Maserati GranTurismo Sport automatic so good you will bypass manual
The Maserati GranTurismo Sport is a high-performance, $300,000 exotic from Italy.
But it was not the car that called me. It was the racetrack in Australia.
Motoring writers tend to namedrop circuits in supremely self-important fashion but, I confess that until this week and the launch event for this new Maserati, I had never been to Phillip Island.
The circuit, southeast of Melbourne, is a spectacular track that hosts Moto GP (this week, in fact), World Superbikes and V8 Supercars.
More importantly for those of us who drive a keyboard better than a racing car, it’s also a favourite venue for Australian car launches and carries the guarantee of at least one white-knuckle moment on every lap.
The long back straight is a highlight: it ends over a large crest so, at the point where you’re doing well over 200km/h and thinking very seriously about how/where to brake for the next corner, all you can see out the windscreen is sky and the blue water of the Bass Strait.
These things I knew even before I went there, because colleagues have spoken in sage tones about the wonders of the circuit for years.
I might be ashamed to admit that I am a Phillip Island novice but I have no problem admitting that I went there not really knowing what kind of GranTurismo I was going to drive.
Maserati seems to launch a minor update of the car about once every three weeks, and magnificent as the basic model can be I’ve long since lost interest in keeping up with the minutiae of each Model-Year (MY) manipulation.
Delight in the details
In situ at the island, it did seem that a bit of homework might be appropriate. I can now tell you that there are three levels of GranTurismo: the standard 4.2-litre car, a mid-level 4.7-litre machine and the racing-inspired MC Stradale.
The mid-level car used to be called the GranTurismo S but for 2013 it has become the GranTurismo Sport. There are styling changes, more power and a re-engineered automatic-transmission option.
The GranTurismo remains a large, imposing super-luxury machine that sells equally on extravagant styling and the extravagant noise that comes out the back when you press the Sport button.
It’s an old-school luxury coupe and I rather like it for that. It makes no pretence of being nimble, although it is very rapid.
The problem – if it can be considered a problem – is that circuit driving does not suit such cars. Too heavy, too soft. Maserati makes an angry GranTurismo for those customers intent on attending track days: the lighter, stiffer and alarmingly raw $350,000 MC Stradale.
I’ve driven that model a couple of times at different locations and it’s a rather different machine from the more road-oriented models.
I drove the new GranTurismo Sport around Phillip Island (the place) and Phillip Island (the track). It’s as absurdly luxurious (bordering on gauche) and loud as the last model, even more astonishingly fast and possibly a bit too wide to be thrown around on narrow country roads. Nothing surprising there.
What did surprise me is that the Sport is adept on track, even in the hands of somebody on his first time around who has no idea where he’s going. It is genuinely composed during the extremes of circuit work.
As it must be, partly because Maserati has to back up all its talk about motorsport heritage but also because track-work like this helps shift units.
Our launch was not merely a media event but also an Asia-Pacific drive programme for customers and prospects, ultimately designed to part people from their money and park the latest Maserati in their garages.
It was a five-star event – helicopters from the Melbourne CBD to the track, one-on-one tuition with Maserati driving instructors.
Transmission of choice
I learned quite a lot about the Maserati GranTurismo Sport at Phillip Island. Including something quite disturbing: the new automatic transmission is so good that I really don’t think I would bother with the robotised-manual MC Shift model. I certainly wouldn’t spend another $30,000 on it.
The six-speed automatic has gained some very aggressive MC Shift (bear with me, I’ll explain later) software that gives it the ability to be completely smooth and docile, yet turn into a quick-changing, throttle-blipping monster in Sport mode.
It’s nowhere near as raw as the proper manual but neither does it throw you through the windscreen when it upshifts at 3500rpm on part throttle. The automatic car is almost as fast as the manual and more fuel-efficient.
Maserati is keen to impart that the Sport automatic with MC Shift software is not to be confused with the genuine MC Shift robotised manual. That being the case, you’d think somebody would have come up with different names for the two transmissions.
But smoke and mirrors is still part of the Maserati-MY-upgrade experience.
The automatic is still absolutely brilliant on the track – so good that I don’t think you would get the value out of the manual unless you were Geoff Brabham. He was my instructor, by the way. Didn’t say much as I threw the car around the track; that’s either very, very good or very, very bad. I didn’t ask which.
A former colleague and mentor of sorts from many years ago used to tell me that as he got older, roads interested him as much as cars. Certainly, one was nothing without the other. I’m starting to see what he meant – although at this stage I’m thinking about closed roads, with start/finish lines.
MASERATI GRANTURISMO SPORT
What exactly is it? The latest version of Maserati’s GranTurismo coupe. The Sport replaces the GranTurismo S in the marque’s 2013 model lineup. It is still not top of the range, though. The track-focused MC Stradale continues as the flagship.
Powertrain: 4.7-litre V8 producing 338kW/520Nm. Six-speed sequential manual (MC Shift) or automatic transmission, rear-drive. Combined fuel consumption 15.5/14.3 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 4.7/4.8 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list? The GranTurismo Sport has more power and torque than the outgoing GranTurismo S. The automatic version picks up the aggressive MC Shift software from the Quattroporte GTS.
The GranTurismo Sport also wears styling enhancements that bring it visually closer to the MC Stradale, including a new nose and unique 20-inch wheels. The interior has been revised with new sports seats, a reshaped steering wheel and gearchange paddles similar to those used in Maserati’s Trofeo racing cars.
Maserati is famous for the range of customisation it offers. There is a range of MC Sport Line accessories as well as personalised options for body colour, leather, stitching for the upholstery and wood/carpet.
Price: $295,000 (auto) to $325,000 (MC Shift).