2009 Maserati GranTurismo S review

Written by Boz

Soon after my drive in the Aston Martin DB9 (review here) I was encouraged to check out Maserati’s grand tourer. At the time all I had to sample was the Quattroporte S, but that drive whetted my appetite for the GranTurismo. When my chance finally arrived to drive the GT, I was offered one of the best examples – the 433bhp GranTurismo S. Short of the Ferrari 612, this is perhaps the finest production GT car to come out of Italy. But will it dethrone the DB9 in my mind?

Right away I will say that the Maserati is, in my opinion, the only reasonable competitor to the DB9. The Bentleys, Porsches, Bimmers, and Mercs may appear similar, but if you’re comparing a Mercedes with a Maser or AM, then you don’t you know what you want. So let’s start the comparison.

On the outside (ok, on the inside too), both cars are gorgeous. My eye prefers the lines of the Aston Martin, but I do not mind staring at a GranTurismo – especially the S. With this version, your eyes are rewarded with added side skirts, an extended rear deck lid to mimic a rear wing, 20” trident rims, and a contoured single exhaust pipe at each corner of the back. This modest makeover has improved a naturally beautiful Pininfarina design from all sides, though I still question the proportions of the rear cabin – the same beef I had with the design of the predecessor Coupe. But being slightly longer at the hips allows for a marked improvement in rear seating – the back seat actually works. In this the DB9 fails soundly (especially in the Volante). But let’s be reasonable: to look at one of these cars as being “more ugly” than the other is a purely academic exercise by those with no soul (throw the Alfa Romeo 8C in the mix to really stir things up). Score: tied.

On the inside, the Maserati is pure Italian class. Ferrari coachworks are seen and felt throughout. The seats sport a leather and alcantara mix and they support you in all the right places. The wheel was comfortable despite my GT having lacquered wood all over it. Simplicity has been a trademark of many Italian machines as of late, and the interior controls are simple as well as sophisticated. For some reason the blue dials on the dashboard seem fitting regardless of your interior color combination. I have a personal rule never to let a radio or sat-nav cloud my perception of an Italian sports car, so I didn’t use either one. All I can tell you is that they were there. The most ghastly feature on the inside was the unusually large shift paddles on the steering rack. They are no less than twice the size of any other paddle I’ve seen in a car. And I don’t know why they are that big. The only positive to a paddle that size is that it is accessible no matter where your hands are on the wheel – so no hours of instruction on how to hold the wheel in a turn in order to grab the paddles. But that’s a skill not difficult to learn. Score: a half point to the Aston.

Getting to the guts: the Aston Martin has a menacingly loud 6-liter V12 while the Maserati “only” a 4.7-liter V8 (the “4.7” being what truly distinguishes a Maserati “S” from its relatives). But while the normal 4.7 generates 425bhp, this engine has a slight improvement to 433. And it still runs to the magical Italian 8000RPM redline. And it sounds like every magical Italian engine throughout the tachometer’s entire journey. And Maserati has informed you of the modest power increase with an entirely disproportionate increase in the noise. An improved exhaust system includes baffles that, when opened, rival the bark from the Aston. You can engage the baffles (if you really want to) by taking the GT-S out of Sport mode, and by doing so you probably cut the decibel level in half. But as a buyer you knew you didn’t want a Mercedes, so you keep them open and drive a fantastic-sounding car. So the engine and guts of the Maserati are Italian and loud, and this makes up completely for not having a gigantic “6.0 V12” badge under the hood. If you want to hear a much louder version of the Maserati V8, stand within earshot of an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione. Score: tied.

Let’s talk transmissions: The GranTurismo S is the first to feature a full clutchless manual transmission. It is a slightly more subdued dual-clutch tranny pulled from the Ferrari 599. For any of you that really want to know the difference between a clutchless manual and an automatic with pretend do-it-yourself shifters, I recommend driving this car. Automatic transmissions (including that in the DB9) are just that – in the long run and when truly put to the test, it is an automatic transmission. Act stupid and run it to high RPMs and the car will shift for you. Some manufacturers do well in setting the parameters of the transmission to eke out the most performance from the engine, but in the end you are driving an automatic. To see clearly without ruining the engine, pop the car into reverse. You will find that, like any other automatic, the car moves gently and without effort as you let off the brake or give it some throttle. Now get into a car with a standard box and clutch and back out of the same driveway. Notice the different physics at work to get the mechanics to actually move the car? That’s exactly how the Maserati feels. Instead of smooth, effortless motion, you can hear and feel the clutch engage, then after some engine throttle you start moving like you’ve truly overcome static friction. You will feel the same sensations when moving forward. Other dual-clutch trannies in the exotics shift too fast for me to really notice this difference.

