The Italians know food, pretty damn well. It's as fine an art as the art of dressing up, pursuing women, playing football or manufacturing cars. So the pasta dished out with a lamb ragout at Europa 92 is easily the best I have ever had the pleasure of digging into. It tastes and smells divine, every ribbon of pasta is deliciously smeared with the finest olive oil, the juices of a lamb that's grazed ravenously in the Italian alps and let me not forget Modena's speciality, balsamic vinegar! All of these come together to lend a series of unique flavours and tastes which I am not going to forget for a long time to come. Its almost ruined every other meal for me, that is how high its raised the bar where food is concerned.
That meal was a fitting finale after driving the exquisite Italian supercar, the Maserati GranCabrio Sport. Both the meal and the car had kept the mood ebullient throughout, the car through the day and the meal at night. My brief pit stops into Italy have seldom been unrewarding and this weekend then was no less. Onto the car then, the Maserati GranCabrio Sport is no ordinary spin off of Maserati's first 4-seater convertible. It's gorgeous undoubtedly, probably more stunning than the GranCabrio and easily the most good looking convertible I have ever laid my eyes on and a definite shoe-in to the title equivalent of the Miss Universe.
The GranCabrio Sport is stunning on several levels, not just with its Pininfarina inspired lines and curves and the minute details that help differentiate the Sport from the standard Cabrio. You may in fact not even notice the detailing, which is not a good thing because you might want your neighbour to realise you've got the Sport variant rather than him thinking it's just the GranCabrio. So minute stuff like the red prongs on the trident logo reserved only for the most powerful Maseratis, the black lined headlamp cluster and the black grille, the small winglets along the edges of the front bumper and the specially made 20-inch alloys are subtle touches that add to its beauty.
The GranCabrio Sport is also beautiful to drive and it's not a word I'd loosely use to describe this convertible. Where sports cars are concerned and convertibles to boot, there are cars that have more spring in their step than the GranCabrio Sport such as the R8 V10 Spyder. There are cars with a lot more flash and aggro tones such as the Gallardo Spyder, some such as the Aston Martin Vantage are as lithe as a pair of track and field shoes, none though possess the startlingly good looks of the GranSport Cabrio. This is an elegant car, driven in an unhurried fashion it feels graceful and were it not for the glorious sunny weather around Modena, driving with the top up would have ruined the mood that this car sets. It's spectacular on the outside, especially in the new deep and rich wine red shade called Rosso Trionfale and with the creamy bright upholstery just as magnificent on the inside.
With the Sport tag comes a bit more power from the 4.7-litre V8 primarily used in the Stradale. A small ten per cent power increment over the Cabrio thanks to a different engine map and reduced friction for the tappets and camshaft lobes enhance performance. Further improvements in fluid dynamics improve noise insulation while at the same time improve performance and keep consumption and emission within tolerable limits.The small output hike translates to 456PS at 7000rpm, good enough for a 0-100kmph blast in 5.2 seconds. Torque has also increased to 510Nm, a substantial enough hike over the Cabrio's 490Nm.
The Sport then is fast and sounds very enthusiastic while doing fast thanks to a tuned exhaust note with bigger exhaust bypass valves that are ideally sampled with the targa roof lowered. What this car isn't is aggressive and violent. I also got my hands on a GranTurismo MC Stradale for an hour and that felt savagely fast, worthy of its four point harness and low set carbon fibre seats. The GranCabrio Sport in contrast felt meek, perfect for a blast down the French Riviera rather than slogging at a track. And yet Maserati has sharpened several aggregates of the GranCabrio to make the Sport competent enough to register some very hot laps.
Apart from horsepower and torque ratings, the GranSport Cabrio gets the sharper MC Auto Shift transmission. Its got five driving modes but is quickest in auto sport mode where the shift points are altered resulting in supercar like performance. This transmission allows the engine to rev up to the red line in a gear, but does not initiate kickdown allowing drivers to hold gears. The transmission ratios are closer than in the GranCabrio and a launch control function makes quick traffic light getaways a momentous occasion. Shifts are also 50 per cent quicker than the standard GranCabrio while the transmission also allows the engine to rev 500rpm more before the rev limiter is hit.
Climbing to logic defying speeds is one thing, but any sports car shines thanks to a healthy working relationship between engine, transmission and suspension. In the GranCabrio Sport the suspension is stiff without being harsh and yet compliant enough for a plush cruise.
The GranCabrio Sports big ticket item is its Skyhook suspension system, which is basically an adaptive suspension system which helps you eke the maximum damping comfort in urban areas while ensuring a heightened state of dynamics when you seek out the perfect corner. At cruising speeds there is a slight amount of body roll and the aluminum dampers soften up to deliver a comfortable ride. Switch to sport mode and the suspension stiffens up considerably without turning entirely hard.
The GranCabrio Sport still retains its plushness, this car has no pretensions about where its loyalties lie and it's not the track yet its handling improves and the steering feels more direct and heavier as speeds increase. Turn in is sharper and more precise but don't go expecting the GranCabrio Sport to keep step with its more track and performance based sibling, the MC Stradale.
On the motorways and B-roads around Modena the GranCabrio Sport felt composed and stable though deep in the twisties, it does get a bit twitchy but that's only because the torque comes bursting through the seams instantly, stressing the tyres for grip. There were enough opposite lock moments and though the weight distribution, 49 per cent at the front and 52 at the rear is balanced on paper, the rear does feel a bit heavy and ponderous when climbing uphill. And yet what I liked most is its flickability, for a car that is 4.81 metres long and weighs just a little under two tonnes, that sort of immediacy to flick through traffic is vital. I also liked the ride, it's apt for our conditions where a pothole could upset the breakfast you had last week. This car glides and thank god we drove in Italy because the roads here are nothing like what the Germans make. There are potholes and bumps and all sorts of undulations that provide a wide battery of tests for the suspension. And the GranCabrio Sport aces each of those tests.
I like cars that don't compromise ride quality for the rigidity needed for better handling. It makes them more practical and nicer to drive everyday rather than to be reserved just for special occasions. I also like cars that look and feel special both on the outside and inside. And this cocktail of majesty and sporty is a rare breed. The GranCabrio Sport isn't so much a sports car as much as it is a poser's car passing off by association its infectiously good looks onto everything and everyone around, making everything a sight more beautiful to look at. It's also one of the grandest open top grand tourers around with space for four full size passengers. It's every bit Italian, as authentic, superbly dressed and as tasty
as a plate of linguini covered in ragu with a generous sprinkling of mozzarella on top. Makes it a dish that's absolutely divine!