Maserati’s exciting range for 2018 hits the road
Words by leading motoring journalist Mark Gallivan
Oh, it’s a very good question. What is the different between a Sports Car and a Grand Tourer? According to Mike Biscoe, Maserati UK’s new General Manager, it’s got quite a bit to do with sweaty hands and luggage. “In a sports car – you get in on your own and have a short, intense experience with sweaty palms. In a Grand Tourer you get in with a partner and travel at speed with luggage and [then] have lunch”, said with a deliberate delivery to the assembled hacks.
We are in Belfast for the penultimate media briefing of the Maserati UK road show which has been criss-crossing the UK for two weeks. Mike, a Maserati veteran and now back in the UK, is keen to reiterate that the company, while using Ferrari to build its most powerful petrol engines, remains a Grand Tourer manufacturer and one-hundred percent built in Italy. The Quattroporte and Ghibli are produced in Turin, the Levante in Mirafiori plant in the centre of Turin, GT and GranCab in the spiritual home of Maserati – Modena. Maserati is Italian. It’s only built in Italy. So it’s unlikely we’ll witness anyone called Cletus or Tami-Lynn bolting a bumper to a GranTurismo, certainly any time soon.
Maserati has been on a transformation march since 2007 when the Modena manufacturer had only three models in their range. Today there’s a choice of diesel or petrol engines, a premium sized executive car, a luxury limo, a curvaceous GT and introduced in 2016 – the Levante SUV.
Interesting facts emerge throughout the evening. Like how the design influences of the 2014 Maserati Alfieri concept car tricked-down into the expanded range. Just take a look at the front grille of the Levante. We learn too that the Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante share the same chassis, suspension architecture and engines. They are available in rear and all wheel drive versions depending on which market. “Seventy percent of SUV customers for Levante have come from another SUV and 90% of customers are new to the Maserati range. Lastly, there is a misconception of the price position,” says Biscoe. “Customers are surprised [that] the Ghibli starts from just £51,000.”
One of the key adoptions is electric power steering and seemingly engineers had resisted it up to now. Maserati claims the technology is now ready to adopt without compromising the steering feel. It’s worth noting that as a result advanced driving assistance with Level 2 autonomous driving now matches Mercedes, BMW and Tesla and betters Porsche and Jaguar. Only Audi offers Level 3 autonomy in their new A8 premium luxury saloon. That will only be delivered when legislation and insurance companies are willing to sign it off.
Quattroporte 3.0-litre V6 Diesel
The next day we spend the morning in the Quattroporte 3.0-litre V6 Diesel starting with £71,530 which spans an eight model range up to the wailing 3.8-litre V8 GranSport GTS at £118,525. So the big conundrum is this – should you consider a Maserati with a diesel engine or is it just a sop to people that want to have their power/economy cake and eat it? True, it does sound like a diesel at start up but depress the Sport button unless you really crave a petrol V6 or V8 with an ambitious 29.4mpg and 26.4mpg claimed by Maserati, you won’t feel massively short changed in the 3.0-litre V6 Diesel. It’s a smooth enough engine with negligible diesel shunt in traffic. Over two hour’s driving the fuel gauge hardly budged. Factor in an associated 45.6mph and a thumping 600Nm of torque, this is the pick of the Quattroporte range for private buyers. The Quattroporte is Maserati’s flagship saloon and included in MY18 are power upgrades for 430hp for V6 engine, standard adaptive full LED headlights, electric power steering, new advanced driving assistance system (incorporating Highway Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition and integrated vehicle control. It is a big saloon with almost long-wheelbase rear seating so your friends – important or not – can stretch out. And of course, it is cool and separate to be seen in.
Maserati Levante Diesel GranLusso
Next up was the Levante SUV. Maserati had inserted an off-road challenge into the morning at the Clandeboye Estate at Bangor with its own off-road driving facility. Now, quite why someone would take their Maserati SUV into the woods with gouged out roads, mud, sheer drops, and jagged trees is beyond most of us. But the Levante Diesel GranLusso with 275hp surprised with a capability in the thick stuff and amazily scratches at the segment best for off-road ability. What also sprung to mind was how nice the interior felt while wading wheel-deep through the darkest, filthy water. Levante prices start at £56,250 for the 3.0-litre V6 Diesel in basic trim and rises to the 3.0-litre V6 Petrol S at £76,995. The Levante has come in for a degree of criticism with its harsh ride and patchy build quality with too many shared parts from the Jeep range (Jeep and Maserati are Group companies within FCA). Yes, yes we noticed them as well. But if you get the concept of a very expensive Alfa Romeo SUV with a Maserati name and blue-blood Italian engineering the Levante tingles with hidden excitement. Every time you step up and in and it’s brimming with character. It gets our vote.
Maserati GranTurismo MC (Automatic)
While still at Clandeboye Estate one thing dawned on us. The Maserati UK team are, and it’s best to be honest here, mean as hell. Cruel, even. Think of a Hannibal Lecter toying with Clarice Starling kind of cruel and you’re pretty much on the money. We were allowed just 15 minutes – certainly no more – in the dark red GranTurismo MC in Red sitting on black 20” MC wheels that had been following us to each stop-off location all day. Mumble, mumble – it’s our only GranTurismo demo. Mumble, mumble – time is pressing on. The GranTurismo MC is a £126,989, 4,920mm long homage to how cars looked back in the day and how – give or take – ugly modern GTs have become since then. The stats add up to 460hp with a maximum torque of 520Nm and 0-60mph in 4.7 seconds. But you won’t care about any of that because the GranTurismo’s real charm is found in third gear at around 2,750rpm. Its right here, if you’re sufficiently ginger with the throttle that a high-pitched wail from the V8 engine fills the cabin giving you shivers like few cars transmit today. Press the accelerator too much and the wail dies, don’t press enough and you’ll never catch it. It’s a Modenese see-saw that only can be mastered with sufficient time and obviously a lot more than in 15 minutes. Oh make no mistake, we just wanted to drive and drive. If you’ve got the money and you are thinking of buying one then do it. You will love every blessed part of the Maserati GranTurismo from nose to tail.
It was the day of days. And it proved that Maserati still holds a particular magic with a model range that individually competes favourably with the best. Okay, we won’t fool ourselves or anyone else into suggesting a Levante SUV matches any Audi Q7 for millimetre, scary build quality or the Quattroporte matches a similarly priced Mercedes S-Class for limousine isolation. They won’t. But Maserati remains a noticeably and equally relevant manufacturer offering us a rare treat in a depressingly vanilla, electronically-numb world. You simply cannot put a commercial value on old-school magic or a sense of style.