The only drawback from the Maserati transmission is found when slowing down. Where normally you could place a standard box in neutral and brake to your heart’s content, the Maserati insists on keeping the car in gear. So if you’re coming to a stop at an intersection, the revs will drop almost until you stall and then automatically and progressively shift down. I might find this a little annoying driving on a daily basis, but in a short drive it’s just a tell-tale sign that a computer somewhere is trying to drive the car for you. Nonetheless, I can’t imagine how much fun an engineer had setting the electronic parameters that can simulate driving a real standard. Score: half point to the Maser (unless you look at a DB9 with a 6-speed).

With all of these additions to the standard GranTurismo, you add a measly $15,000 to the price (mine was about $150K). The exclusivity and options that turn a normal GT into an exceptional one comes at a meager cost to the buyer – especially when you compare the price jumps of a standard Merc to an AMG. But I also happen to think the DB9 is a screaming deal for what you’re getting. Score: half point to the Maser.

Now the fun part – the drive. Fire up this GT S in a lot full of Maseratis and you will immediately hear the difference. The bark is loud and meaningful. The engine does not take long to settle down and you can be on your way rather quickly. Starting off in a crowded city may not be the Maser’s preference, but it handles the circumstances as well as the DB9, though with the “manual” transmission you sense more that the GT wants to go farther and faster than the traffic around you. Find a straight and free line and give the GT what it wants: power. You are rewarded with a firm, but manageable push of positive g-force and a classic Italian symphony. At any RPM there is ample power, and when you thought you’ve hit the limits, you’re probably only dancing around 5000 revs. Shift if you want, but the GT will go to 8000 if you let it. This being the only GranTurismo I’ve driven, I’m not sure if the larger engine is giving a noticeable increase in the feel of performance, but rest assured you make your presence known more than most other cars.

As far as handling is concerned, I never found the limits. In fact, this was the one aspect of the Quattroporte that made me eager to drive the GranTurismo. The handling of the sedan was surprisingly solid, so I imagined (correctly) that the GT would be better. I put the car into a few more aggressive turns than the QP and at higher speeds, yet some strange set of physics prevented it from ever going out of line. Even more remarkably, the car felt like it was hitting a perfect line at many speeds. When you feel that 40mph is as far as you want to go, you will feel the same at 50… even 60. Then the curve is quickly behind you and can re-read the “straight and free line” section of the last paragraph. My model was missing the Skyhook suspension (one of the only options on the car) and I predict that would only improve the sensations. Regardless of my driving, the oversized paddles oddly never got in my way, though once they blocked my approach to the turn signal stalk.

Braking was certainly adequate, but I must admit I never tested those with the same passion as I did the handling. No carbon ceramics so ‘normal’ driving is possible in the Maserati. You will feel a nudge from the transmission as it downshifts. I tried for a time to preempt the computer and downshift myself, but I quickly got tired of that.

Though the car handled admirably in all types of driving, Maserati did build in a ‘normal’ driving mode for the GT S. Press the Sport button off and it will baffle the exhaust and lengthen the shifts. But this mode is only for EXTREMELY conservative driving… I mean grandma backing out of the driveway conservative driving. If you even accidentally give the car modest throttle the transmission is so lazy that you will feel like you are cresting long tall waves on the ocean. If you are aggressive on the throttle it will feel like a roller coaster with six hard hills. All of the exciting parameters the engineer built in to the “feel” of the transmission are lost, and you almost get angry at the GranTurismo’s lethargy. Though intended to be smoother, the transmission becomes painfully slow and uncomfortable. My advice is to leave the car in Sport mode where it belongs – regardless of your driving style. Besides, why would you want to turn that noise off?

