserati models. The key benefits of this configuration are a fine handling balance, enhanced grip and traction, and an almost stubborn directional stability. Theoretically, one should also expect above-par manoeuvrability, but owing to the wide 12.3 metre turning circle the Gran Cabrio feels about as big as it actually is.
Tell me more about the GranCabrio's soft-top roof
It takes exactly 28 seconds to raise or lower the roof which disappears beneath a flush-fitted leather-covered lid. For enhanced show effect, the whole procedure can be staged at speeds of up to 20mph or from a streetside café via the remote-control key fob. All four side windows retract fully, thereby creating an elegant coupé de ville silhouette with the top up, and panoramic visibility to see or be seen with the roof down.
When you travel with only two people on board, a wind deflector may be clipped in to reduce buffeting from behind ('by 70%', says Maserati), to slow down the wind speed inside the cabin ('by 50%') and to cover the rear seats. What Maserati cannot provide are such mod cons as the Aircap and Airscarf features pioneered by Mercedes or a perspex power-operated air screen positioned between the pop-up rear head restraints.
Does the Maser Gran Cabrio suffer for its lack of roof?
Quite the contrary, so long as you enjoy the advantages of a soft-top. The deep throaty voice of the free-breathing 4.7-litre V8 rang through loud and clear with the top up, a welcome bit of audio entertainment through a fabric roof that otherwise keeps wind and other unwelcome noise at bay.
We could feel and hear an often busy interplay between body, roof and windows whenever the car encountered irritations like banked railway crossings, speed humps or cat-eye reflectors with the roof up. But overall Maserati made the right decision when they ditched plans for a retractable hard-top in favour of the roomier, prettier and more involving soft-top.
Driving the Gran Cabrio
Despite its stunning drop-top livery, the Gran Cabrio is - like all current products bearing the Trident badge - in fact a highly addictive blend of GT and sports car. Every drop-top looks good when it is coasting down a tree-lined avenue at a casual catch-the-sun pace, but this one also feels good when you feel like having a more spirited drive. All it takes to light up those fat 285/30 Pirellis is a stab at the MSP button which temporarily renders traction and stability control jobless.
With all systems in Sport and the transmission in manual, we went chasing bends. Unlike the previous Gran Sport Spyder which was tail-happy even before a corner came into sight, its replacement remains remarkably unfussed by such challenges as tightening sweepers, third-gear esses spiked by wild camber changes and low-speed, low-friction hairpin bends.
Instead of breaking loose early and indulging in crazy drift angles, the Maserati waltzes past apexes with poise and grace. This car invites you to lay on torque early so that there is plenty of attitude on tap through the looong exit onto the next straight. Applause, curtain, encore!
So the Gran Cabrio handles nicely, what about the open-road ride comfort?
Thanks to the long 2942mm wheelbase - that´s 200mm more than a Bentley GTC - and the extra 100 kilos of structural scaffolding, the Gran Cabrio mastered the rough roads on our test route with the magic carpet ease of a V8-engined hovercraft. Although the 20in wheels and the road-hugging sports suspension are tuned for grip and not for compliance, the 4881mm convertible still offers that desirable waftability which blends total sure-footedness with upper-class ride comfort.
Only on the really rough stuff that should have been framed by big 'For SUVs Only' warning signs, an occasional steering wheel tremble and the odd side window clatter threatened to affect the physical composure of this born boulevardier.
In comfort mode, the double-wishbone Skyhook suspension permitted more emphatic body movements and a more relaxed wheel travel. Sport tightened the reins, but not to an extent that would make the occupants suffer. Instead, it introduced a welcome dash of immediacy which extended to the throttle action and the response of the six-speed automatic transmission.
Most important, however, Sport upped the tempo of the concerto grosso for 16 intake valves and two exhaust manifolds from relatively reduced to positively passionate. As it was storming to the redline at 7200rpm, the 4.7-litre V8 went through such a rich spectrum of beautiful noises that it took a hot bath in the evening to make those goose pimples go away again.
Is the Gran Cabrio a long-range GT? How's the fuel economy?
Maserati is quoting a hefty average consumption of 18.3mpg, but according to the on-board computer the silver bullit averaged an even less impressive 12.7mpg which would explain the sobering driving range of just under 200 miles. Do we really care? Yes and no.
A two-tonne plaything powered by a Ferrari engine in disguise cannot be seriously expected to set new standards of frugality. But when they design the next-generation flagship range, chairman Harald Wester and his team must dramatically improve the overall efficiency, or even the most loyal buyers will start asking awkward questions.
What are the downsides of going Gran Cabrio instead of Granturismo?
The biggest omission by far concerns the absence of a decent cargo compartment.
When you pop the lid for the first time, you are not going to believe your eyes. The casually carpeted cubicle is 173 litres small and so oddly shaped that a bespoke luggage set is mandatory. No, folding rear seats are not an option.
Technology addicts who get a kick out of dual-clutch gearboxes, trick 4WD systems, ceramic brakes, active steering racks and racy multiple-turbo engines may not be overly impressed by the Gran Cabrio.
You see, like the Aston Martin Rapide, the crowd-stopper from Modena is a relatively conventional piece of kit: few electronic wizardries, plenty of solid engineering. Instead of asking too little from the driver who consequently expects the car to sort out tricky situations all by itself, the Maserati requires attention, involvement, respect and more than a beginner´s level of car control.
Same question, always a different answer: would I spend my own money on this centrefold convertible? If the budget stretched to its £98,200 asking price, I would certainly be tempted. After all, the Gran Cabrio is not only one of the prettiest and most involving soft-tops money can buy, it also comes fully loaded.
The Maserati is quick enough, fast enough and entertaining enough to satisfy cruise captains as well as drift challenge pros. The only serious drawback this car suffers from is the impossible packageing. It scores a solid 10 on the street cred scale, but accommodating the smallest suitcase causes a major headache.
And what good is the ability to seat four when there is not enough room for, say, a couple of golf bags? In the end, the Gran Cabrio left us mesmerised and perplexed, smitten and puzzled. It´s a wonderful car to look at, to be in and to drive the socks off, but it makes, in all probability, for a strangely compromised ownership experience.