Maserati GranCabrio

For a brief part of my time with Maserati’s new convertible, it really was a gran cabrio. It would have been impolite to not offer my lively 80-year-old nonna neighbour, Signora Botturi, a ride in the car. After all, she knocks on the door now and then to offer us some of her superb fettuccine, so favours are definitely owed.

We’re halfway through a sedate lap of the road around the walls of old Bergamo when she asks a question in Italian. “How do you say ‘bella’ in English?”

The GranCabrio is one of those cars that easily earns the description “beautiful”. Pininfarina’s designers have created a shape combining visual drama with refined elegance.

Its body structure was designed beside the closely related GranTurismo coupe, which Maserati claims saved around 50kg compared with the usual coupe-to-cabrio-version increase. Still, the GranCabrio is no lightweight, tipping the scales at almost two tonnes. Too heavy to be truly agile, the Maserati instead aims for dynamic grace.

The GranCabrio’s chassis doesn’t convey a sense of utterly unflappable rigidity, but it does ride and handle pretty well. And the steering is quick and accurate, but lifeless. But this hardly matters as you flick back a couple of gears to hear the glorious sound of its 323kW 4.7-litre V8 (same as the GranTurismo S) echo off stone walls and the raw rock through which some of northern Italy's roads are carved.

‘Sport’ mode sharpens the responses of the engine and its six-speed ZF auto, firms the suspension’s dampers, and opens an extra pair of butterfly valves in the Maser’s mufflers above 3000rpm. This adds raw volume when accelerating, and a vocabulary of snap, crackle and pop on trailing throttle. This sonic tonic is intoxicating, and you don’t even need to be driving hard to enjoy it.

Climbing upwards over a spur between two valleys in the foothills of the Alps, the temperature drops approaching the receding spring snowline. The GranCabrio’s 65kg electric roof isn’t the fastest around, taking nearly 30sec to raise or lower, but it seals the car’s hand-crafted cabin perfectly.

Later I’m caught in heavy thunderstorms, but the triple-layered top doesn’t leak a drop. And it’s reasonably quiet and tight at autostrada cruise speeds of 130-150km/h.

While the cabin is richly furnished, the layout and quality of the buttons and stalks are closer to old-school Jaguar than modern Audi. And the Maserati’s electronics don't seem totally reliable. Once the sat-nav blanked out, and had forgotten the destination when it regained consciousness.

So the GranCabrio isn’t perfect. There are other four-seat convertibles that will likely be more reliable and which will beat it in a bunch of functional ways. The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, for example, has better top-down aerodynamics, is quieter with its top up, has a much larger (roof up) boot, and a body that feels sturdier. The top E500 model even offers similar performance for a bit more than half the Maserati’s $338,000 price.

The GranCabrio may lack practicality and polish, but it also has far more of that hard to value thing called character. And, yes, beauty. Even a gran can see that…

Engine 4691cc V8, dohc, 32v
Max Power 323kW @ 7000rpm
Max Torque 490Nm @ 4750rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h 5.3sec (claimed)
Price $338,000
On sale June

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