Maserati Attempts a Challenge Stradale : Maserati GranSport

Car Specifications
Engine: 
4244cc
Cylinder Layout: 
V8, 48-valves, DOHC
Top Speed: 
290km/h
Transmission: 
Cambiocorsa; robotised 6-speed manual
0-100km/h: 
4.85 seconds
Power: 
400bhp at 7000rpm
Torque: 
452Nm at 4500rpm
Features: 
  • Eager V8 engine
  • Excellent brakes
  • Focused driving experience

Maserati’s latest addition to its family is called the Grandsport. A curiously coined name for sure but there is much more to it than its name. The Grandsport is like what the Challenge Stradale is to the 360 Modena, a much more focused product, biased heavily towards sport. Of course the Gransport is not as extreme a car as the CS but it gets many goodies that really make it a significant model in Maserati’s line-up.

Frankly the aerodynamic bodykit is not to everyone’s liking but it certainly differentiates the Gransport from the normal 4200GT. The drag coefficient is kept at a decent 0.33 despite a larger radiator grille thanks to the deep chin spoiler and discreet boot lid spoiler though we would like to know exactly what the loud side skirt does.

Aiding the aero drag is a sports suspension that is lowered by 10mm which provides a two point drop in drag value. Gone is the supposedly superior “Skyhook” electronically controlled suspension system, replaced with a more traditional, lowered spring and sport damper set-up. And boy what a difference this makes.

To be fair a lot of goodies have gone into the Gransport to make it what it is but the suspension alone is singled out for mention because it does what the Skyhook suspension so far hasn’t; provide a positive and confident drive experience. Trying please a wide array of customers results in a defocused product that is more often than not, less than inspired.

The Gransport lifts the veil that shrouds the 4200GT’s handling giving it the clarity it needs. The steering, chassis and driver are as close to being one not unlike the experience in the Stradale, only less extreme and it would be interesting to find out just what the Gransport will feel like if the P-Zero Rossos were swapped for a set of P-Zero Corsas like those on the Stradale.

Of course the engineers also had a good look at the engine and have lifted power by 10 bhp to 400 bhp, finally equal to that of the 360 Modena which hints that the 360 Modena will soon move on up. Considering that it is 400 bhp we are talking about, with such a relatively paltry hike in power, one could speculate that these examples may merely be the best pick of the production 4200GT engines which can have 2-3% variances in power levels.

To be doubly sure these are special engines, the intake and exhaust plumbing have been looked into. There is a raspy free-flow exhaust system that adds a little more bark and maybe even a little more bite.

However the bald figures do not convey the subjective transformation evidenced when belting the Gransport around. It is perceptibly more potent throughout its entire range and more importantly more responsive to driver’s input.

The Cambiocorsa transmission, once a poor relative to Ferrari’s F-1 gearbox gets the greatest improvement of all. Shifting at 160ms or 35% faster than the 4200GT, the Cambiocorsa is essentially the equal of Ferrari’s quickest, the Challenge Stradale.

Maserati obviously felt it was necessary. It would have been pretty lame in light of such improvements to suspension and engine to be mated to a stodgy shifting gearbox.

Punch the button marked “Sport” and its repertoire changes. Mind you it is not the suspension settings that it alters as it has a fixed spring and damper rate. It changes the speed at which the Cambiocorsa shifts as well as alters the exhaust path through the rear resonator, lowering its backpressure and heightening the ferocity of its bark and bite.

This alone provides a palpable change in its urgency and character. While not immediately apparent, the Sport setting also pushes back the parameters at which MSP (Maserati Stability Program) cuts in, making the electronics less intrusive when the driver wants more control over what he does.

