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What - Maserati GranCabrio
Where - Rome, Italy
Date - 11 February 2010
Price - £95,630
Available - April 2010
Key rivals -Aston Martin DB9, BMW M6, Jaguar XKR, Mercedes-Benz SL
The styling simply knocks the competition for six, and it's a compelling driving experience, too.
We like - Beautifully crafted interior, exclusivity, voluptuous engine, sophisticated styling
We don't like - Tiny boot, firm backrests, fuel economy and CO2
Gallery: Maserati GranCabrio
Maseratis with four seats and a folding roof are something of a rarity. This is the first since 1942, so the new GranCabrio has a great deal riding on it.
The foundation is a sound one. The GranTurismo is a coupe that has impressed us very much indeed, combining mouth-watering design to substance and solid performance.
Of course Maseratis have always been a seductive blend of design and excitement, but in recent years, since the launch of the latest Quattroporte in 2004, the cars have held their head up with the best in the business.
Yes, choosing a Maserati over its rivals is always going to be too scary for some, no matter seductive the idea. But the arguments become increasingly compelling as the Italian manufacturer gets to grip with the reasons why so many preferred to go German.
The GranCabrio is the drop-top version of the coupe. Four proper seats and a roof that opens or closes in just 28 seconds - at speeds of up to 20mph - make it a serious contender on paper.
The space comes at a cost, though, with boot space so limited it's hard to believe there isn't a hidden compartment somewhere. We looked. Everywhere. There isn't.
Compare rivals side-by-side with Car Guide
Maserati's V8 may have some past lineage with a Ferrari engine but that's no longer the case. Yet there's still no denying the true-blooded Italian heritage.
Press the Sport button and a distant valve is released that liberates a spine tingling wall of sound. Roof down it's sensational, whether on the open road or cruising down the Kings Road.
That button also sharpens up the throttle response and changes the gearchange programme. It's a temping proposition in the right conditions, though not without its drawbacks.
The six-speed automatic transmission's willingness to kick down in Sport means that the hoped-for graceful increase in speed needed for an overtaking manoeuvre can suddenly turn into a howling lung for the horizon.
Best then, to choose your mode for your mood. The transmission is actually very good, a traditional six-speed auto and not the deeply flawed Cambiocorsa system in earlier Maseratis.
There is a paddle shift that is almost as good as that in the Jaguar XK, and it's helpful to use this to override the automatic shifts when you want to quicken up the response.
The V8 has 440hp, so it's not short of power. Even so, with its 7,200rpm red line and a 0-62mph acceleration of 5.3 seconds, it never feels as genuinely fast as the figures convey. Weighing in at two tonnes doesn't help.
Ride and handling
Taking the roof off a coupe always presents problems, especially if the resulting cabriolet has real performance aspirations. Keeping the structure of the convertible stiff enough to drive as sharply as the hard top is a tough call.
Jaguar did it right with the XK, designing the convertible first and then grafting on the alloy roof for the coupe. Maserati has had a harder job, but with good engineering and some ingenuity, the GranCabrio pulls it off.
Even on some terrible roads south of Rome, potholed by incessant recent rain, the Maserati rarely threw a wobbly. The GranCabrio rides firmly but comfortably, like a real grand tourer should.
It would be nice to report more on how well it handled but a combination of never-ending Italian traffic and a route designed more for the sights than testing out the chassis makes a definitive judgement something we'll have to leave to later.
The GranCabrio does, however, have the usual suite of stability control and traction systems which seem to do a good job of stopping the tail of the car stepping out on wet tarmac.
While the performance and horsepower figures bring Maserati ownership with undoubted bragging rights, longer term it will be the interior that continues to delight.
As the pictures show, the mix of leather and modern materials is supremely classy. Everything about the fascia and switchgear shouts quality; even the controls borrowed from Peugeot look exactly right.
The seats themselves are well shaped and firm - rather too firm in the backrest for our liking. There's more room than any close or distant rival in the back two seats, with comfort for anyone up to 5' 8".
The standard Bose stereo has 16 speakers, including three tweeters and one twiddler! We've heard better. The slight wind noise our car suffered at cruising speeds was, we were assured, down to the seals not being perfect in this pre-production car.
There are some nice features, like the way the stereo and climate controls optimise themselves to new settings when the roof is down, even turning on the seat heating to a low setting.
The roof is made up of three layers to keep in the warmth and bring down noise levels. Tailored suitcases, including a 'man's beauty case' make the most of the pitiable boot space.
Economy and safety
It's almost as if, with all the effort that has gone into the GranCabrio, Maserati ran out of enthusiasm when it came to the greener aspects. Fuel economy on the combined cycle is just 18mpg, while CO2 is a two-fingered 358g/km.
It should be safe though, with front, side head and thorax airbags and ejectable roll bars behind the back seats. Those electronic stability systems keep the car in check from routine driver inadequacies.
MSN Cars verdict
Like every Maserati before it, the GranCabrio provides its own unique perspective on the world of luxury performance motoring. Sure it has its questionable points, but so does every car it competes against. The big deal for us that nothing gets close to the Maserati for style, while in other areas it usually measures up extremely well. Just don't bank on putting much in the boot.
|Need to know|
|Engine - Petrol||4.7-litre V8|
|Torque (lb ft)||365|
|Top speed (mph)||177|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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