BY ANDY ENRIGHT
With Maserati having moved to the mellower Quattroporte platform for its latest GT, the GranSport is as focused as the trident gets for the time being. Used examples offer a Ferrari sense of occasion for Porsche prices. Make sure the car in question has been meticulously maintained. As the last of the 3200/4200 line, the GranSport had a lot to live up to and on its day, it won't disappoint. Quite how frequently those days crop up will largely depend on how dutiful the previous owner has been but there also seems to be an element of 'luck of the draw', with some new GranSports performing acceptably in terms of reliability and others being nothing but an ongoing headache. Accept that you're not going to be getting German style build integrity and budget accordingly.
Models Covered: (2 dr coupe 2 dr Spyder 4.2 petrol)
To understand the GranSport, you first need to trace its roots. These go back to 1998, a key date for Maserati. The 3200GT was launched, the first of the truly modern Maserati models, and it was an instant hit. This car was rapidly developed throughout its four year lifespan and it took many by surprise when Maserati, now operating under the auspices of the Prancing Horse of Ferrari, unveiled the 4.2-litre Coupe in 1998. Although it looked superficially similar, the 4200GT was a radically different car. For a start, the last link to the Biturbo era, the twin-turbo 270bhp 3.2-litre engine, had been given the heave-ho in favour of a big, normally aspirated 390bhp 4.2-litre V8 developed by Ferrari and which Maserati got first dibs on. The silhouette of the Coupe was similar but look a little closer and the changes were manifest. The LED boomerang style lights were replaced by more conventional units and the electronics were a whole lot more sophisticated. Spyder open-topped models and Cambiocorsa semi-automatic options were also offered. The marketers branded fixed and open-topped variants simply as the 'Maserati Coupe' and 'Maserati Spyder'. A limited edition Assetto Corsa model was well received and this philosophy formed the basis for the GranSport coupe, a final hurrah for this generation of Maserati, launched in late 2004. A Spyder drop top GranSport followed in summer 2006 but remains a rare sight on Britiish roads.
What You Get
The GranSport philosophy is one of more power, less weight and an all round sharper driving experience. The unusual sill extensions worn by the GranSport aren't the most elegant pieces of body addenda I've ever seen but they help give the car a more planted, pugnacious look than the standard Coupe. A subtle boot spoiler, a jutting front bumper assembly, a mesh front grille and some very attractive trident-themed nineteen inch wheels help the GranSport justify its premium over the standard Coupe model but the changes don't stop with mere styling accessories. As a car that can be driven primarily on the road with the occasional track day thrown in, it makes a lot of sense. It certainly offers up a far greater sense of occasion than any equivalent Porsche and a cross continental blast to, say, Le Mans or Monaco would be far more enjoyable in the leather-lined sumptuousness of the Maserati than the rather functional German car. Suddenly the GranSport starts to add up. The re-sculpted front seats of the GranSport offer a good deal more support and elsewhere around the cabin are a number of other refinements. Some rather unusual interior finishes are offered. As well as the now rather cliched carbon fibre trim inserts, there's a material enigmatically dubbed 'High-Tech' that's quite unlike anything I've ever seen in a passenger vehicle. Its fire retardant properties may well generate a few electrical fire jokes kept in storage from the Biturbo days of the eighties, but it looks very hardwearing and offers a decent degree of grip. Maserati's chief designer is said to have discovered the fabric when attending an Italian fashion show. The Spyder's hood seems almost old school, being an electrically folding fabric item which takes quite some time (28 seconds) to raise and lower - not something you'd expect in a near £70,000 car - especially with Mercedes' SL still showing how the whole roof thing is done. Still, with the hood down, the Spyder looks a beauty and even with it up, the lines look agreeably smooth. Quite enough, in other words, to persuade potential buyers of convertible versions of the Aston Martin DB9, Porsche 911 and Jaguar XKR to schedule another test drive into their Blackberries.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Although no significant mechanical issues surround the GranSport, build quality has been an ongoing concern, and those who expect their cars to function with the metronomic efficiency of a Toyota should probably look elsewhere. Nevertheless, Ferrari instigated a rolling programme of improved quality control, and later cars are noticeably 'tighter' in terms of fit and finish than early cars. If you are giving a GranSport the once over, make sure that all the electrics are operating, that the wheels, tyres and bodywork are in perfect condition and the interior isn't looking too careworn. The leather trim is hardy, but try to avoid the paler colours that get dirty extremely quickly. The big thing to check with the GranSport is the clutch which can be abused by unsympathetic driving. As with any exotic car, it is usually a good investment to shell out for a professional inspection.
(approx prices based on 2004 GranSport Coupe) Compared to many exotics, a new clutch assembly is fairly reasonable, retailing at around £480, but front brake pads are pricey at £255 a pair and £280 for a set of rears. A new exhaust system is around £3,600 excluding catalysts and an alternator costs approximately £490.
On the Road
Performance took a dolly step forward over the stock 4200 with the top speed inching up to 180mph although the sprint to 60mph remains pegged at 4.8 seconds. That 4.8 seconds will live with you for some time should you ever attempt to ape a Maserati test driver. Only one transmission is available for the GranSport and it's a sequential manual six-speed paddle-shift system. With the transmission switched to Sport mode, the Maserati can swap cogs with astonishing brutality, smashing through the gears far quicker than a human hand could guide a gearstick around a gate. In standard manual mode, the software ensures that you can't engage a gear that will damage the gearbox, will auto-upshift when the car reaches the redline or downshift when the 1200rpm stall point is reached. Should you merely wish to waft around enjoying the ambience, the automatic mode does a passable imitation of a proper torque converter-equipped slushbox but you suspect you're missing the point. It also makes some curious rattling noises on low-speed downshifts. Best to flip it back to manual and enjoy zipping up and down the gears just for the sake of it, relishing the engine's delicious throttle blip as you knock the gearbox down a couple of cogs as you enter your favourite hairpin. Bystanders may attribute the perfect 'heel and toe' downchange to you by the bark from the engine, although the speed of the subsequent upshifts may betray your electronic assistant, especially if you switch to Sport mode. Fuel consumption is extremely heavy with many drivers averaging around 12-13mpg in everyday conditions.
With a massively charismatic engine, huge sense of occasion and distinctive styling, the Maserati GranSport feels like a throwback to the golden age of Italian supercars. Unfortunately build quality is often of a previous era with minor trims and electronic functions failing with quite some regularity. You'll probably need to look at two or three lemons to find a decent car but many deem the rewards to outweigh the risks. Buy with care and you could net a gem.