What’s the difference between a sports car and a grand touring car? It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one when discussing expensive or exotic machinery like the 2018 Maserati GranTurismo convertible seen here. This grand touring car, a “GT,” is meant to be fast, but it’s not meant to be a track star. You could take a GT onto a track for some fun, but you’re much more likely to take one down a coastal road to dinner on the shore with a couple of friends along. GTs tend to have more seats, a softer ride and handling, and more creature comforts than sports cars. The Maserati GranTurismo I spent some time with recently fits this role perfectly.
The public thinks Maseratis are pretty special. The Italian luxury brand (owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) slots in above FCA’s Alfa Romeo brand in terms of prestige, but much of the road-going public still thinks of Maserati as something akin to Lamborghini, Ferrari or McLaren in terms of exoticness. It’s not exactly true — Maseratis are indeed nice cars, but their bespoke specialness isn’t quite at the level of those rarified beasts. At least not nowadays, and FCA is OK with this, ramping up Maserati to far more volume than it has ever sold in the past.
The GranTurismo convertible is not really part of that volume plan, however. This is something of a holdover from the older days of Maserati — this specific car actually predates the formation of FCA. It was created from a platform introduced nearly 15 years ago, and it hasn’t seen a major update since its introduction in 2008. According to FCA’s grand five-year business plan, it’s due to be replaced by 2022 with a fully updated coupe and convertible based on the gorgeous 2014 Alfieri concept. That means the GranTurismo is going to soldier on for another few years as seen here, which warrants a closer look.
The Body of a Supermodel
Despite being an older design, the GranTurismo still turns plenty of heads. Two things immediately strike observers about this car: its dramatically pointy snoot and its copious overall length. The hood is remarkably low because this is actually a mid-engine car — while the engine is in front of the cockpit, it’s located entirely behind the front axle line. This affects the car’s weight distribution and handling, but also allows designers to give it a long, low look and to provide a pair of seats behind the front occupants that are actually able to carry real-sized humans.
The styling is very traditional, however, and is starting to look dated, but comparing it to its contemporary competitors is difficult as there really aren’t any direct competitors anymore. Traditional 2+2 coupes and the convertibles on which they’re based all have been replaced with the new “four-door coupe” idea, as we now have the BMW 6 Series going all four-door for 2019, the Mercedes-Benz CLS as a four-door and other large coupes like the Jaguar XK simply being dropped in favor of smaller models like the F-Type. I’ll posit that the GranTurismo currently stacks up best against things like the Mercedes-Benz SL, itself a grand touring car despite its two-seat-only layout, and the Lexus LC 500. One might be tempted to put it up against things like the Bentley Continental GT or Aston Martin DB11, but the Maserati is far less expensive and exclusive than either of those super-lux coupes.
The Heart of a Prancing Horse
Pop the hood and marvel at the naturally aspirated V-8 engine, nestled way far back in the engine bay. That’s a Ferrari-derived-and-assembled 4.7-liter V-8 making 454 horsepower, which it delivers to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed automatic transmission. If this seems like a slightly outdated powertrain in these days of 10-speed transmissions and small, twin-turbocharged V-6 and V-8 motors, that’s because it is. Maserati itself offers a 550-hp, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8 in the much newer Ghibli sedan and Levante SUV. But just because the GranTurismo’s engine is older doesn’t mean it isn’t still a sweetheart of an engine. The song this Ferrari V-8 sings is one of the most melodious tunes you’re likely to hear emanate from some tailpipes, but you get to hear it only under certain conditions.
There are three drive modes and two transmission modes to choose from, which doesn’t sound like much adaptability compared with most modern GTs. And here’s the issue: If you want to extract the maximum glorious sound from this V-8, you have to put the drive mode in Sport, the transmission mode in Manual and shift the gears yourself. Otherwise, the engine is far too muted to truly be enjoyed, masking the GranTurismo’s more exotic roots to passersby. When in Normal mode, it may as well be a family sedan. Keep things dialed into maximum Sport mode, use the enormous paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and you’ll find a bigger smile on your face than you otherwise would. You drive a car like this to be noticed — not to slink around town in stealth mode.
Acceleration from the big V-8 is brisk, but not brutal. With only six speeds, the transmission is geared more toward cruising than drag racing, but it will still throw you back in the seat with plenty of force when you mash the go-pedal. The handling is best described as balanced. The rearward position of the engine helps with weight distribution, which yields positive results. The GranTurismo feels heavy and stable, but it can still hustle between corners with an entertaining zest. Changing to Sport mode stiffens up the steering and shock absorbers but not so much as to be uncomfortable over broken pavement.
My drive all over southeast Michigan for a week saw a variety of road conditions, and not once did the GranTurismo fail to deliver on the promise of being a classy, comfortable, stylish cruiser. My only quibble with the car’s performance is with the brakes — the first few inches of pedal travel are basically dead air, with nothing happening until you really put your foot down hard. Once they bite, the Maserati’s brakes are plenty tight, but that unusual behavior does make it challenging to drive smoothly in stop-and-go traffic.
Fuel economy isn’t much of a consideration in a vehicle like this, but for those who are curious, the GranTurismo convertible is EPA-rated at 13/20/15 mpg city/highway/combined, and my weeklong stint in one with a rather heavy foot returned an acceptable 17 mpg overall. Competitors like the Mercedes-Benz SL550 tend to do better, rated at 17/25/20 mpg, thanks to three additional gears in its transmission.
The Interior of a 1990s Fiat
OK, that subhead might be a bit harsh. While the GranTurismo’s interior is decidedly dated, it’s still covered in sumptuous, quilted leather and screwed together with a palpable precision. Seat yourself in the spacious, comfortable bucket sport seats, and you’re treated to black leather with red stitching, carbon fiber trim, big, easily legible gauges and a quality feel to all of it.