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Though outclassed in certain areas, the Maserati GranSport makes up for it with rarity and Italian-influenced design and flair. Those searching for a $100,000 luxury performance coupe will want to give it a look.
Italian looks and personality for around $100,000, optional F1-style transmission, true four-passenger capacity for the coupe, a healthy warranty.
Lacking some of the latest technology and safety features, doesn't have the flash factor that Ferraris possess.
Available GranSport Models
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A convertible (Spyder) version of the Maserati GranSport debuts this year, and it essentially replaces the now discontinued base Spyder.
Maserati has come full circle. At first, Maserati built beautiful Italian sports cars that possessed speed, style and handling, just like countryman rival Ferrari. After rubbing shoulders with Ferrari through the '50s, '60s and '70s, Maserati stopped building memorable exotic sports cars and instead produced the forgettable BiTurbo of the '80s. Although these twin-turbo coupes (and later convertibles and sedans) were fast, they suffered from bland, anonymous design and horrid reliability. Respect for the Maserati company, as well as the cars themselves, was gone from the U.S. market by the early 1990s.
Oddly enough, Ferrari took control of Maserati in 1998, hoping to restore this once iconic Italian marque to its former glory. Actually, Fiat, the parent company of Ferrari, put up the money and immediately renovated the antiquated Maserati factory in Modena to a modern production facility. The first offspring of this union were the Maserati Coupe and Spyder, designed by Giugiaro's ItalDesign studio. The benefits of the new parentage were immediately obvious -- no less than a near 400-horsepower Ferrari V8 powered the pair, and drivers could choose between a standard six-speed manual (called the GT) or an electrohydraulic six-speed sequential-shifting manual (called the "Cambiocorsa" -- Italian for "racing gearbox"). The Cambiocorsa unit is similar in design to Ferrari's "F1" automated-clutch manual transmission. There is no clutch pedal, and it allows gearshifts to be made in the blink of an eye via paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
The 2006 Maserati GranSport increases the sporting quotient a bit thanks to a few engine tweaks, a revised suspension with a slightly lower ride height, and a stiffer state of tune, bigger wheels and tires and some effective aerodynamic add-ons. The electrohydraulic transmission, tweaked to provide slightly quicker shifting, is also standard with this model. As with the Coupe, the GranSport can be had with the Skyhook active suspension. This system automatically adjusts the stiffness of the suspension according to different road and driving conditions for improved ride comfort and more dynamic sport handling. Similar to modern Ferraris, the GranSport has a "Sport" button on the center console that allows the driver to set many of the car's parameters for more aggressive driving. These include increased damping stiffness for the Skyhook suspension, faster gearshifts and accelerator response and reduced intervention of the stability and traction control systems.
Highlights for the GranSport include the coupe's true four-passenger capacity, an easy-to-drive personality and a measure of exclusivity. Its interior is cheerfully Italian, especially compared to the ergonomically effective but somber cabins of many German performance cars. And while the outlook of long-term Maserati durability is still unknown, at least there's a healthy warranty backing the GranSport. The downside to Maserati GranSport ownership is that its design is getting a bit old and it can't be had with some of the more recent safety features and techno-gadgets. But for those who desire an entertaining luxury coupe with an extra amount of Italian flair, this is a car to certainly check out for 2006.
The Maserati GranSport is available as a four-seat coupe and a two-seat convertible known as the Spyder. Among the standard features are dual power seats with driver memory, automatic climate control, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, and an alarm system. Setting the GranSport apart from the standard Coupe are a lowered suspension (10mm), 19-inch wheels, mesh grille, aerodynamic tweaks (such as a lower front spoiler and flared rocker panels), aluminum pedals and a steering wheel wrapped in leather and carbon fiber. The GranSport Spyder boasts the same upgrades over last year's discontinued base Spyder and features an interior trimmed in leather and "technical" fabric that graces the dash as well. The luxury-themed GranSport LE coupe features a high-power audio system with CD changer, xenon headlights, heated front seats, red brake calipers and the Skyhook active suspension. Many of the LE features are available a la carte for the GranSport coupe and Spyder. Also of some significance is the ability of the GranSport buyer to customize his car with a multitude of interior trim color combinations, as well as being able to choose unique out-of-range exterior paint colors. Maserati backs its cars with a four-year/50,000-mile warranty.
A 4.2-liter V8 borrowed from Ferrari sends 400 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels of the GranSport. All that power is sent to the rear wheels via an F1-style, automated-clutch six-speed gearbox (called "Cambiocorsa" -- Italian for "racing gearbox") that's shifted via paddles next to the steering wheel. No traditional manual gearbox is available for the GranSport. The Cambiocorsa offers four modes: "Normal," "Sport," "Auto" and "Low Grip." In Normal and Sport, the transmission shifts aggressively; more so in Sport mode. In Auto, the car shifts itself automatically. In Low Grip, gentler starts are ensured for driving on low-traction surfaces. According to Maserati, the GranSport will hit 60 mph in less than 5 seconds while top speed is 180 mph.
In addition to government-mandated equipment, the GranSport comes with antilock brakes, traction control, side airbags and stability control as standard equipment.
Beautiful leather work is as Italian as cannoli. The GranSport shows off its heritage with fine hides and impeccable craftsmanship. A dip in the center of the dash echoes the signature Maserati grille, and the various controls are much easier to use compared with past Masers. With a power top that automatically disappears under a hard tonneau cover, enjoying the GranSport Spyder alfresco is a breeze.
The combination of 400 hp, a lightning-quick F1 shifter, active suspension components and a satisfying V8 rumble prove nothing short of magical. It may sound gauche to call it a Mazda Miata on steroids, but that was the impression after running hard through our favorite set of twisties. Unlike so many exotics that impress you with their size almost as much as their performance, the easily managed Maserati doesn't intimidate you while you're driving it. Flinging the GranSport through corners is an absolute joy, with throttle, brakes and steering inputs working with each other to slingshot the car between apexes.
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