Drive Time

BY STEVE SILER

Gran-tastic
The 2018 Maserati GranTurismo does better what Maserati does best.

 

In the automotive realm, it’s a ubiquitous suffix. It seems that everything from the 1982 Ford Escort to a 2017 Bentley Continental GT either has GT in its name or has a GT variant. Yet few people know what “GT” really means, except insofar as it may correspond with some sporty or powerful version of a given car like the Ford Mustang GT or the rare, million-dollar Porsche Carrera GT. The actual meaning alludes to the Italian phrase “gran turismo,” or “grand touring” in English, and among cars, it came to describe a class of front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sporting cars, usually coupes, engineered to run long distances very swiftly but with comfort and style in equal measure. GTs have traditionally had very powerful engines under their long hoods, and luxurious accommodations for two with enough space behind them for their luggage and/or perhaps another two passengers. If you’ve envisioned something long, low and sleek that’ll turn heads as you and your partner arrive at a luxury resort four hours away for a romantic getaway, you understand exactly what “grand touring” is all about.

Maserati unashamedly credits itself for originating the GT classification back in 1947 with its sleek, two-seat A6 1500 coupe, which was followed by other remarkable GTs such as the 1957 3500GT, the 1967-1973 Ghibli, and, skipping ahead a bit, the 2007 GranTurismo. Over the decades, these flagship coupes and their convertible counterparts have arguably been what Maserati does best, and, following our first “grand touring” experience in its latest GT, the 2018 GranTurismo, in scenic northern Italy, we can say with certainty that the GranTurismo still defines the GT class—and in more than name only.

If the GranTurismo looks familiar, that’s because it’s merely a refreshed (for the second time) version of the 2007 GranTurismo, which makes it a bit of a relic. But then…well, just look at it. We still drool at the gorgeous, 11-year-old Pininfarina-designed sheet metal that remains unchanged, and can appreciate the more contemporary look of its new hexagonal (versus ovular) grille and updated rear bumper. For 2018, both coupe and ragtop models are offered only in Sport and MC trims, the latter riding on a firmer suspension and wearing racier bodywork, while inside, both models feature a new, lower dashboard and center console that make room for a larger, vastly improved, 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as an elegant, knurled dual disc controller on the console.

Maserati added five new paint colors for 2018, bringing the total to 16 hues that can be combined with 14 wheel styles, nine brake caliper color choices, 13 upholstery treatments, and five decorative veneer materials—two carbon fibers, two grained woods plus piano black. Maserati says the 2018 GranTurismo can be configured no fewer than 400,000 different ways, so while basic black-on-black will likely remain popular among customers, there are some 399,999 more unusual combinations to consider, so I implore anyone considering one to reach a little when spec’ing it out. Your reward will be great at the valet stand.

For driving impressions, I hopped into a GranTurismo coupe in Sport guise, nestling into its buttery Poltrona Frau leather-covered sport seats and remarking aloud how much more contemporary the space feels with the new infotainment screen and how the new stitched strip of leather crossing the center console evokes the shoulder straps of designer handbags. Nice. Closing the door, the slightly gathered leather wrapped around the door pull reminds me that most things inside this car are put together by hand.

Twisting the key—yes, this $136,425 coupe still requires its driver to insert an actual metal key into an ignition switch and twist—I’m rewarded immediately by a brief roar from the V-8, which then settles into the same heavenly purr I’ve enjoyed in previous GranTurismo drives. One little-known fact is that Maserati’s 460-hp V-8 is hand-built by Ferrari for Maserati and that its bloodlines trace back to the V-8 in the Ferrari 360 Modena. The engine’s thoroughbred nature shows on the road, where it serves up ever-increasing amounts of power as the tachometer needle sweeps up toward its 7,200-rpm redline. No turbocharging or supercharging necessary to catapult from 0–62 mph (100 km/h) in 4.8 seconds. And the sound at full wail—oh, that sound!—is utterly impossible to describe in words.

Now, at 4,200+ pounds, the GranTurismo feels large, yet with its direct and linear steering proves lithe as the roads in the Alpine foothills get tighter and twistier. The GranTurismo MC would likely feel even more buttoned-down out here, but the Sport offers more than enough cornering grip to have fun while delivering an absolutely creamy ride over the bumpier sections. Later, as I re-enter the Brescia area, where heavier traffic and speed cameras limit my ability to kick up its heels, I note the serene calmness with which the GranTurismo Sport manages even more mundane driving tasks. Sure, it’s expensive, with Sport coupes priced at nearly $135K and base MC convertibles starting at a tick under $163K, but few cars combine this level of athleticism with this sort of hand-tailored comfort. This is exactly what GTs are known for, and I can’t think of any that do it better, save perhaps the Aston Martin DB11 or the Ferrari 599, both of which cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars more.

As I savored the view down its long, contoured hood, I wonder if the smaller, two-seat Alfieri that’s due in 2020 will look or feel this fresh 11 years after its introduction. The Alfieri will be more of a pure sports car, not a GT per se, and we already know it won’t have a Ferrari-built V-8. The good news is that the current GranTurismo is likely to stick around until then. And if past is prologue, like every Maserati GT before it, the GranTurismo will look this good forever.

2018 Maserati GranTurismo
Base price: $134,265 (coupe); $152,265 (convertible)
Body style: 2-door, 4-passenger coupe or convertible
Power: 4.7-liter V-8 (460 hp, 398 lb-ft of torque)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters
Drive wheels: Rear
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 13/21 mpg

 

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