What is it?
For most car makers, ‘automatic’ is simply a word on an options list. For Maserati however, and in relation to its flagship 4.7-litre Gran Turismo S in particular, it’s the signifier of an all-new model variant. And a very important variant at that.
The Gran Turismo has been on sale for two years now, but with this latest version, the Italian sports car maker is making its coupe range complete. Since 2007, it says, it’s had a rival for the Mercedes CL500 and Jaguar XK in the shape of the 399bhp, 4.2-litre Gran Turismo. Since 2008 it’s been courting buyers of more driver focussed machinery such as Audi’s R8 and BMW’s M6 with its 4.7-litre Gran Turismo S.
And this year, Maserati is going after those customers who have fallen somewhere between the two extremes, who would otherwise go for a performance cruiser like a Jaguar XKR or Aston DB9. It’s taken the 434bhp V8 from its robotised-manual-only ‘S’ model and combined it with the six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. And it has given birth to the (no prizes for guessing) Gran Turismo S Automatic.
What’s it like?
That torquier engine and smooth-shifting auto box transform this car into one that’s as effortless to drive as it is pacey and sweet-sounding.
That 4.7-litre V8 engine, in fact, lies at the very heart of this car’s mystique. It’s a masterpiece of multi-layered sonorousness better sampled from the kerb than the cabin, and although it still lacks torque relative to a forced induction motor, it’s got enough of the stuff to make the Gran Turismo every bit as brisk as is acceptable on public roads. Its design typifies Maserati’s aim to provide the perfect blend of comfort and performance. It has one timing chain, not two, to reduce friction and noise under the bonnet, and it’s wet-sumped so that fewer ancilliary pumps are required, which also reduces unwanted engine noise.
The car’s ZF transmission is also excellent, barely any slower to shift than the semi-auto, and quick to kick down. It’s also much better-mannered when simply left in ‘D’ than Maserati’s robotised manual.
But this car’s relaxing briskness stems from more than just powertrain. It’s got chassis rates that are 8 per cent lower than those of the regular Gran Turismo S, and also has Maserati’s ‘skyhook’ adaptive dampers fitted as standard. What results is a car with good body control as well as a very comfortable touring gait.
It’s not quite the sports car that the proper ‘S’ is though. Although Maserati quotes that its new automatic ‘GT’ is less than a tenth of a second slower than the robotised manual over a standing kilometre, it feels that little bit slower because it’s longer geared. A new Jaguar XKR would be much faster in the real world. The trade-off is that the Gran Turismo S Automatic is also slightly more fuel-efficient than a regular S, torque converter or not.
And as comfortable, quiet and compliant as this car is on the motorway, it’s still a real treat to thread through a sequence of corners. Those lower spring rates mean that this Gran Turismo’s steering is a little lighter than that of its rangemate, notably around the straight ahead, but being hydraulically assisted, its helm is meaty, precise and feelsome. The car turns in faithfully, and has a predictable, sweet handling balance. Key to that is the car’s weight distribution which, at 49:51, is even nearer perfect than that of the regular S (with its rear-mounted transaxle gearbox). Maserati also fits a limited slip differential to the car though, which locks up 25 per cent under load and 45 per cent off the throttle, and makes the car’s cornering line all the more responsive to the throttle.