MASERATI 4200 GT

 

When we were introduced to the new Maserati 3200GT back in 1998, mainly Ferrari staff donning Maserati outfits with just a few Maserati staff on hand greeted us. Then, much of the 3200GT was derived from the Ferrari parts bin except for the engine and driveline which was a carryover from the Maserati biturbo era. With the introduction of the latest 4200GT coupe, all staff are now Maserati’s own but ironically the car is now completely Ferrari based. The new engine has very similar dimensions and design with the 360 Modena’s engine except for the fact it displaces 4.2-litres and has 10 bhp less, not all that surprising since we know Ferrari has team orders.

Even the transmission is from Ferrari, the famous F-1 transmission, thinly disguised by the Cambiocorsa moniker which in Italian means race-gear. For the uninitiated, Cambiocorsa is an electro-hydro-pneumatically operated 6-speed manual gearbox. There is no direct actuation via a gear lever and cables or con-rods but indirectly by electronic paddle switches located behind the steering wheel at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. By tugging on the left one downshifts and the right one upshifts the gears. There is also an auto mode switch for those inept at cambio selection or for those who just prefer a self-shifter, sometimes also referred to as the wife-mode.

Maserati first revealed this new V8 engine with the Spyder along with the Cambiocorsa gear system. The all aluminium 390 bhp, normally aspirated V8 replaces the biturbo 3.2-litre V8. Having a normally aspirated engine with linear torque characteristics lends a sophisticated feel to the car because the on-off turbo delivery found few friends and made smooth driving difficult. Also the new V8 has a nice induction note, something muted in the previous biturbo form. Using a phase shift device in the cam gear helps boost mid-range torque and yet still achieves 390 bhp at 7000 rpm though still quite a long way off the heady 111 bhp/litre of the Modena’s 3-6-litre V8.

It may seem strange that Maserati introduced the open top Spyder long before the coupe but understand that Maserati’s new target is the US market. By launching such a lifestyle model there takes advantage of the American penchant for convertibles. Sadly, also thanks to the US market, we lose the famed and iconic boomerang or eyebrow rear tail lamps, now replaced by a far more conventional looking cluster. You can almost hear Giugiaro cry. Other revisions consist of minor changes to the front bonnet to accommodate the larger engine but without air vents. Look hard and you’ll also notice an oval Maserati emblem but the biggest give-aways are the new 15-spoke alloys with 18 inch tyres.

Our strikingly rosso 4200GT really turned heads and only the cognisant knew this beast we were trying to tame as the exterior changes are not so obvious. Its hard to imagine what changes are wrought by this engine alone as we get the Cambiocorsa in the package but the sum of these changes make the 4200GT more like a junior league 456GT than a 911 competitor. The electronic throttle is like a trip switch for the 390 bhp as a mere prod brings the ASR into play. One needs to go easy on the throttle for the first centimetre of travel but to be fair, it’s a lot better than the 3200GT’s avalanche of torque that follows such exuberance.

Once you get used to the accelerator, it’s the Cambiocorsa you’ll have to contend with. The system is exactly the same as the one in the 575M, with the leather wrapped paddle switches and even a similar looking steering wheel. Putting your foot all the way down in 1st gear takes some measure of courage or abandonment as there is more than enough power to rip the treads off the rear tyres. Moreover the engine is so smooth all the way to the 7600 rpm redline it’s easy to be bouncing off the limiter. If for a moment you can find the composure, you’ll notice the musical accompaniment of a V8 in full song. No it is not as vocal as the 360, more like the 575M only just a touch more reserved in keeping with its character.

But at full wick, the gear changes are anything but smooth. The severe thump every time the system engages the next gear is indication that there is a very serious system in play here. In sport mode and at full throttle, the Cambiocorsa system shifts in 250ms, a little off the Ferraris furious pace but it gets the job done in similar fashion. Disabling the ASR via the button on the console, the Cambiocorsa can also be made to perform the Ferrari launch trick. Brake, select 1st, stomp on the accelerator, the engine rapidly revs up thanks to the delightfully light flywheel effect and the computer engages the clutch at an aggressive rate which precisely lights up the rear tyres time after time. The 100 km/h mark is dispatched in a scant 4.9 seconds after take off.

The 390 bhp “cap” is purely for marketing reasons because it figured hardly at all during the drive. One hardly sees the “missing” 10 bhp because one’s eyes are wide open in bewilderment and awe straining to keep abreast of the rapidly changing landscape as the road in front hurtles toward you at breakneck speed. This V8 is far more muscular low down the rev range and is far less frenetic than the hyperactive 360 Modena’s. Compared with the 1300 kg Modena, the steel bodied 4200GT is rather portly at 1680 kg. However being just 0.4 seconds adrift from the high-power, lightweight Modena is certainly a surprising achievement indeed.

