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2008 Maserati Quattroporte and 2008 Maserati Gran Turismo Review

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2008 Maserati Gran Turismo

  • SEE ALSO: Maserati Specs, Pics and Prices - Maserati Buyers Guide
  • Driving Impressions : 2008 Maserati Quattroporte and Gran Turismo
    By Carey Russ

    When you think pedigreed high-performance, high-dollar Italian cars, if you're a typical modern American you probably think of Ferrari or Lamborghini. Maserati?Didn't Joe Walsh make that up for the "I Can't Drive 55" song? Or, if you know better than that, the question still may be "Maserati, do they still make those?"

    Indeed they do. "They" having changed multiple times since the company's founding by the brothers Maserati in 1926. The Maseratis started the business to build racing cars, competing successfully against the likes of Bugatti and Alfa Romeo (team manager n those days being one Enzo Ferrari) and Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union, and built a few road cars to help support their racing efforts. That wasn't exactly the road to financial success, and the Orsi family took financial control in 1937. The brothers stuck around until 1947, when they started OSCA.

    There were pre-war racing successes in America, too - Wilbur Shaw, driving a Maserati, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1939 and 1940, and was well on his way to winning in 1941 when tire failure put him out of the race.

    Maserati's best-known and most successful period was between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. Maseratis were successful factory and privateer cars in Grand Prix racing and Formula One from the late 40s through 1957, first in the form of the 4CLT/48 and then with the now-legendary 250F. Ditto for sports-racing cars, in displacements from 1.5 to 4.5 liters.

    Maserati left F1 when rules changes made the 250F uncompetitive, and concentrated on sports-racing cars and actual series-production road cars. Well, series-production by handmade Italian standards... The road cars included the 3500 GT, with a 3.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine, the 5000 GT, with a 5-liter V8 based on that used in the 450S racer, and, in the mid-60s, the Quattroporte, a high-performance V8-powered luxury sedan. "Quattroporte" simply means "four doors". Everything sounds better in Italian.

    French automaker Citroen bought Maserati in 1968, resulting in complex Citroen hydraulic suspension in the V8 Maserati Bora and V6 Merak, and a Maserati engine in the Citroen SM.

    Citroen sold Maserati to Argentine/Italian ex-race driver and entrepreneur Alejandro DeTomaso by 1975. (Yes, the same DeTomaso associated with the Ford-powered Pantera.) The product line remained unchanged, and production numbers were low. In 1981, DeTomaso introduced the Maserati Biturbo. "Controversial" is perhaps the best word to describe the Biturbo, and, for that matter, DeTomaso. Then there was the Chrysler/Maserati connection... Suffice to say, Maserati was kept alive, and sales increased, but not without some damage to the company's reputation. A new version of the Quattroporte was also produced, with V8 power.

    The DeTomaso era came to an end in 1993, when Maserati was bought by Fiat. Old models disappeared, new ones appeared, and quality and reputation climbed back. In 1997, Fiat sold half of Maserati to its one-time archrival Ferrari (which is itself a subsidiary of Fiat). By 1999, Maserati was under complete Ferrari control. Far from being the end for Maserati, that was likely the best thing to happen since Orsi provided money back before World War II.

    Under Ferrari ownership, Maserati was not going to be a direct competitor, as it was from the late 1940s through the early '80s. Current Ferraris are mid-engined two-seaters with the look and feel of a GT race car, or more traditional front-engined. V12-powered gran turismos, expensive and exclusive cars for high-speed road use. The current Maserati lineup is more attainable, if not exactly inexpensive.

    When Maserati re-entered the US market in 2002 after a long absence, offerings were a 2+2 Coupe and similar convertible Spyder, with a V8 in front, rear-wheel drive, and styling that was considerably more conservative than that of current Ferraris. While the engine was sourced from Ferrari - as with more quotidian vehicles, development and emissions homologation costs dictate engine and platform sharing amongst the exotics - assembly was still in Modena, Maserati's home since 1937. Fiat and Ferrari money allowed much-needed modernization.

    The Coupe and Spyder set the tone for Maserati's current lineup, highlighted by the newest Quattroporte sedan and the Gran Turismo coupe. As is expected of Italian exotics, they're gorgeous. The Quattroporte looks more like a coupe than most sports coupes, while the Gran Turismo dips into Maserati's considerable heritage for a masterful blend of past and current style. Both share major components, which allows for very aggressive pricing, competitive with the upper ends of the more common, mass-produced European luxury cars.

    Starting at $119,000, the Quattroporte is powered by a 400-horsepower, 4.2-liter twin-cam alloy V8 driving the rear wheels through either a six-speed ZF automatic transmission or Maserati's "DuoSelect" automated manual gearbox. The ZF mates conventionally, directly to the rear of the engine; the DuoSelect is in a transaxle at the rear of the car, for more rearward weight distribution to improve traction and handling. In both versions, the engine is mounted behind the front axle centerline, again to improve weight distribution and centralize mass for optimum handling. Suspension is fully independent by double a-arms, with "Skyhook" active damping control available. Brakes are, of course, Brembo, with large ventilated rotors and four-piston calipers.

    The Gran Turismo takes its styling cues from the Pininfarina-bodied A6 coupe that debuted at the 1947 Geneva Motor Show. That car was a one-off, derived from the successful A6GCS race car. The A6GCS inspired the Gran Turismo, especially at the front. It's noticeably smaller than the Quattroporte, but still has room for four people. Power is from a 405-horsepower version of the 4.2-liter V8, matched to the six-speed ZF automatic. Suspension is similar in design to the Quattroporte's but retuned for the Gran Turismo's smaller size and more sporting aspect. The Skyhook system is standard in all American models. Gran Turismo prices start at $114,650.

    Exotics such as Maserati are not normally in our local press fleet, but Maserati did make an appearance at the recent Western Automotive Journalists annual ride and drive and track days at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, CA. They brought both a Quattroporte and Gran Turismo for the street driving part of the program, with the Gran Turismo also available for the track. Both cars had the ZF automatic.

    On the street, at regular, legal speeds, the Quattroporte was an only-from-Italy blend of sport and luxury, with executive-class room. I rode in the front seat, I rode in the back seat (best ever in my experience) and I drove for an all-too short time. A lovely car, fully comparable and more to the best of the European and Japanese executive-class sedans - and with a distinctively Italian flair and character.

    The Gran Turismo was just as comfortable on the road, if not as spacious. It is not a small car, but felt smaller than it was when pushed a bit when the opportunity arose. A grand car for touring, indeed.

    During track day, the Gran Turismo was unsurprisingly busy. I tired of waiting for a turn to drive, and instead hopped into the front passenger seat with someone who is a much better drive than I am, someone with many years of racing experience.

    Perfect. At higher speeds than I would have attempted, the Gran Turismo was completely at home. Quick acceleration, excellent brakes, and first-class handling will do that. The driver's comment was telling: "This is a car that makes you feel like you're a better driver than you are." Many luxury coupes are more toys for trophy wives or aging starlets than sports cars. Not the Maserati Gran Turismo.

    No, they are not cars for everyone. And yes, they are expensive, if not as much as the Ferraris and Lamborghinis. The current Maseratis are far more useful than any two-seat exotic, and deal with the real world much better. A cynic might say that Maserati is Ferrari's entry-level brand, but that would miss the point. There is a considerable difference between the two, and no product overlap. And one of the most storied names in motoring has not only survived, but is on the way to flourishing.