First Drive

2008 Maserati GranTurismo
The trident returns to grand touring

*Maserati has taken a decidedly different approach with its GranSport replacement, the all-new GranTurismo. Instead of playing the relentless cat-and-mouse game of building a better 911, the company abandoned the highly competitive performance coupe segment and emerged with a car of a more fitting demeanor: a grand tourer.

Considering this legendary automaker helped pioneer this class over a half-century ago, it rightfully belongs there. Although the GT draws design inspiration from past Maserati models-including the 1953 A6GCS-this is no retro throwback. The GT is refreshingly contemporary in every respect, even taking cues from Maserati's futuristic Birdcage show car.

Based on a shortened Quattroporte, the GT is substantially larger than the outgoing coupe: over a foot longer, an inch wider and two inches taller. It's also a substantial 550 pounds heavier. Large as that may seem, the extra size and heft is proportionately packaged, resulting in one of the most attractive and visually striking Maseratis ever.

The car's long hood, short overhangs, raked A-pillars, and sloping roof and deck create a classic silhouette. Penned by Pininfarina, the GT is twice as elegant as its forebear with sleeker, more sensual lines. This sexy exterior also affords a super-slippery 0.33 Cd.

In the tradition of a true grand tourer, the two-plus-two cabin is comfortable for four average sized adults, with ample rear leg- and headroom. In addition to the car's four full-size sport buckets, rear passengers get their own ventilation, armrests, cup holders and stowage areas. The front driver's seat should be able to position itself further back, allowing even more front legroom when rear passengers are not present, but this is a minor irritation from an otherwise near-perfect, impeccably tailored cabin.

Italian-ness runs throughout the design and layout of the cabin, which features supple leather upholstery, contrasting stitching and lots of quality trim. There are so many finishes and combinations available, including 19 exterior body colors, it's likely that each custom-ordered GT will be unique. Even the four-piston Brembos are offered in a range of colors, including black (standard), red, yellow, blue, titanium and silver. Other amenities include a multimedia system with a seven-inch nav screen and premium eight-channel/11-speaker Bose surround sound. It also has a 30GB hard drive and Bluetooth arrives with mid-2008 models.

Adequate stowage is another hallmark of the traditional grand tourer and, while over six inches shorter than the Quattroporte, engineers still managed to produce a trunk with a decent 9.2 cubic feet, said to accommodate two regular size golf bags or a complete set of Ferragamo fitted luggage.

The GT feels as much at home on the open autostrada as it does traversing narrow and winding mountain roads. While tailored for sporty performance through a re-tuning of the shared Quattroporte's mechanicals, the front and rear double wishbone suspension is still fairly soft. Buyers in this luxury bracket appreciate a little more comfort and a little less jarring.

This is not to say the GT can't hold its own through tighter sections. Overall weight distribution (49/51 percent split) is ideally balanced, providing just the right amount of rear-wheel bias. Combined with a limited-slip diff, this set-up offers neutral-to-slight understeer and plenty of confidence to attack the bends. Even more so when the transmission's Sport mode is engaged, which reduces body roll, increases throttle response by 20 percent and provides 40 percent quicker gearshifts. It also holds lower gears longer and revs more freely, with full-throttle upshifts at a lofty 7200 rpm.

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