“Check out the Sport button…”
My usual reponse to such a request is a half smile, followed by a deftly-executed change in the topic of the conversation. Face it, in souped-up “performance” hatchbacks, a facia-mounted Sport button is often little more than a marketing gimmick… a placebo that cons schmucks into driving like a hooligans.
On high-end performance models, the activation of a Sport button may lead to strange things – such as startling squeezes to your ribs courtesy of pneumatic poltergeists that lurk in the bolsters of the (probably Teutonic) machines’ driver’s seats. Besides, what’s up with Sport buttons anyway? If a car is an honest, hardcore perfomance model, it should not need one of those things… And if it does, its manufacturer purposefully compromised on handling dynamics to make its (now lukewarm) product palatable to the masses.
Well, perhaps the new Maserati GranTurismo S may compel me to change my mind about THAT maligned button. This newcomer brandishes a 328 kW 4,7-litre V8 mated with an F1-inspired transmission (based on that of the Ferrari 599 GTB), but at first aquintance the new GranTurismo S offers little more than a noticably harder ride, sharper bootlid spoiler, revised side skirts, chromed oval exhaust tips and red detailing in the grille’s Trident, over its already highly-regarded GranTurismo 4,2 sibling.
The S’ engine (probably a close relative of the similarly-sized unit of the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione), produces peak torque of 490 N.m at 4 750 r/min, and its electro-actuated ‘box incorporates a dry twin-plate clutch and 6 ratios (plus reverse). Where the GT has a conventional selector on the centre console, the S has a panel that accommodates two buttons, one for engaging reverse and one for first gear.
Maserti claims the S model will accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 4,9 seconds and achieve a top speed just shy of 300 km/h… Those figures are impressive enough, but the S, which I drove on the same day as its standard sibling, doesn’t feel quite that fast. The GT is already a very accomplished grand tourer – it is gorgeous, offers decent performance and the ability to produce the goods all day long without either driver or machine breaking a sweat. The blinged-out S version just goes faster… right?
Wrong! When you press the Sport button, the prongs of this Super Trident really dig in. The most obvious change is the exhaust note… the smooth burble of the Modenese V8 gives way to a brutal cacophony of savage shrieks and high-pitched screams that may send Maranello mules scampering into the undergrowth. From as low as 2 500 r/min and all the way up the rev range, the S roars so wildly that its demonic din ricochets off buildings that line the roads on which the Maserati travels. I kid you not – at times I had to check in the rear-view mirror to see whether there wasn’t another S behind me. On the freeway, the exhaust system, equipped with two valves that open up in Sport mode through a pneumatic control and channel the flow of gases directly to the outside, can be heard a-splutter and popping eagerly when one lifts off the throttle.
To read about the GranTurismo S’ handling characteristics, you’ll have to read the full road test in CAR’s December 2008 issue. I’ll give you a hint, though… Whereas the GT’s engine and gearbox are mounted at the front, the S model features a transaxle layout, which results in a 47:53 front/rear weight distribution and new springs and dampers, in conjunction with other suspension tweaks, is said to have resulted in a 10 per cent reduction in body roll. The S just feels sharper in its responses and more planted on the road than the GT – and its snappy flappy-paddle transmission is a beaut.
In conclusion, then, the GranTurismo S is the most raucous and focused driving machine in Maserati’s current line-up, and its full fury is at an owner’s disposal at a push of a button. If you can afford the price premium of the S over the standard GT, and can live with the harder (but not uncomfortable) ride, the newcomer offers almost all of the standard car’s positive traits, but also the ability to blow supercars into the hedge.
And – forgive me for repeating myself – the GranTurismo S is gorgeous.