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Driving the 2008 Maserati GranTurismo is like dating an Italian supermodel: her beauty gets you a lot of attention in public and being with her just makes you feel good. Actually, having never even met an Italian supermodel, we're going with a stereotype here, but in many ways the graceful Pininfarina-designed GranTurismo fits it. Her mouth might be a little big and toothy, but that's where we've pushed the comparison too far. The big toothy grille on the car looks great, but wouldn't work so well on a person.
As for the cabin electronics, our supermodel's English is maybe not so good, and our Italian is virtually nonexistent. The GranTurismo features a hard-drive-based navigation system with room for music storage, and a menu system that was baffling. But, a little time spent with our beauty started to clear up some of the language barriers. Once we understood her better, we found she was pretty smart, although some of her European traits just don't work in the U.S.
Test the tech: Sound off
We could listen to the dulcet tones coming from the engine of our Italian beauty for hours on end. But, at the same time, we were impressed by the throaty roar of a German in our garage, so we decided to enlist Wayne Cunningham, Antuan Goodwin, and Mike Markovich as judges to determine which had the best engine sound, the Maserati GranTurismo or the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. Our judges gathered around each car and listened to the engine note as we turned on the ignition, then revved it up. Because the Mercedes-Benz limited the revs to 4,000 in Neutral and Park, we set that as the upper limit for both cars.
Our judges put their ears to the engine.
The GranTurismo was first up. It uses a 4.2-liter V-8 with variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder, producing 405 horsepower at 7,100rpm and 339 pound-feet of torque at 4,750rpm. Its redline is at 7,500rpm. The engine started with a little cough, and then whirred as the revs built up. We built up engine speed to 4,000rpm, let it drop, then revved it up again. Markovich said of the GranTurismo's engine, "It doesn't have that sort of rasp I would expect from an Italian engine; more refined, befitting the character of the car." Goodwin agreed that it was a refined sound, and he had expected it to be more high-pitched. Cunningham felt that it wasn't quite like a Ferrari's engine sound, but it seemed to benefit from Italian tuning, eschewing harshness for a fine, silky rumble.
Next up was the 2009 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, the tuned-up version of the C-class, featuring a 6.2-liter V-8, also with four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing. This engine produces 451 horsepower at 6,800rpm, with a 7,200rpm redline, and 443 pound-feet of torque at 5,000rpm. The C63 started with an immediate bark, and was overall louder, as we would expect from the increased displacement. Cunningham noted the staccato quality of the sound, that you can "hear the valves and injectors working." Goodwin appreciated the immediate roar from the engine at the start. "The C63 sounds harsher than the GranTurismo," Markovich said, "but it's putting out a lot more power."
You can't see much of the GranTurismo's engine, but what you can see looks good.
Our judges also admired the look of the engines, although they noted that most of the GranTurismo's engine is hidden by black plastic cladding, with just a nice Maserati trident badge on the intake manifold. The C63's engine is more exposed, with a gray crackle finish on the intake manifold and a small plaque with the signature of the engine builder.
In the final assessment, the judges favored the sound from the C63. The GranTurismo didn't stand out enough, with its more refined and muted song. As Goodwin pointed out, "As a sports car guy, I like the C63 better. It sounds like its going to beat you up and take your lunch money."
To hear the engine noise and our judges, listen to the Car Tech podcast number 79.
In the cabin
The 2008 Maserati GranTurismo dresses well, with fine material and switchgear in the cabin, as you would expect from a car going for well over 100 grand. But, there are some flaws: the door-sill panels covering the side airbags are very evident, with big, visible seams; and a monochrome LCD showing climate control settings looks more utilitarian than stylish.
The car interface uses this arced menu, with knobs and buttons below.
For cabin electronics, the GranTurismo is well-outfitted, with a colorful LCD on the instrument panel and a solid button pad below. The interface can be a little difficult--you control navigation and other systems with a small knob surrounded by directional buttons. There is a similar knob and button arrangement for the audio system, but the way the buttons are organized isn't always logical. For example, a button labeled Mode amongst the audio controls changes what is shown on the LCD, letting you choose from map, trip computer, or audio information.
