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Review: 2003 Maserati Spyder

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By John Heilig


MODEL: Maserati Spyder (Coupe) ENGINE: 4.2-liter V8 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 390 bhp @ 7000 rpm/330 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual with Cambiocorsa option WHEELBASE: 96.1 in. (104.7 in.) LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 169.4 x 71.7 x 51.4 in. (178.1 x 71.7 x 51.4 in.) STICKER PRICE: $90,015 for GT, $93,215 for Cambiocorsa ($84,025 for GT, $87,225 for Cambiocorsa)

Maserati is depending on the strength of its new Spyder and Coupe to fuel its return to the American market, and if the opinions of the auto journalists who drove the car recently mean anything, it's solid fuel.

The Spyder was introduced in March 2002 and the Coupe in May. Since then, more than 450 have been delivered to customers, with 75 percent being the Spyder (convertible) and 25 percent the sleek fastback coupe.

Both cars were designed by Giugiaro, and are built by Ferrari. The lines of both cars are smooth with no extraneous scoops or bubbles. We received applause from a group of Legg Mason stockbrokers who were headed out to lunch when we drove past. The only feature that I questioned was a faux scoop on the trailing side of the coupe's top, where the original Mustang fastback had a real scoop. For example. It looked unnecessary. And like the Jaguar XK, the Spyder in profile looks a lot like a Mazda Miata, but that proves the essence of good design.

Maserati has gone through a turbulent past since its founding in 1914 by the five Maserati brothers in Bologna, Italy. The first street cars were produced in 1926. Ten years later, the brothers sold the company to the Orsi family, who moved it to Modena. The company was run by deTomaso until 1993, when it was purchased by Fiat. Giovanni Agnelli, head of Fiat, decided in 1997 that Maserati should be taken over by Ferrari, and the company's resurgence began at that time.

Both Maserati models are powered by a 4.2-liter V8 engine that develops 390 horsepower. Both also use a six-speed transmission, but it is the actuation of those gears that is interesting. A straight manual is offered, but the cars we had an opportunity to drive had what Maserati calls Cambiocorsa transmissions.

Cambiocorsa is similar-to-nearly-identical to the shifters used in Formula 1 racing. Paddles are located behind the steering wheel to shift up (right paddle) or down (left paddle). There is a learning curve to remember how to shift into neutral and first, for example, but once you've been in the car for a short while the shifting is effortless. The car even "double clutches" on downshifts - automatically. Cambiocorsa is also adaptive, so if you choose to drive the car hard, it will shift hard for you. If you just poke along, it will poke along with you.

There's also an "auto" mode that can be actuated by a button on the center console. This puts it in automatic mode, although Maserati won't admit to having an automatic transmission. Again, the transmission adapts to your driving style, and upshifts and downshifts at appropriate points. The indicator on the dash that tells you what gear you're in with the paddles, also indicates which gear you're in with the "auto" mode, something you don't get with Tiptronic-style shifters. Maserati also claims that Cambiocorsa is faster than Tiptronic.

To get into reverse, there's a small shifter in the console. It almost appears too small, but it's very similar to the shifter in a Ferrari, so I guess it's okay.

With 390 horses under the hood, there's no question that the Maserati is powerful. The Coupe can attain a top speed of 177 mph, while the Spyder is slightly slower. Both speeds are unattainable in normal driving in the U.S.

The driver and front passengers it in individual power buckets that are extremely comfortable. Normally, a car seat takes some time to become accustomed to, but the Maserati seats were comfortable as soon as I sat in them. Even when we switched drivers and passengers, we could get into the other person's settings and feel good.

The Spyder is a two-seater, but the Coupe is a true four-seat coupe. Rear seating has adequate legroom for two passengers, and the Public Relations Manager offered that he had ridden in the back seat from Washington DC to New Jersey with no problems.

The trunks of both cars are small, a mere 10.6 cubic feet in both cars. We were told, however, that two golf bags will fit in the trunk, because they tested it. Obviously, people who buy Maseratis are going to want to take their cars to the country club, so they'd better hold clubs.

Maserati uses what it calls a Skyhook automatic damping system. With this system, the shock absorber adjustments are altered in real time based on the driving conditions and smooth out rough portions of the road. Skyhook also provides for a firm ride that isn't going to give you kidney problems later. Even though our ride took us over some rough roads, there was minimal input to the passenger compartment.

While neither car can be considered inexpensive, compared to the Ferraris they will share showroom space with, they're bargains. The Spyder GT has a list price of $90,015, with Cambiocorse adding $3,200 to that price. The Coupe GT is $84,025, with the same $3,200 additional for Cambiocorsa. Personally, I'd choose the Cambiocorsa Coupe.

© 2002 The Auto Page Syndicate