In the Italian sportscar wars, it's usually Ferrari and Lamborghini that get the highest billing. These two marques have been been playing a tug-of-war over the hearts of the many and the wallets of the few for the past 50 years or so. Ferrari is the older of the pair, dating back to the 1930s, but another mark of Italian exotica dates back even further: Maserati.
The company celebrated its centennial anniversary last year, and at 100 years young this is what a modern Maserati looks like: a $150,465 four-door drop-top. (That's £104,545 in the UK, Australian pricing is not immediately available.) It's the GranTurismo Convertible Sport and, like the cars from those other two brands, this is a machine with a silhouette that will turn heads. This is also a machine with an engine note that will bring chills to everyone within earshot. However, this is a machine that will ask you to make a few more compromises than either of its Tricolore-sporting cousins.
Just look at that grille. The way the nose flows down and juts outward forms one of the most purposeful and striking first impressions on the road today. This Maserati looks quite good from a number of angles, but that radiator inlet pierced by the company's iconic trident is without doubt its finest feature, drawing clear lineage from the Maserati grand prix racers from early in the last century, back when the fastest racing cars in the world still had their engines mounted up front.
And indeed that's where the GranTurismo Sport's compact, Ferrari-sourced, 4.7-liter, 460-horsepower V-8 lives -- though you don't need me to tell you that. One look at the profile of the car is enough. That said, the engine is shoved well back in the chassis for optimal weight distribution, meaning there isn't much to see up there. Those who pop the hood will be rewarded with a terrifically anticlimactic sea of black plastic.
As this is a Convertible Sport it is a drop-top, featuring a fabric roof that tucks neatly behind a tonneau cover, swallowing up the vast majority of the trunk in the process. (A bag of golf clubs might fit, but my TSA-approved carry-on would sadly not.) The car doesn't look bad with the top up, but it certainly looks far cleaner with it down.
Overall, the car is definitely better looking while coming than going. The rear of the thing is fine, and the (optional) unpainted carbon spoiler works well with the ($11,000 extra) Grigio Lava color seen here, but ultimately the GranTurismo doesn't cut a particularly striking departure. The little diffuser (more black plastic) tucked beneath the bumper doesn't lend much in the way of appeal, lacking the visual fanfare of the chrome unit on Ferrari's California T.
But, really, it isn't the look that will turn heads when you pull away at the wheel of this thing. It's the sound.
Piloting the Maserati GranTurismo Sport is a sensory experience unlike that delivered by any other car I've ever driven. Many exotic cars make lovely noises when you push the right button and step on the right pedal. None like this, though.
This car is an auditory sensation, an unparalleled symphonic experience. It comes to life with a suitable snarl of compression and expansion and explosion, as you'd expect, but then the real magic happens once you get going, and you don't need to explore too far into the right side of the tachometer to deliver a real tympanic thrill.
In fact, the tachometer is entirely superfluous. You can judge the power band of this car simply by gauging the intensity of the chills running up and down your spine. Many cars make a thrilling noise through tunnels or under bridges, but here it's a pretty constant thing. You can hear the exhaust of the GranTurismo echoing from buildings, resonating from guardrails and even chattering back at you as you drive through the trees. With so much directional auditory feedback, this is a car you could just about drive while blindfolded.
Which is good, because side and rear visibility are pretty poor with the top up. Mystifyingly there's no backup camera here, just a bevy of parking sonar sensors that chatter and beep incessantly whenever you're navigating through a parking garage. Or even just sitting in traffic. Things get necessarily better with the top down, but there's still that massive A-pillar supporting the windscreen to look around.
Another reason to drive with a blindfold is to save you having to gaze upon the squadron of buttons arrayed beneath the woefully outdated infotainment system. Yes, it will pair with your smartphone over Bluetooth, but only for hands-free calling, and my wife described the audio quality of the in-cabin microphone system as "absolutely awful." The system will also talk to your iPhone or iPod, but only if it still has a Dock connector, and only if you don't mind leaving it in the glove box, which is where you'll find the lone USB port.
The navigation system itself is functional but feels like stepping back in time about a decade or so, and beyond the talkative parking sensors there's really nothing here in the way of driver aids. So, we'll go ahead and end the tech overview here.
So, this is very much an analog car delivering an analog experience, and while the soundtrack is the main draw here, the overall driving character doesn't disappoint, though neither will it thrill. At some 4,000 pounds, it feels significantly less agile than the 3,800 pound Ferrari California T, and the long and mushy feel from the left pedal definitely helps to discourage any trail-braking antics.
Similarly, while the ZF automatic transmission here does a perfectly acceptable job when driven casually, attempts to flog it result in a bit of a mess, jerking and shifting roughly at high revs. It's almost like it's making an attempt at replicating the feel of a no-compromise race transmission, but not doing a particularly convincing job of it.
You can shift the automatic box with (optional) carbon-fiber paddles mounted behind the sport steering wheel, but you'll get the gear you've asked for only when the transmission feels like giving it to you. And, since the sizeable shift paddles rap the back of your knuckles every time grab another gear, there's even less incentive to use them.
Except, of course, to make sure that you're keeping the engine in a rev range where it delivers optimal aural theatrics.
There are some cars that you buy with your head and some cars that you buy with your heart. Then there are some, a choice few, that manage to satisfy both organs with equal aplomb. The Maserati GranTurismo Convertible Sport is not one of those cars. Buyers will need to lower their expectations on a few aspects before taking one of these home.
That said, this car tugs at your heartstrings with a ferocity that is difficult to put into words. Its exhaust note is like a siren call, making you forget all its shortcomings and reach for a checkbook. Sure, almost all exotic machines in this category sound very, very good, but I've never driven something that gave me chills quite like this thing did every time I turned the key.
This is a rolling piece of artwork that sounds even better than it looks. There are other, competitive cars that offer better power, better handling and better technology, cars that make the purchase of a $150,000 Maserati a somewhat irrational decision. But, then, who said spending $150,000 on any car was rational?