Advertisement
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Subscribe to Top Gear magazine
Sign up to our Top Gear Magazine
Subscribe
Big Reads

Aston Martin DB12 vs Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo: the big super GT test

These days grand tourers need to be much more than just long distance pleasure cruisers, they need genuine supercar performance too

Published: 15 Mar 2024

Maserati and Aston Martin. Say what you like about the cars, but the brand names are to die for. They’re almost enough by themselves. Tell people you own a Maserati and they’re thinking Sixties St Tropez and cocktails on a shipping magnate’s yacht. For Aston just one word: Connery.

Well, you hope that’s what they’re thinking. Residual retro cool is why you bought the car after all. And these marques do carry it off better than any other. They might be tourers at heart, but the essence of them is this: they’re cars to arrive in. Final yard cars. Name me anything that sweeps up to a kerb better than a grand tourer. Or departs from one.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Because you’re not trying too hard, are you? Drive a grand tourer and you clearly have other interests. You want to get places with speed and style, but raffishly, not forcefully. You haven’t gone for the car that has your bum brailling the tarmac and an engine histrionically shoving you in the back. Here the engines lead, placed under long, athletic bonnets, they're there to be effortlessly charismatic.

Photography: Jonny Fleetwood

About that. V12s, you're hoping. But this is where the GT dream butts up against the stark reality of life in 2024. Most likely question you’ll be asked while driving one of these, “Is it hybrid?” People used to ask about fuel economy, now they query electric credentials. I don’t know which is worse, standing beside the DB12 and telling people there’s no e-assistance at all, or lounging against the Maserati and having to admit that you could have had an electric one, but chose to burn fossil fuels instead.

This is the GranTurismo Trofeo. It uses the twin-turbo Nettuno 3.0-litre V6 as seen in the MC20 supercar, but with the histrionics toned down: 542bhp instead of 621. You want more speed? Should’ve had the 750bhp tri-motor Folgore, shouldn’t you? That way you could have had 0–62mph in 2.7secs bragging rights over the Aston as well. You may not be able to have a V12 in the DB12 (which upsets our sense of order) but 671bhp from a twin-turbo V8 is plenty.

Advertisement - Page continues below

Both deliver on the GT promise of effortless progress. They whisk up to motorway speeds without apparent work, shuffling lightly and easily through gears, turbos whistling gently, revs calm, voices muted. Perhaps just as well, as the Maserati doesn’t sing a particularly pretty song. The old GranTurismo had an absolute Pavarotti of a V8 that sang through the revs, but had to work hard and was comparatively short. Now things are reversed. All things considered I think I prefer the way things were before. It had more charisma.

Aston Martin, as it does in the DBX and Vantage, borrows its V8 from Mercedes. No problem with that, it’s just about the best there is. I was sceptical whether the DB12 needed this much power, but what it means is you always have more in reserve. Always. You don’t need it, and at low speeds you can’t have it, because that much power easily overcomes the grip of a pair of 325-width Michelins. But once up and running the Aston is deeply, forcefully fast. From 60–130mph it’s a second quicker than a Ferrari Purosangue, almost two ahead of its rival here. Quicker than either an Audi R8 V10 Plus or Taycan Turbo S. Supercar speed.

 

The GranTurismo is four-wheel drive. It’s smooth until you get to tight corners where it tries its best to be rear drive, realises it needs the fronts to help out and then overdoes the shift forward a little. But in everyday use it’s helpful. The engine is less stifled, you can be more carefree coming off roundabouts. It’s plenty fast enough, but the performance feels that bit lighter weight, less muscular than the Aston’s.

The same is true of the whole car. It’s taller, with a deeper glass area, it’s less bespoke and special inside but also significantly larger. It’s more GT, less sports car. Four adults will fit more easily here than in any other luxury tourer bar the Conti GT, the hatchback sized boot will swallow their gear with ease. Eager kids will slot briefly into the back of the DB12, but emerge wincing. As will you when you inevitably bang your head on the intrusive bootlid while stooping to retrieve their bags. 

As a car to walk out to and jump in, the GranTurismo is less intimidating, the view out is more open, the controls sit lower around you, the ambience less oppressive. The red in here is beyond startling, and you’ll need to get to grips with screens – everything is buried in them, even the headlight controls. This is blindingly obvious, but there’s no tactility to touchscreens, less sense you’re interacting with the car.

