Matt Stone, Contributor
We've always liked Maserati's elegant GranTurismo coupe. Since it debuted in 2008 it has been a handsome, well-built and luxurious leather-wrapped grand tourer.
But it lacked bite.
Its performance was and still is adequate for a long-legged luxury cruiser, but it's nothing to get all steamed up over. We've always wanted this Italian meatball to pack a beefier exhaust note, more power, less understeer, bigger brakes and a huskier look.
Now our pining and whining is over, as Maser has made good on those requests with the new 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC. The MC stands for Maserati Corse, or the racing department, and it has pitched in with some parts, advice and DNA transfer to allow this North American market-only model to become a reality.
Maserati has done with its basic, original GranTurismo coupe much as Porsche has done with the 911. That is, introduced an original model, then upgraded it over time and let loose with special-edition higher-performance variants. You've perhaps heard of the GranTurismo Stradale, a similarly fortified GranTurimo coupe sold in Europe and other world markets. It's similar in spirit to the MC, but has no rear seat. Maserati North America felt it was important to maintain the coupe's full four-seat capacity, so the MC still has accommodations for two very short people in the back.
More Power and Some New Trim
That rear seat allows you to bring your kids along, but it does not compromise the MC's performance in any way. Remember the line from that old Joe Walsh song "Life's Been Good": "My Maserati does 185...." Well here's a new one that really does.
Maserati's fabulous four-cam V8 has gone heavy on the protein powder for MC duty. The original model's 4.2-liter displacement has been punched and drilled up to 4.7 liters, and output climbs to 444 horses at 7 grand, with a meaty 376 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 revs. In addition to the displacement increase, the rest of the power comes from calibration, a major reduction in internal engine friction and a trick exhaust system.
The 2012 Maserati GranTurismo's exterior has also bulked up for MC duty. The snarkier nose, gills, grilles and aggressive rear spoiler aren't just for boy racer looks. The functional goal was downforce, with an increase of 25 percent in front and 50 percent more at the rear than on the standard coupe. The spoiler, skirts and slots also help cool the brakes. The MC hood is punched with engine cooling slots as well, and its own unique 20-inch rims are lighter and stronger than the standard coupe pieces.
Modest yet meaningful upgrades also better the cabin. The seats are, of course, stitched up in creamy Italian leather, and the Maserati trident logo is now embossed into the headrests. The gauges' previously blue backgrounds are now black, with freshened graphics, and the headliner is covered entirely in rich Alcantara, which looks great, is soft to the touch and reduces ambient noise inside.
Standard is a carbon-fiber interior trim package, and this is the real stuff, not imitation plastic junk or an appliqué. And check out those new shifter paddles. They're much longer than before. These are just like the pieces used on the Trofeo, which is the racing version of the GranTurismo coupe. They not only look cool, but also are much easier to reach when you've got the wheel cocked over left or right during cornering.
Our only gripe is the placement of the electric mirror joystick. Your left knee rubs up against it, which is annoying, and honestly a bit painful after a few hours behind the wheel. This control should be relocated.
Those paddles control one of the world's best transmissions, ZF's six-speed automatic, which has been tuned, programmed and calibrated to meet the MC's job description. You may wonder why there's no auto-clutch manual box, but once you drive this car, you won't question Maserati's decision here. Maser has a single-clutch electrohydraulic auto/manual box (called Cambiocorsa), but some judge it a little too herky-jerky for American tastes.
And of course parent Ferrari has its own seven-speed dual-clutch automanual that's superlative, but is a very expensive piece and would have increased the cost of this car substantially. No matter. Maser's engine management wizards and the ZF people went to work calibrating the six-speed box for MC's engine and performance targets, and hit the target dead-on. If you're feeling a bit lazy, drop it in standard drive and forget about it. Want crisper, quicker shifts at higher rpm? Press the all-important Sport button on the dash to engage Sport Drive mode. It's still fully automatic but with sharper shifts. Want full manual control? Snick the shifter to the left to engage Manual mode.
