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Maserati Granturismo Coupe and Convertible First Drive Review

Seven years ago, boss man Loh called in a favor at Maserati and got me a just-released GranCabrio for three days in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna province at the tail end of my honeymoon. My wife and I still talk about that blue-on-blue drop-top. It’s fair to say the car holds a special place in my heart.

Maserati has mostly been clever enough not to mess with a good thing, though I haven’t cared for their tinkering with the front fascia over the years, adding big jowls to the front.

I’m far more pleased with the new nose on the 2018 Maserati GranTurismo. It replaces the oversized crescent-shaped scoops with triangular ones, which draw less attention. I’d be thrilled, even, if they were functional, but it’s a good step in the right direction. The grille itself is also reshaped, a rounded hexagon replacing an oval, its points complementing the triangular lower grilles.

As long as we’re on the subject of what’s new, we might as well finish it off. There’s a new infotainment system based on parent company Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect technology. A new 8.4-inch touchscreen occupies most of the center stack with graphics suitably differentiated from other FCA products. It’s also home to a new rearview camera and can alternatively be controlled by a rotary knob next to the shifter. To accommodate the larger screen, the center stack and dash top have been altered slightly, and the analog clock has been updated. A Harmon-Kardon stereo is now standard.

Fully subscribed to the philosophy of not fixing what isn’t broken, Maserati has otherwise left the GranTurismo and its convertible variant, the GranCabrio (or GranTurismo Convertible as it’s called in the U.S.), alone. The model lineup has been simplified with each car coming in either Sport or MC (Maserati Corsa) trim levels, but the car remains as customizable as ever with 16 paint options, 13 interior colors, five interior trim options, 14 wheel options, and nine brake caliper colors.

Under the hood, the Ferrari-built 4.7-liter V-8 continues to produce 454 horsepower and 384 lb-ft of torque. The base 4.2-liter V-8 is gone, as is the optional six-speed automated-manual transmission. The only choice now is the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters the size of boomerangs. It drives a mechanical limited-slip differential, which drives the rear wheels only. At the corners, control arms with two-mode active dampers remain standard equipment, as do Brembo brakes supplemented by new Pirelli P Zero tires. Maserati claims the new nose reduces drag and makes the underbody more aerodynamically efficient, though fuel economy remains unchanged at 13/21/16 mpg city/highway/ combined for the coupe and 13/20/15 for the convertible.

Does it drive like I remember, though? For the most part, yes. For a car with less than 500 horsepower and 400 lb-ft and a curb weight nearing 4,300 pounds, the GranTurismo is deceptively quick. Thank a short 3.73:1 rear axle ratio for that. It won’t hurl you off the line like a 911, but rather it pulls with the elasticity only a powerful naturally aspirated engine can. Maserati’s added a launch control feature, but it’s tricky. Traction and stability control have to be off, then you stand on the brake and lay into the gas. Rather than brake torque or do some fancy clutch-drop, it does a brake stand. Make sure you’re on level ground, or the rear end will start to walk. Maserati recommends you release the brakes at just 2,500 rpm, at which point you’ll do a light rolling burnout as you take off. It seems like something a competent driver could do without the computer, and frankly, I’m not sure what the computer is even doing to assist you. I’m pretty sure Maserati just figured out how best to launch the car and slapped a name on the procedure (MC Start Strategy, in case you’re wondering).

Off and running, the GranTurismo makes truly glorious music. Unencumbered by turbochargers, it unleashes an animalistic growl at idle my wife swears sounds like a pack of baby leopards. Building toward its 7,500-rpm redline, the growl becomes a howl that burrows into your soul where it’ll never be forgotten. Forget the high-pitched scream of a flat-plane crank Ferrari, the Maserati uses a cross-plane crankshaft, which adds a bass tone to the exhaust. On overrun, it pops and burbles like a race car if you’ve got it in Sport mode. You should because in addition to turning up the throttle pedal gain, it shortens upshift times by 40 percent and opens the bypass valves in the mufflers.

If you really want to enjoy the symphony, though, you’ll want to put it in Manual mode. The bypass valves open and close based on how aggressively you’re accelerating, and manual allows you to keep the revs up and the valves open longer. It’s worth whatever you’re losing in fuel economy, which wasn’t exactly stellar to begin with. For maximum aural pleasure, get the convertible.

For an older six-speed, the transmission holds its own fine. The shifts are just stiff enough to feel sporty, not violent, and the upshifts are indeed quick enough you won’t care it’s not a dual-clutch. Downshifts are slower, but the computer does a nice job of matching revs so they’re not rough. The transmission reacts quickly to the paddles, and there’s a permanent upshift indicator in the center of the instrument cluster. Altogether, it befits the character of a grand tourer.