The Aston experience is more personal partly because you have physical buttons – mainly for the dynamic controls, but also to disable lane keep and so on. These are all mounted on the high plinth between driver and passenger and although it sounds daft because they’re still just electric shortcuts to operations in the same way a screen is, they do enhance your sense of connection with the car. You’re less screen dependent here. Just as well as the graphics and icons are quite small.

Top Gear
Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Ahead there are slim vents, above them a slim windscreen. The cabin is darker, you’re sat lower and further back, visibility is more restricted, you’re aware how far the prow must extend. But it’s more exotic. Compared with the practical Maserati it exudes confidence, style and charisma. You feel good getting into it. Up to the point it fails to recognise the key. Early electrical gremlin, apparently. It’s such a handsome car though. Unadorned with wings or vents, and yet so deeply, achingly desirable. Lovely detailing too, especially the rear lights.

And yet it is a template design, isn’t it? Aston seems able to knock these out, not much seems to change as DB9 morphs into DB11 into DB12, and yet they stay fresh. What’s that phrase, “style never goes out of fashion”? Maserati saw little need to radically change the GranTurismo either, but I think it needed a bit more. It certainly needed wheels that fill the arches better. That’s a 20in front and 21in rear you’re looking at and they seem dwarfed.

Both cruise with easy facility. On a long run the GranTurismo is the quieter – less hubbub back through wheels and chassis, and more economical (28mpg on a long run plays 25), but it needs more managing. The ride is longer travel, gentler, but not as well controlled. The Aston, even in its softest Comfort mode, is defiantly sporty now, but it packs good cushioning into limited suspension movement. It takes everything in its stride, doesn’t get surprised. The Maserati is a little flakier. It needs more attention with the steering or it follows cambers and doesn’t hold a line as easily as the DB12. Being left-hand drive certainly doesn’t help, but although marginally narrower, it actually feels wider on the road.

Nor does it have the same sense of connection and cohesion as the Aston. The brakes are a weak point – the pedal is inconsistent. Sometimes it bites hard, at other times it seems to surf through a dead spot before pads grip discs properly. The steering is light, the GranTurismo feeling a bit airy in your hands, but it’s not without charm to drive. It comes across as lighter than the Aston, nicely balanced with good traction. It covers ground well, with not too much fuss.

They might be tourers at heart, but these are cars to arrive in

But it doesn’t particularly want to involve you in the action. This is where Aston has worked hard. The DB12 is a more positive, accurate car than any GT that Aston has built before. It’s close to a DBS Superleggera in its demeanour. The steering and brakes are highlights, no slack in either, just immediate response. It’s satisfying to drive. Yeah, it feels big, but not too heavy because it controls movement and mass so well.

I think it sits in a very happy place in its class now. On one side you have cars like the Ferrari Roma and Porsche 911 Turbo which are too busy and hyperactive to play the GT role, while on the other you have the Bentley Conti GT and Maserati GranTurismo which aren’t quite engaging enough that you’d want to drive them for the sake of it. It hits similar ground to the new Mercedes-AMG GT – but that falls down (as does the Porsche) when it comes to all important kerbside appeal. Getting out of an Aston or Maserati is just cooler.

Not least because they’re rarer. Maserati feels like it should be on the up, and this car feels like a product that’s had lots of investment poured in. It’s just as good a car in its class as the MC20 is in the supercar sector, and with fewer drawbacks and deficiencies to boot. But the trident has tottered along so insecurely for so long that I’m not sure buyers care enough about it any more. And the Macan-rivalling Grecale pulls it further downmarket than its badge should venture. End result? £160k feels like punchy pricing here, while at £185k, the Aston looks better value.

Although Aston’s had well documented upheavals over recent years the cars continue to plough a familiar furrow. But I don’t think Aston has ever done it better than this. The DB12 is a wonderfully complete machine. The drawbacks to its newfound sportiness and ability are scant. It’s more positive on the road, but has a long legged athleticism that makes it relaxing to pilot. It’s a genuinely engaging, beautifully balanced and crisp driving super coupe. Just the thing if you want to stage an arrival.

1: Aston Martin DB12 9/10

The most convincing grand tourer Aston has produced, perhaps ever. Let’s hope it can find the audience it needs for the firm to thrive

2: Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo 8/10

Forget the Grecale or MC20, this is Maserati’s heartland car. Less charismatic than it used to be, but a far better all rounder

More from Top Gear

Loading
See more on Aston Martin

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine

subscribe