Maserati had been out of the U.S. market for a decade, but the Italian builder of exotic sports cars returned in 2002 with a brand-new Spyder convertible. A Coupé joined the Spyder for 2003. No significant changes have been announced for the 2004 model year.
Maserati was one of the prime Italian sports-car makers of the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. The revived Spyder project began after Ferrari took control of Maserati in 1997. The two-seater’s styling is credited to Italdesign-Giugiaro, one of the top Italian design firms, and Ferrari handles marketing in the United States. Maserati considers the Spyder and the four-passenger Coupé to be entirely separate models.
Modern touches meld with traditional sports-car styling in the Spyder, which rides on 15-spoke 18-inch wheels. A contemporary version of the historic oval Maserati shield appears on the hood and is positioned above a familiar trident on the grille. Upholstered, body-colored, arch-type roll bars are installed for safety, and the power top is operated electrohydraulically.
The styling of the Spyder and Coupé is similar, but the Spyder is smaller; it rides a 96.1-inch wheelbase and measures 169.4 inches long overall, 71.7 inches wide and 51.4 inches tall. Weight distribution is 53/47 percent, front to rear.
A Skyhook automatic suspension control system was developed with Mannesmann-Sachs. Sensors constantly monitor the movement of the wheels and body, and a computer adapts damping according to driving and road-surface conditions.
Maserati promises “lavish equipment levels for life onboard” the Spyder. Ten shades of leather upholstery for the handcrafted interior are available. Each seat is powered and has an integral head restraint, and a memory feature for the driver is standard.
An information center in the console holds a 5.8-inch color display. Electronic rear-parking sensors are standard. A navigation system is optional.
Under the Hood
A 4.2-liter V-8 engine develops 390 horsepower at 7,000 rpm. An electronically actuated six-speed-manual Cambiocorsa gearbox with four modes — Normal, Sport, Automatic and Low Grip — can be installed. It can operate in fully automatic mode, or the driver can manipulate paddles behind the steering wheel to change gears. A conventional six-speed manual is also available.
Standard features include front and side-impact airbags, electronic brake-force distribution and traction control. All-disc antilock brakes were developed with the Brembo company.
Except for the harsh-shifting Cambiocorsa transmission, the stylish Spyder delivers a satisfying road experience. Once you learn to tame it a bit, the Spyder performs with real gusto.
A heavy throttle foot in automatic mode can make downshifts horrid. When you first step on the gas, the Spyder seems reluctant to move — and when it does, the car likes to lurch ahead.
Noise and vibration are abundant at idle, but the Spyder rides rather comfortably. The seats are pleasantly supportive, but some of the gauges are difficult to read. Impaired over-the-shoulder visibility with the top up can make merging worrisome.