But back to that less-subtle look. Glance inside and you could be shocked to see swimming pool-blue seats. Not with every colour combination, but amid Maserati’s usual sumptuous leatherings are ‘High-Tech’ fabric inserts. The material resembles Sparco and, like the racewear, it’s fire resistant, says design chief Frank Stephenson, who discovered it at an Italian fashion show. Not only does it happen to resist incendiary incidents – not always a sartorial priority – but it also wears well and is very grippy. Happily, if you don’t fancy pool blue, it also comes in grey or black; sections of the dash, ceiling, seats and door casings similarly trimmed. The front seats are substantially reworked to secure you more completely through hard-charged corners.
Which this Maserati has been equipped to charge all the harder, making use not only of the lower ride height, bigger tyres and aerodynamic tweaks, but also of modifications to the Skyhook electronic dampers which better resist pitch and dive. The springs and anti-roll bars are unaltered, as are the brakes for that matter. The engine is only lightly modified, the extra 10 horsepower teased out via a combination of hotter cams, the hand-finishing to closer tolerances of some areas (such as the union of inlet manifold to head) and reduced exhaust back-pressure. Not surprisingly these small changes don’t produce a vast improvement in acceleration – they shave half a second from a standing kilometre – although the original intention was to extract more go by paring weight.
In fact this project, triggered by Ferrari-Maserati president Luca di Montezemolo, was to have produced a Maserati in the mould of the Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale. But adding lightness costs, and it soon became apparent that tooling carbonfibre door casings and the like would have added unsustainable sums to the price. In fact, some of the interior is carbonfibre, such as the console between the seats, but the weight saved here was lost to the bigger wheels and tyres says engineering chief Roberto Corradi. Yet the modifications make a significant difference to the coupé’s ability to cover ground. The GranSport will lap the short Varano race track near Parma a not insignificant two seconds faster than the standard car.
Or at least, it will if you’re Gabriele Tarquini, current European Touring Car champion, who is demonstrating the car. Unsurprisingly, he pilots the GranSport with tidy zeal, leading you to wonder whether his skills mask the Maser’s well-catalogued deficiencies. Have a go yourself, leaving the traction control on, and such suspicions barely evaporate, the electronics intervening often enough that the car feels as if it is repeatedly snagging in brambles. But turn the button off and you’re in for a surprise: the GranSport not only resists understeer very effectively – as promised by Corradi – but it also requires a deeply-thrust throttle to have the tail sliding, at least on dry surfaces. The brakes are strong, too. Above all, it feels balanced, composed and very usable, even if there is some body roll.
And these positives translate well to the road. The GranSport comes only with the Cambiocorsa semi-automatic transmission, and further refining of its software has produced shifts that, though thumpingly harsh at full throttle, prove acceptably smooth most of the time. Downchanges, accompanied by intoxicatingly feral throttle blips, are excellent and, best of all, it’s easier to modify your driving style to achieve smooth shifts. All of which makes the Sport mode, which quickens gearchanges, stiffens the dampers and opens a valve in the exhaust’s back-box for a wailing V8 serenade, a hard thing to switch off.