Indeed, with Sport mode, launch control is available without having to disable the MSP. Just make a deliberate stomp on the accelerator immediately after releasing the brakes and the revs jump up to 5000 rpm and the clutch engages ferociously, shredding expensive Pirelli P-Zero rubber in the process. Even with a kerb weight of 1680-kg, the Gransport achieves a magical sub-5 second sprint to 100 km/h. The clock stops at 4.85 seconds, clearing the standing 1-km marker in 23 seconds and won’t stop accelerating until a dizzying 290 km/h is attained. Too bad Maserati has not worked on lowering the car’s weight further as that would have made it even more spectacular.

Maserati has never been famous for its brakes but these Brembo made 330mm steel rotors are superbly reassuring as you hit the brake pedal. A firm, seemingly unyielding pedal meets your right foot as you begin retardation and it provides very proportional and precise retardation forces as one increases pedal pressure.

This is far better than any standard Maserati brakes they have put on their road going models. The reason behind this is they use top quality steel braided brake lines. Very little of the braking system’s braking pressure is lost to the slight bloating of the hoses that occurs when the standard flexible ones are used to connect the hydraulic lines to the unsprung calipers. So even if it misses out on the Carbon-ceramic brakes of the Stradale, the Gransport’s brakes are well up to that kind of comparison.

While it is easy to dismiss all the work done to the interior as unnecessary and a touch naff in our opinion, one item that many never quite appreciate is the sport seat. Its raised bolsters provide a snug fit that some find uncomfortable.

Well, too bad then because it is immutable just what a good fitting seat does when it locates the driver in place perfectly. One feels the clarity of the engine and chassis’ responses that have been so painstakingly honed by the engineers. It really makes you a part of the machine and heightens your confidence and control over the beast.

Each facet of the car’s performance has been dialed up one full notch in perfect tandem to make this the most satisfying Maserati to date. Ride comfort has been sacrificed in the process but it is comfortable in its own way as overall damper control appears to be better.

But the clear focus of the newfound abilities threatens even that of the bog standard 360 Modena We could wish for a less flamboyant body kit and could do without the optional, ultra expensive ($18,000) Blanco-Fuji Pearlescent paint job but there is no denying this Gransport is ready to take on the likes of the GT3 and in terms of driver satisfaction has to rank just behind the Challenge Stradale.

Considering its asking price of $400,000 is half that of the Stradale and $130,000 less than the GT3, the Gransport is looking like pretty good value indeed. We say skip the 4200GT and go straight for the Gransport.

SPECIFICATIONS
ENGINE
CAPACITY : 4244cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT : V8
VALVES : 48 valves DOHC
BORE X STROKE : 92x79.8mm
COMPRESSION RATIO : 11.1:1
MAXIMUM POWER : 400 bhp at 7000 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE : 452 Nm at 4500 rpm

TRANSMISSION
TYPE : Cambiocorsa, robotized 6-speed manual
DRIVEN WHEELS : Rear

PERFORMANCE
TOP SPEED : 290 km/h
0-100KM/H : 4.85 seconds

SUSPENSION
FRONT : Double wishbones, stabilizer bar
REAR : Double wishbones, stabilizer bar

BRAKES
FRONT : Brembo Ventilated Discs
REAR : Brembo Ventilated Discs

TYRES
TYPE : Pirelli P-Zero Rosso system
SIZE : f: 235/35 ZR 19, r: 265/30 ZR 19

SAFETY
ABS : Yes and EBD
AIRBAGS : Yes, 2
TRACTION CONTROL : MSP

MEASUREMENTS
LENGTH : 4523mm
WIDTH : 1822mm
HEIGHT : 1295mm
WHEELBASE : 2660mm
KERB WEIGHT : 1680-kg
TURNING CIRCLE : 12m

BUYING IT
PRICE IN 2004 : $400,000 including COE
WARRANTY : 3-year, 100,000 km
 

Summary
This is a fine effort from Maserati creating a more focussed driver's car than the 4200GT ever was and consequently more enjoyable. The traditional fixed rate non adjustable spring and damper set-up is very good, perhaps even better than the Skyhook active system. It might be the swan song of the range but what a song. Deserves recognition as cult car. - AL
Photos: 
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