The feel of the GranTurismo S is truly unique amongst all of the grand tourers I’ve driven, and it maintains a fabulous Italian ambience – that unspoken, almost indescribable feeling that you are driving a car built by people more passionate about style and performance than you. Unique, yes… but I cannot say it is a better drive than the Aston. The Aston made me feel great albeit in different ways than the Maserati, and the DB9 does not need “modes” to drive ‘normal.’ Score: half point to the Aston.

In the end check the score: 1 to 1. If you happen to drive the Maserati first, immediately go to an Aston Martin dealer and look (just look) at any of the current models they have in stock. Right away you will notice a difference from the Maserati. The Astons give off an aura of quality and attention to detail that simply does not exist in the Maserati (I daresay the Italian) world. As amazed as I was with the GT S after the drive, a reality check seemed to smack me hard across the face when I stood in front of an Aston. I will admit that my devotion to Aston Martin may be clouding my perception, but even Chris noticed this same “thing” despite his persuasion to Italy. To be fair, I was impressed and still admire the GranTurismo every time I see it. It is truly unique as a GT, but mostly because of the tranny and the undisputed Italian factor. If you demand that, buy the car and you will make a wise choice. If not, the DB9 is a mere $30K more if you are conservative with the options and you get so much more. You can’t tell by reading this or any other article, nor by looking at picture after picture. See them and drive them in real life and the difference is obvious. Maybe you will find the words to explain what that difference is.


Chris said...

Having been up close and personal with both the Maser GTS and DB9, it really is amazing the differences between the two. Both are billed as exotic GT's, and both fill that role incredibly well. They look great, sound great, feel great - in other words you won't feel you're being gipped when you sign a six figure check over to your local dealer.

The GT S does not disappoint. What is remarkable is the difference in the normal and sport modes. It really is almost like a Jekyll - Hyde personality. Boz is correct - you would NEVER want to turn that sound off, so I'm really wondering why Maserati gives you the option to do so in the GT's sportiest flavor. The cool thing is too, it makes a great noise even you're trying to drive tamely. In other words, it feels Italian all the time for all the right reasons.

Passing traffic in anger is fun too. What Boz left out of his review was that he passed a CLS 63 coming to a stop at an intersection, and flicked the downshift paddle to give an angry snort at the Merc, letting its driver know there was a bigger dog around. While he probably would prefer not to admit to such antics, when driving a car like this it's so very easy to let some immaturity get the better of you at times. Hey - I'd argue that's what passionate driving can sometimes be about. Aren't cars of this level all about enjoyment?

Since as far back as I can remember, I've always been an Italian car guy. Growing up, i had pictures of the Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Countach, and Ferrari Testarossa all around my room. If it was ever my turn to shop for a serious machine, there was no doubt in my mind which countries' wares I would be perusing. When Ferrari gave Maserati a helping hand in relaunching their product in the States, I was genuinely excited. Nor have I been disappointed the two times I've sampled current Maserati's.

Having said that, as Boz alluded to my feelings about these two cars, IMO there is something 'better' about the DB9. We had the chance to revisit the DB9 the same day we reviewed the GT S. As impressive as the GT S is in every dimension, I would actually give the nod to the DB9. The DB9 can do everything the GT S can do, but without having to choose between a 'normal' and 'sport' mode - freeing you to choose how you want to drive at any given nanosecond. Plus, with the astronomical depreciation of AM's coupled with a pesky worldwide recession right now, the price difference may not be as great as in recent times past. For once, I would take the stuffy English car over the passionate Italian.

Don't get me wrong - the GT S is a very cool car, and one you should rightly lust after. It's very Italian for all the right reasons. But the DB9 just feels more special. It's not a demerit at all against Maserati - in fact it's an honest complement to the effort that Aston Martin has put into their recent machines. It's the better embodiment of classiness and passion. This time.

Marc said...

Chris, you are telling me that a car with 518 HP can't even go as fast as the Maser GTS.

Chris said...

Nope. Just saying as far as the general public is concerned, if a CLS and a Maser show up at the same time, I'd bet dollars to donuts that the Maser would get garner more attention as the 'exotic' car. Not bashing the Benz, just saying the Maser appears more exotic, and I would even argue drives with more 'passion'.

Mark said...

I think you should take some lesson on how to us a gearbox on slowing down. You do NOT select neutral and ride the brakes.

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