We all go through phases in motoring. There is the sensible period where we justify driving a dull car. At the other end of the automotive spectrum we may consider a monster four-wheel-drive machine. There will be periods of drooling when we juggle our funds to imagine buying a supercar; don't worry, all this is normal behaviour. Likewise, it comes to us all at some time — the desire for a four-seater convertible sportscar. Its multirole function appeals, but somehow they never look right — until now. The Maserati Gran Cabrio offers undeniable beauty, four roomy seats, wind-in-the hair, push-button closure, bespoke specification, speed, and one of the best badges on the planet. Sounds too good to be true? Read on.
As I cruised the relatively quiet country roads of middle England, stopping off at wonderful country houses, I quickly understood this grand tourer. I could see how posing along some exotic seafront drive or Dubai super-scene would be apt for this boulevardier. So I did the opposite and took the Gran Cabrio to the Prodrive test track. Prodrive are the backroom boys (500 of them) who make race and rally cars for leading manufacturers. I have track tested open-top supercars before, and some shook to pieces. So how does this soft-top cope with hard-core thrashing?
Let us look at what is under the Gran Cabrio's Pininfarina skin. The floorpan is an up-rated derivation of the Gran Turismo's structure, which in turn comes from the Quattroporte. So what we have is a proven chassis, albeit with the top chopped off. Maserati's head of UK Sales, Peter Denton told me that much strengthening to the floor and sills has worked well in reducing the loss of torsional rigidity which inevitably comes with convertible motoring. He is a salesman so he would say that, wouldn't he? Well actually, no; because he is an engineer, and engineers make hopeless liars.
Style is everything
Tied up in all this chassis work is the decision to go for a folding cloth top rather than a collapsible steel top. A folding metal roof — especially for a long wheelbase four-seater — would occupy an enormous amount of space; space that would impinge on boot capacity as well as the all-important pop-up roll-over bars. There would also be a weight penalty and a higher centre of gravity. Style is vital, and the soft top permits the designers to adopt a more sporting line than would be possible with a tin-top. It also means that bespoke soft-top colour schemes are possible. Log on to the Maserati website and click ‘Configurator' to design your own Gran Cabrio colours for paint, trim, wheels, brake callipers and hood. The multi-layer soft top is really top quality. The fit is superb, giving a quiet ride and the feeling of being inside a fixed-head-coupé. When stationary in ‘park', it takes 28 seconds for the system to open or close the roof. It can also be closed when moving at 29kph or less by holding the ‘close' button for a few seconds.
Maserati has put all its goodies into one bag with the Gran Cabrio. The cost of the standard car includes much equipment, but if you want to go on a spendathon, the list of options is a long one.
The 4.7-litre, 440 bhp V8 is torquey and delivers 82 per cent of its maximum torque at just 2,500rpm, making it a relaxed cruiser with instant urge should the need arise. The transmission is the latest ZF six-speed automatic with paddle shift and a torque converter for seamless gearshifts.
The well-proven Skyhook suspension system is standard and features a constantly adaptive damping system for a very comfortable and very composed ride. Sport Mode is switchable and gives a noticeably harder ride and less roll — something for the test track methinks. This dual-mode suspension removes the ride/handling compromise that many luxury sportscars suffer from.
As for the brakes, Maserati's dual-cast discs are standard giving the dependability of iron for the friction surfaces and aluminium for the internals for both lightness and heat dissipation. Electronic stability aids abound and will save you from yourself should you by any chance get into a pedal-stamping, wheel twirling frenzy.
So what does the Gran Cabrio weigh? A super luxurious, 295kph, proper four-seat, open-top sportscar. Here is where I look up the kerb weight of the opposition. Not easy as the specification mentioned in the preceding sentence does not exist with any other car. Anyway, the Gran Cabrio's kerb weight is 1,880kg, with a near 50:50 weight distribution. A Jaguar XKR convertible weighs about the same as this Maserati but only has two proper seats.
The interior of the Gran Cabrio is a nice place to be even if you don't go anywhere. The dual zone climate control gives the rear passengers their own vents. The multimedia system has a 7-inch screen with 30GB hard drive, sat nav, CD slot USB socket for MP3 downloads, iPod socket and all the features you would expect at this level. The quality of the leather and interior design is outstanding. And as mentioned, you can stipulate your colour co-ordinated interior with a choice of ten colours for leather, seven for carpets and two for wood veneers.
The road test confirmed that the power delivery and gearshift are not an issue. You can play with the paddles or simply rely on the regular auto 'box lever; all very fuss-free, quiet and easy. Having a switchable suspension system means that on the road, even bumpy roads, the ride is relaxed provided you don't use the ‘Sport' button. I turn off the road on to the test track and unleash those 440 horses. The Gran Cabrio leaps into action and the once tranquil exhaust note howls all the way to 7,200rpm.
Handling is communicative and the Maserati Stability Programme is working overtime to maintain the equilibrium. I switch off the MSP and horses become beasts. The howl is louder as it comes in earlier at 3,000rpm. The gearshift is even quicker and happens at higher rpm. It automatically blips on downshift to match the revs, flattering the driver's skill level. This latest software even knows to downshift closer to a corner so that engine braking does not upset the hard braking for an imminent corner — very clever.
Not that long ago a supercar on a track would fry its brakes in two laps; distorting the discs, boiling the fluid, with a pedal flopping to the floor. Maserati's new dual-cast discs cope well with circuit abuse; its ABS and EDB matching the system capably. The suspension firms up beautifully, reducing roll and dive. Chassis flex and scuttle shake are far less than you would expect from an open-top car. Meanwhile the steering is a delight. Very precise and weighted just right; not too heavy, not too light. Grip levels are very high with initial understeer turning to power oversteer at will. The long wheelbase making it easier than most to control, and once again flattering the driver. The neutral handling comes via the excellent set-up and near 50:50 weight balance.
High speeds arrive very quickly as you would expect with a 0-100kph time of 5.3 seconds. But I am surprised by the top end delivery. Air resistance is the enemy at high speeds but no one has told this to the Gran Cabrio's horses. I look up the drag coefficient and it is an impressive 0.35Cd, which explains the 295kph top speed, or in top-down mode, 270kph if you can handle this much wind in your hair. The Gran Cabrio's multirole capability confuses things. Just when you thought you had open-top motoring out of your system, along comes a car with all-round capabilities.
Specs & Rating
Model Gran Cabrio
Engine 4.7-litre V8 Transmission Six-speed Auto
Max power 440bhp @ 7,000rpm
Max torque 490Nm @ 4,750rpm
Top speed 295kph
Plus Gorgeous looks, fantastic interior
Minus Tiny boot