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First drive: Maserati GranTurismo Sport
Ooh, a new Maserati. Tell us more...
Well, not so much of the new. Fundamentally this is the same GranTurismo we've had since 2007... except, better. The Sport replaces the S models in the middle of the range, forming the meat - and sales winner - between the boggo 4.2-litre version and the hardest MC. It gets broadly the same 4.7-litre V8 as the S cars it succeeds, with redesigned pistons, a mapping refresh and a revised combustion process. Join all that together and the Sport has 453bhp, up 20bhp from the S. So it has the same power as the MC Stradale, at least until that gets an extra shot of performance later this year.
But it looks different, right?
Well noticed. The Sport borrows bits of the MC's styling, including most of the front bumper, which now has sabre-shaped inlets at each side below the headlights (also new, with integrated LEDs). The side skirts are deeper and more sculpted, the tinted taillights also have LEDs and the rear bumper is now home to black oval exhaust tips. The alloys are restyled in various designs and there's a new blue paintjob, matched by optional blue brake calipers. Inside the seats are more slender, giving a couple more centimetres of legroom in the back, and the steering wheel has a flatter bottom. Overall it has more visual bite than the S, but a touch less aggression than the MC.
What's it like then?
We'll start with the noise, shall we? It's the best bit. Firstly, press the Sport button so the exhaust opens its baffles, clearing its mechanical throat. Pull away with a squeeze of throttle and it's a yawning lion. Press harder and there's a hint of Chewbacca the Wookie at his mellifluous best. Keep going and you'll pass through savage tiger, getting harder and angrier until the big V8 out-sings the exhausts and you reach Hungry T-Rex. Anyone within a mile of this thing would think they've stumbled into some weird safari park. And then cheer you past.
Must be quick then?
The GranTurismo has always been more of a fast grand tourer than a precise sports car. This one's a bit quicker, with the extra power bringing the 0-100kph time down from 4.9 seconds to 4.7secs for the MC Shift 'box and 4.8secs for the full auto. It's also a fraction sharper: the continuously adaptive ‘Skyhook' suspension is now standard (good), and thanks to tighter springs and anti-roll bars, it's 10 per cent stiffer, but you'll need a bionic connection and a racer's arse to really feel the difference. At 1,780kg this is still a relatively heavy machine, but new Brembo brakes help shrug off more of the bulk than before. These are marginal improvements over the outgoing car, but we're glad they're here.
So which gearbox is best?
Depends how racy you feel. The six-speed MC Shift is a robotised manual, which has been around for a while, but this time the software has been altered to bring shift times down to 100 milliseconds. That's a tenth of a second. It can handle full-throttle upshifts, but your head may become frequently bonded to the headrest if you try it often. It's a bit of a bully - a dramatic, quite impressive bully - but at least it's smoother than before at low speeds. Overall, though, it seems at odds with the character of the car. The cheaper (by Rs 2.90 lakh) traditional torque-converted six-speed auto feels more at home here. It shifts as fast as any sane person would demand on the road, and rarely refuses a request (you can override it with the long, sickle-like paddles). And it comes with slightly softer suspension, which suits it more.
Should I start writing the cheque, then?
Hold on a second. On narrow roads the Sport still feels a bit inhibited... the steering's quite slow, requiring lots of twirling around tighter turns... and there's ultimately no disguising the weight on really wriggly sections (look at the roll-caged MC Stradale for those sorts of thrills). But on open, sweeping tarmac, the GranTurismo is glorious - the sort of car that could scoff a whole country for lunch and perhaps nibble on Wales for pudding. It's unarguably pretty, and seems to be improving with age, though the dash and buttons could do with some rejuvenation. And it's still a serious contender against cars like the Jag XKR, Aston DB9 or - maybe, just maybe - a Porsche 911. It requires a little more financial commitment. But then... just look at it. And listen to the thing. Still tempting, isn't it?