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Future models - Maserati - GranCabrio

First drive: Maserati chops top on cool cabrio

Back seat: Maserati has taken the can-opener to the GranTourism and come up with the stylish GranCabrio - the marque's first four-seat drop-top.

First four-seat Maserati GranCabrio destined for Australia from May

15 Feb 2010


MASERATI chose a wintry Rome to launch its latest drop-top car, the GranCabrio.

The Italian marque's first four-seat convertible – unless you count three four-seaters built by independent coach-builder Castagna on the 26M chassis back in 1932 – the GranCabrio was developed from the GranTurismo.

With the same wheelbase but extensive structural modifications to the basic platform, the GranCabrio comes only with the top-spec 4.7-litre V8 engine, putting 323kW to the rear wheels at 7000rpm and 490Nm at 4650rpm.

It’s matched to the same six-speed ZF automated manual as the GranTurismo, but with modified transmission software and an altered final-drive ratio to suit the car’s different character.

The active and passive safety systems have been redesigned, with new roll-over protection and extensive stiffening both under the bonnet and beneath the car, where attention also focussed on improved aerodynamics.

Changes include beefier sills, mods to the door structure and an enclosed compartment for the folding roof. There’s a structural ‘torsion wall’ behind the rear seats and two reinforcing rods across the engine bay.

Maserati says measurable torsional and bending stiffness are just 1.82Hz below that of the coupe. But the bracing and roof mechanism have added almost 100kg of weight to an already heavy car.

32 center imageMaserati vehicle integration manager, tech and testing, Federico Landini says the centre of gravity is 12 to 14mm lower than before, and weight is still well distributed, with a 48:52 front-to-rear bias with the roof down, and 49:51 roof up.

At a 0.35Cd, the roof up drag coefficient is not as favourable as the GranTurismo’s 0.33Cd – and it’s 0.39 with the roof down.

Other changes include developments to the hydraulic brake-assist – snow-tested in New Zealand last year – and to the dampers for the continuously adaptive Skyhook suspension system.

Selecting ‘sport’ button stiffens that suspension and speeds up gear changes as well as re-routing the exhaust for maximum decibels. Like its coupe sibling, the car boasts a truly sensational soundtrack.

As for the looks, the Pininfarina design has it nailed, roof up or down. You could bet that bet Henry Ford II, who said he would drive his own Maser until his engineers designed a car as beautiful, would approve.

The roof, available in six colours, is a three-layer affair that takes 28 seconds to electrically raise or lower at speeds under 30km/h – or 20 seconds, not counting the windows.

Internationally, GranCabrio will compete with BMW 6 Series cabrio, the Jaguar XKR cabrio and Aston DB9 Volante, although the fact it has four useable seats pitches it more closely to the Bentley GTC.

Mind you, Maserati acknowledges that most owners will have to use the rear seats as supplementary luggage space. At 173 litres, the boot is strictly limited, given the roof compartment is an enclosed part of the car’s bracing.

Maserati sells bags to fit each of the two sculpted rear seats, with a belt to hold them in place in a crash. It says the security system that alarms the cabin, particularly when the wind deflector is fitted, effectively keeps bags secure during that vital café stop.

As for rear passengers, even Maserati admits only the 62.5 percentile will be comfy. Head room is tight but the squabs’ 42mm inward and 40mm upward position – mandated by the roof mechanism – means rear passengers get a better-than-expected view out even with the roof up, though anyone taller than my 1.7 metres would be cramped.

Front seat passengers get the same gorgeous materials and cabin ambience as the GranTurismo, and the same enormous range of colour and trim choices.

Our drive suggests performance is impressively close to the coupe, despite the added weight. Our mountain loop was a slow affair thanks to heavy snow, but back on the flat we could confirm this car feels as stiff as promised, yet the damping is efficient enough to keep passengers happy.

The roads we covered featured appallingly bad surfaces in places, with potholes that could break a wheel, yet there was little of the shimmy expected from a large convertible.

That the cabrio feels so close to the GranTurismo says as much about the latter car’s less than totally sporting focus as it does about the skill of Maserati’s engineers. For both vehicles are weighty, and deliver rapid rather than eye-watering acceleration.

That’s not surprising given most of the urge arrives at over 4000rpm, and has to push a nearly two-tonne car. The GranCabrio weighs 1980kg and reaches 100km/h from rest in 5.3 seconds.

The auto transmission is mated to easy-to-reach steering wheel mounted paddles, the combination delivering a claimed 15.4l/100km thirst. That will rise when ‘sport’ is selected, although it is worth it for the soundtrack.

Drop the top for the best effect – the car’s as comfy either way – and only rear-seat passengers will feel the passing air.

As for unwanted noise, the roof-up sound-deadening is effective and there is no sign of ballooning fabric at 200km/h – Maser says that remains true to 283km/h, the claimed top speed.

It also says this car’s Bose sound system was developed for the car and will recognise the environment and develop the best sound to suit – the air-conditioning is similarly automatically variable.

Sales of cars in this segment are down both internationally and in Australia, though Maserati hasn’t suffered as much as some and its model mix wasn’t affected here, with Quattroporte still topping sales. That should continue, followed by GranTurismo and Grancabrio.

Maserati will build about 2000 of the charismatic convertibles a year, with 43 bound for Australia this year from May. That figure is more than a quarter of the brand’s expected 165 total in Australia, with 25 orders taken so far, at $338,000 as standard.

Given the main reason Australian buyers purchase is exclusivity, those numbers should guarantee the Maserati an edge over its local 6 Series and Mercedes SL competition – especially when a likely S variant is launched.

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