Test Drive: 2018 Maserati GranTurismo
Test Drive: 2018 Maserati GranTurismo
A subtle rework of a classic makes for an immensely pleasurable ride
by Clay Dillow
Whipping our 2018 Maserati GranTurismo around the bends of a curvaceous piece of two-lane mountainside road, Andrea Fausti calmly contemplates the question we've asked. The stretch of SP40 just outside the northern Italian village of Bianzano had been closed for us by the Italian police, and Fausti—a professional racing driver and instructor—was demonstrating just how well the GT's chassis could handle this sometimes uneven, winding stretch of real-world roadway. The question: "What is the biggest difference for you between this new GT and last year's?" Fausti replies, "Probably the gearbox," he says, before adding quickly, "Well, it's the same gearbox."
The six-speed automatic transmission is in fact one of several aspects of the "new" GT that isn’t really new at all, but rather a holdover from previous GTs that's been subtly and deliberately tweaked. Speaking just before our test drive, designer Fabio Novembre discussed the challenges inherent in taking a product like the GT—a beloved and beautiful machine with design roots reaching back to the 1940s—and refreshing it in a way that preserves its classic attributes while still doing something new and exciting for consumers.
"It is about evolution, not revolution," Novembre says of the 2018 model, now on sale in Europe and North America. In other words, if the 2018 GT looks and feels a little bit like the 2017 GT or even the 2007 model, that's no accident. With a total refresh of the GranTurismo likely in the next few years, the 2018 GT—itself among the last of the traditional grand tourers—will be among the last Maseratis to provide that classic experience. "It's like buying a relic," he said. "You don't need another car. But if you're buying something that reminds you of something bigger, that's almost religious.”
One could read this invocation of the divine as little more than marketing spin, a clever means of recasting an aging design as a modern classic. Several aspects of the 2018 GranTurismo could certainly come off as dated. Though new front and rear bumpers (designed to lower the drag coefficient) and some tinkering with the front fascia have subtly changed its appearance, the overall look of the new GT doesn't diverge wildly from the design that launched the latest generation of GranTurismos back in 2007. The only available engine remains a 454-horsepower, 4.7-liter Ferrari V-8 that traces its heritage back nearly a decade further still. Most any other car starting at a $133,000 offers greater overall speed via a forced induction engine. The eight-speed transmission that has made its way into Maserati’s Quattroporte is nowhere to be found. And to start the GT the driver still has to insert and turn a key—an actual, physical key.
But as Novembre notes, a product with the enviable DNA of the Maserati GT is more ripe for evolution than for a wholesale reimagining. The Pininfarina designed-body that makes the GT one of the most beautiful cars to come out of the 2000s remains stunning a decade on. Soft, hand-stitched leathers still adorn the interior, but with the iPhone-less year of 2007 now far behind us Maserati has finally added a smartphone-mirroring touchscreen "infotainment" system to the cabin's center stack. The 2018 GT now supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a Harman Kardon sound system now comes standard.
Meanwhile, where some see an engine that leaves something to be desired, others see one of the last high-rev, naturally aspirated V-8s you'll find in a car of the GT's caliber, a sonorous power plant that fills the cabin with a soul-stirring growl. That signature Maserati sound doesn't boost lap times or buoy other performance stats, but it will make every downshift a pure pleasure and generate a pleasant twinge of anticipation with every approaching tunnel. And that's more or less the point. The next generation GranTurismo is already in the works, based on the Maserati Alfieri concept car that debuted back in 2014. It will undoubtedly preserve certain aspects of the traditional grand tourer, but it will also likely make the leap to the Quattroporte's twin-turbo V-8, adopt the latest and greatest eight-speed gearbox, and be built from a bevy of state-of-the-art, ultralight materials and alloys. It might park itself and almost certainly will have keyless ignition. It will gain some speed on the track while losing some of its soul on the open road.
Which is why the 2018 Maserati GranTurismo remains such a pleasure to drive even if it's not the fastest, most powerful, or flashiest car at its price point. Its appeal is emotional, driven by aesthetics and experiential factors more so than clinical, stat-by-stat comparisons to the rest of the class of 2018. It has been and remains fast, gorgeous, and quintessentially Italian. Put another way: It doesn't matter that it's aging when it's aging this well.
Images courtesy of Maserati