To successfully master the Cambiocorsa one must learn to be subtle and use restraint. Just knowing when to ease off the power before a shift brings a modicum of smoothness in the forward progress. Your passenger will definitely thank you for that. The severe shift shock at full throttle is entertaining for the driver but its pure hell on the neck muscles of any passenger. One must be constantly alert when driving any of these F-1 type transmissions as it really highlights the driver’s shortcomings and ham handedness. The Cambiocorsa transmission has no doubt been refined to the point where in auto mode it can mimic a traditional torque converter box but the fluid smoothness is still not there. But the rasion de etre is not for it to be used as an automatic but rather a sport sequential transmission with shift-by-wire control at a flick of a fingertip.

Of course the Cambiocorsa still does the famous throttle-blip during the double-declutch downshifts to ease the job of the synchromesh. Selecting Sport mode not only produces more aggressive gearshifts it also stiffens up damping considerably. In normal mode, there is a soft closing of the clutch to reduce shift shock to make it more comfortable in regular use. Once Sport is engaged the shift times fall to 0.25 seconds and the take up is aptly more abrupt. Throttle response is superb even without the artificial enhancements and is there regardless whether Sport mode is engaged or not.

“Skyhook suspension” is Maseratispeak for an electronically controlled damper system which operates under the influence of a CPU that computes information from various sensors and accelerometers that monitor the movement of the wheels and body of the car. In this way the suspension is provided, instantly with a wide gamut of damper settings to suit the road conditions rather than the more usual one-setting-fits-all in other cars.

When driven in “Normal”, mode the 4200GT feels comfortable and relaxed but transforms into an incisive sports car once you select “Sport”. The steering which is initially a tad too light sharpens up a bit and the chassis response becomes noticeably more positive to steering inputs. The downside of a very stiff suspension is the stress it subjects the chassis to with the occasional thumping heard rather than felt as the wheels traverse patchy tarmac.

By reengineering the rear axle to accommodate the Cambiocorsa transmission along with relocation of the battery to the trunk gives the 4200GT a better weight distribution than the 3200GT. This yielded some 2.5% gain in braking performance and no doubt as much to dynamic handling as well. In the normal setting the ASR would curtail exuberance rather early but with Sport mode, one will have to be really pushing the limit before the ASR cuts in which leads us to conclude that it is set as high as those in its Ferrari cousins.

While we admired the open top Spyder for its distinctly sporty behaviour we could not help wondering what the set up would be like in the coupe which is considerably more sturdy. To our surprise, the feel is similar to the Spyder which means Maserati has not spared the open top structure of the Spyder at all. In fact the longer wheel base of the coupe makes it more stable and less frisky than the Spyder. However that is not to say the steering isn’t sharp because it is and like most current examples coming out of Ferrari, its on the light side. This really hides the weight of the 4200GT and with all that prodigious power at one’s disposal, the 1680 kg feels like 900 kg during take off. It is only evident during braking and cornering where the tyres, brakes and chassis are severely taxed. Cleverly they have elected to fit large 330mm ventilated discs up front and 310mm ventilated discs in the back.

On normal roads it is rare to reach the handling limit thanks to the immense grip but the few times we did, the 4200GT drifts neutrally but its something one would much rather savour at Sepang. Understeer is only evident at very low speeds and less so at higher speeds. The effortless power can be harnessed for normal inner city duties as well. It calls for much restraint as all one needs to use is about two centimetre of throttle travel to get through the city.

However we sense that the 4200GT is far more at home doing the KL-Singapore trip than going to Takashimaya. It needs somewhere to stretch its long legs as it is a GT car afterall. Its interior styling and creature comforts are even better than the Ferrari’s own as this 4200GT is meant for the less hard core but equally discerning owner. While looking demure, one can rest assured of its considerable prowess. The more you drive the 4200GT the more it endears itself to you. Without the elastic nature of the former biturbo engine, the drive is more enjoyable. The new V8 also brings some much needed Italian machismo to the coupe. It can be driven an a relaxed manner and yet when the occasion calls, it is just a tick behind the 360 Modena. Finally the sticker price of the 4200GT is far less than half of the 456GTA, its also carries 4 passengers and accelerates faster. All it lacks is the badge but if one can get past that, the Maserati 4200GT is conspicuous value indeed. -mp

SPECIFICATIONS


ENGINE
CAPACITY : 4224cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V8
VALVES : 32-valves, DOHC, Phase shift system
BORE X STROKE : 92x80
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.1:1
MAXIMUM POWER : 390 bhp at 7000 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 452 Nm at 4500 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : 6-speed electro-hydraulic, robotized
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear, LSD

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 285 km/h
0-100KM/H : 4.9 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Double Wishbone with Skyhook system
REAR : Double Wishbone with Skyhook system

BRAKES
FRONT : 330mm Ventilated Discs
REAR : 310mm Ventilated Discs

TYRES
TYPE : Michelin Pilot Sport or P-Zero
SIZE : f: 235/40 ZR 18, r: 265/35 ZR 18

SAFETY
ABS : Yes
AIRBAGS : 2 Front
TRACTION CONTROL : ASR

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4523mm
WIDTH : 1822mm
HEIGHT : 1305mm
WHEELBASE : 2660mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1680kg
TURNING CIRCLE : 11.5 m

 

 

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