The navigation system's maps look very good, and are stored on a hard drive. But they don't show individual street names, just freeway and highway numbers. This omission seemed like a major flaw, until we started using route guidance, where the navigation system showed the name of the street we were on and read out the names of streets on which we would need to turn. There is also a display on the instrument panel, which shows the names of streets and turn directions. This system only gives you street names when it thinks you need them. Traffic is built into the navigation system, but unfortunately it's over a European network and doesn't work in the U.S. It does offer a database of U.S. points of interest.
The hard-drive jukebox doesn't tag its music, so you have to guess which album is which.
Italian electronics also mean no XM or Sirius satellite radio. Neither is there an iPod connector nor an auxiliary input. But making up for that is the ability to rip CDs from the single-disc player to the car's hard drive. This feature is a little rougher around the edges than similar systems we've seen on other cars, such as in the Infiniti M45x. First, it can take half an hour to rip a CD, as the system spends about 10 minutes copying the tracks and then another 20 minutes compressing them. Second, the GranTurismo doesn't tag the tracks you rip to the car. Cars like the Infiniti M45x have a built-in Gracenote database that gives tracks the right song, artist, and album name. In the GranTurismo, you can manually name albums, but this is tedious.
The audio quality from the car's 11 Bose speakers--including a subwoofer--is very good, but we wouldn't classify it as excellent. It was a strong sound, but lacked strong separation. Clarity wasn't bad, making the notes from acoustic instruments stand out.
The GranTurismo does have a phone system, but this is another European feature that doesn't work in the U.S. Similar to the Porsche 911, the phone system requires you to plug a SIM card into the car. The GranTurismo doesn't work with U.S. SIM cards, and it doesn't have Bluetooth.
Under the hood
The 2008 Maserati GranTurismo drives as gracefully as it looks: its easy power and six-speed automatic transmission lead to smooth acceleration. An electronically controlled suspension keeps it mostly flat during spirited driving, letting the car flow through curves. The V-8 takes off with a subtle roar, and you will feel the car pushing you back, but it isn't overwhelming acceleration. Although Maserati is under the aegis of Ferrari, the GranTurismo falls short of that marque in hardcore performance. Maserati claims that 60 mph comes in 5.1 seconds, which is fast, but not in supercar territory. The car masks its speed well, leading to moments on the freeway when we would look down and see the speedometer ticking close to the 90 mph mark.
The paddles are large and mounted on the steering column, making them useful when the steering wheel is cranked around.
The transmission has three modes: drive, manual, and sport. In manual mode, you can shift using the column-mounted paddles, with a little green arrow on the instrument-cluster display indicating when you should upshift for better fuel economy. Sport mode is activated by pushing a button on the dashboard, and also affects the car's suspension. In this mode, the transmission takes on a more aggressive character, raising the shift points and downshifting when you hit the brakes. But, even in this type of driving, the car remains refined, smoothing over any harshness. The downshifts are carried out smoothly and don't lead to excessive engine roar.
Behind the wheel, the GranTurismo feels like a fairly large car, an impression probably increased by the large front fenders that are visible from the driver's seat. In daily driving the car doesn't intrude on the driver, keeping its subtle character. You will only be reminded of the GranTurismo by all the people who stop to look at the beautiful exterior.The brakes can be grabby until you learn to ease the pressure on the brake pedal.
But, if we can revisit our Italian supermodel analogy, she has expensive tastes and she drinks a lot. (OK, maybe we shouldn't revisit that analogy.) Daily driving with the GranTurismo will get expensive, as the EPA rates it at 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway. During our test involving city and freeway driving, we saw 16.4 mpg, coming in on the high side of the EPA's range. Emissions meet California's minimum LEV II rating.
The 2008 Maserati GranTurismo comes in at a base price of $110,000, which includes the navigation and audio system. The only other car we've seen that looks this good is the Audi S5, a coupe in a totally different class. Pricewise, the GranTurismo is competing with the Mercedes-Benz S-class. But, really the GranTurismo seems like the right starting point if your ultimate goal is a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti.
For our ratings, we have to give the GranTurismo top marks for design. The Pininfarina body is a classic, and though the electronics interface has some small organizational issues, it generally looks good and works well. Cabin tech is OK, but the lack of Bluetooth and audio sources is a problem, along with how it rips CDs. The adaptive suspension helps its performance-tech score, along with its graceful handling and acceleration, but we have to ding it for mediocre fuel economy.