By this we mean full manual control. This hands shift control over to the paddles. Fan the right paddle for upshifts and summon Schumacher-quality downshifts along with a rev-matching engine blip with the left paddle. In this shifting mode, choose a gear and run the engine right to redline — it'll bump the rev limiter but won't upshift; that remains your call. Or floor the throttle and it'll hold whatever gear you've selected without downshifting. Maserati has chosen to leave those decisions to the driver, not a computer, when the former has selected full Manual mode, and we like it.
Making the MC a Driver's Car
The balance of the 2012 Maserati GranTurismo coupe's underpinnings have been further fortified and sportified to meet the MC's purpose as a more committed driver's car. The suspension is a fully analog affair. The Skyhook adaptive damping system gives way to beefy conventional springs and shock absorbers, plus thick, stiff antiroll bars to help keep the relatively heavy coupe flat and on track.
A limited-slip differential is standard, of course, and Skyhook adaptive damping is optional on the MC if you want it. And there's Maserati's stability program and ABS braking to help keep you safe, but they are calibrated only to do that, not to inhibit your driving pleasure. And it wouldn't be a great Italian sports machine without some aural sex appeal, would it? Maser has cooked up a way cool exhaust system for the MC, which incorporates a "flapper valve" that lets the exhaust note really sing.
In standard automatic trans mode, the valves are closed, keeping things relatively quiet. In Sport, the bypass valves open over 3,000 rpm to let the mufflers warble. In Manual sport, the valves are open at all rpm levels. We spent most of our day driving the MC around Southern California with the windows down, enjoying the music.
Big, fast cars need big strong brakes, too. Maserati delivers with a unique four-wheel disc system incorporating conventional iron rotors mounted on aluminum center "hats," which help dissipate heat faster than all-iron designs. Why no carbon-ceramic brakes? They take a long time to come up to temperature and full effectiveness from cold, and are crazy-expensive to replace. These modular, bi-metal rotors perform about as well without the big penalty.
Enough About the Parts. Let's Drive
For the enthusiast driver, starting the 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC is a two-part process. First, twist the key and fire the engine as per usual. Then reach up and thumb the Sport button on the dashboard. This opens up the "Pavarotti" valves in the exhaust track and gives you the crispest, fastest shifts and dials a bit more weight into the steering.
Sport mode really brings the car to life. Mat the throttle and the MC will vault you from zero to 60 in a factory-claimed 4.8 seconds, which feels conservative. We're guessing it's more like 4.6, and the trip is a sweet one; the engine moans symphonically, melding an emotional combination of intake noise and reedy exhaust blare. And it's smooth right to redline, too.
The trans does its job well, with tightly matched ratios and crisp, no-slop shifts. A great grand tourer is all about performance with style and comfort, and a ride/handling balance that casts a wide net with little compromise. This Maser leans slightly more toward the performance side of this coin, but the ride is always fluid, supple and comfy, with surprisingly little noise from the aggressive 20-inch tires.
In designing this chassis architecture, Maserati has worked hard to keep as much weight as possible within the wheelbase, and it pays huge dividends in a 49/51 percent front/rear weight distribution. The entire engine, and the trans, sit aft of the front axle, so there's no heavy pendulum sitting way out on the nose to swing the car around by its snout.
This makes for a car that turns in crisply and stays true in a very neutral fashion. For a large, heavy car, the MC will carve up a fast sweeping canyon road like a master chef, smiling all the way. There's more front end grip than in the 4.7 S model, and the MC hangs in there with you through any corner, letting you know its plans, and what the road is doing, all the way.
Gripes? A Few
Still, the 2012 Maserati GranTurismo MC feels every one of its 4,200 pounds. A few composite or aluminum panels would peel off some weight, improving performance and fuel economy. And she ain't cheap. The sticker price is $143,400. The standard car costs $118,900 and is just as impressive to valets, members of the opposite sex and TMZ cameramen.
But that's missing the point. The MC is about the driver. It's a GranTurismo with bite. A more passionate Italian grand tourer. In this Maserati you choose a far-off destination, a great route, a worthy companion, and crank up anything but that damn Joe Walsh song.
Then hit it.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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