Motoring | Test Drives

Bedazzled by Maserati's new Gran Cabrio

Maserati's new Gran Cabrio is one of the most delightful roadsters you'll ever set eyes on. But is it as exhilarating to be behind its wheel?

  • By Sony Thomas
  • Published: 00:01 September 24, 2010
  • Wheels

  • Image Credit: Grace Paras
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To the green-eyed common man on the streets, drivers of fast, two-seater sportscars are self-centred, self-indulgent and self-absorbed people unwilling to share the pleasure of high speed motoring with others, even their family. But is it really their fault? Most of these exotics only have two proper seats and even if some boast rear benches, they're nothing more than glorified baby seats.

Of course, there are properly quick cars with four proper seats out there like the Porsche Panamera and the Maserati Quattroporte.

But they simply can't match the aura of glamour and fun that a coupé or a cabrio can offer. That's the ace up the Gran Cabrio's sleeve. It's the first four-seater convertible that'll actually accommodate four adults. Even if they have heads and legs.

 

A thing of beauty

The Gran Turismo coupé is a stunning car, but the Gran Cabrio looks even better. With its long swooping bonnet, a large oval grille with concave vertical slats and a short rump, this Maser has an air of alluring charm about it. It's visually arresting and even in the subdued silver finish that our test car sported, it turned heads everywhere I went in it. And with the top down, it's an absolute stunner — arguably the best looking cabrio along with the Audi R8 Spyder.

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Equally classy and stylishly crafted is the interior, with plush seats stitched in Poltrona Frau leather, which comes in ten different shades allowing for varied combinations for the dashboard, gear knob and steering wheel. Our test car's interior was clad in red, with a smattering of elegant chrome bits and hand polished Carbalho wood.

No other cabriolet currently on the market, barring probably the Bentley Supersports Convertible, could match the impeccable execution of the Gran Cabrio's cabin.

However, sound dampening, even with the roof closed is not exactly impressive. There is plenty of wind noise at speeds over 120kph though the upshot is you can hear that amazing exhaust note clearly all the time. But more on that in a bit.

 

Top of the game

Although this is the first time the Modena carmaker has rolled out a four-seater open top, convertibles are not something new for Maserati. The firm's history is decorated by a host of prestigious cabrios like the A6G Frua Spyder, the 3500GT Vignale Spyder, the Mistral Spyder, the Ghibli Spyder and the 2001 Spyder. So, re-engineering the Gran Turismo and chopping its head off without compromising on performance or structural rigidity wouldn't have been much of an issue for this lot.

The monocoque body has been constructed using aluminium and sheet moulding compound, thus keeping the weight just 100kg more than the Gran Turismo.

The triple layer canvas cowl, with its steel and aluminium spokes, weighs about 65kg and folds back in 28 seconds. Although Maserati insists that's quick, it's a painful ten seconds slower than the Jaguar XK convertible and nine slower than the R8 Spyder, both of which have similar canvas tops.

Despite a kerb weight of close to two tonnes (1,980kg), the Gran Cabrio's 4.7-litre, 440bhp Ferrari-derived V8 pulls from standstill to 100kph in 5.3sec. Admittedly, that's dismal in the world of exotics. A range-topping BMW Z4, which costs less than half as much, is faster. The top speed of 283kph with the roof up and 274kph with the canvas top down is slightly more impressive though. However, if you're expecting a neck-snapping turn of speed, you're going to be sorely disappointed. The Gran Cabrio doesn't deliver the adrenaline pumping pace of a Jag XKR or the Audi R8 5.2.

Even if you mash the accelerator pedal into the carpet, the response is far from athletic. It's a good thing then, there are some positive points too. The unmistakable exhaust note, for example, which works itself up to a thunderous roar as the revs rise.

In Sport mode, which also stiffens the suspension and quickens the shift times of the six-speed ZF automatic gearbox, the V8 fizzes, pops and crackles unlike any other road car. The Skyhook suspension, with its continuously adjustable gas dampers, does a fairly good job of providing a comfortable ride while at the same time maintaining superb road-holding capabilities. To further optimise driving dynamics, the engine and gearbox have been mounted behind the front axle keeping the weight distribution between front and rear at 49:51 with the roof up, and 48:52 with the soft hood down. Together with the class leading wheelbase of 2,942mm, this makes the Gran Cabrio a great handler despite its relative bulk.

Things are further helped by a stability control system, which thankfully isn't over enthusiastic and never cuts in too soon. Even if you overcook it, the computers and the hydraulic brake assist system will still sort things out.

Furthermore you wouldn't have to worry about spoiling your hairdo if the Gran Cabrio flips over. It has extendable roll bars behind the rear seats which deploy in just 190 milliseconds.

 

Verdict

There's probably no other car out there that can turn more appreciating heads than the new Maserati Gran Cabrio. Like the guy driving a Z4, who changed a couple of lanes on Shaikh Zayed Road just to drive alongside it for a few hundred metres and to give me a thumbs up before taking an exit.

But if it's a lighter, more powerful roadster that you're looking at, and you don't mind being branded self-centred for driving around in a two-seater, go for the Audi R8 Spyder. Or the good old Jag XKR, which even has the token back seats. But first you'll have to take your eyes off the Gran Cabrio. Good luck with that.

The greatest challenge for engineers when building a convertible based on the existing platform of a coupé is the considerable gain in weight, as the absence of rigid structures at the top like the roof and pillars necessitate the addition of reinforcements elsewhere. However, the boffins at Modena have done a commendable job at keeping the overall weight increase to just 100kg as compared to the Gran Turismo it's based on. This was achieved mainly by the opitimised design of the lower frame as well as assigning structural roles to elements in the body that usually do not play any such roles.

The Gran Cabrio offers an impressive array of personalisation options. The canvas hood is available in six colours. The interior can be had in two new colours, Bianco Polare and Blu Profondità, being introduced to the Trident range for the first time. Even the smallest detail can be configured through the Car Configurator available at the Maserati showrooms, offering endless possibilities to mix and match colours and materials. Also on offer are two different sets of luggage, in leather or fabric, to go with the car's interior. The set consists of two wheeled cases and two vanity cases, apart from a single bag designed to be buckled on to the rear seats.

Add a bit of you

1 Dimensions of the door sill sections have been increased.

2 Structural functions added to elements that usually make no contribution, like the roof stowage compartment.

3 A torsion wall has been created behind the rear seats which has a structural function.

4 Two metallic rods in the engine bay connect damper domes to the under-screen crossmember strengthening the body.

5 Powertrain unit placed in such a way as to ensure optimum weight distribution.

Model Gran Cabrio Engine 4.7-litre V8
Transmission Six-speed auto RWD
Max power 440bhp @ 7,000rpm
Max torque 490Nm @ 4,750rpm
Top speed 283kph
0-100kph 5.3sec
Price Dh670,000

Plus Great looks, immaculate build quality, engine
Minus Low fun to price ratio

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