A luxury car offers Italian bravura and style -- and that's even before you get to the Ferragamo suitcases in the trunk
Amid the decimals, charts, and insufferably banal acronyms beloved of car geeks, there exists the rather lyrical notion of a "proper GT." Porsche's motorcycle-shrill $400,000 Carrera GT and Ford's brutish $150,000 GT, both of which ceased production last year, interpreted those letters to stand for unbridled, tarmac-melting lunacy. Lesser carmakers have bolted the initials onto trunk lids to spruce up a brand image or clear inventory. Yet as any enthusiast will tell you, a GT is only a Grand Tourer when the following criteria are met:
1. It's a two-door coupe, with rear seats capable of conveying two adults in relative comfort, if only for a few miles.
2. It trades some amount of performance for luxury. (The difference between a 5.1- and a 4.9-second zero-to-60 run does not sway the GT buyer, provided his seats come wrapped in a Poltrona Frau hide.)
3. Its trunk can swallow a luggage set -- say five bespoke cases of calfskin leather -- including one empty bag to hold any foul-weather sailing gear. (You know how wet it gets in San Marino.)
4. It costs lots of money.
By every count, the 2008 Maserati GranTurismo, which arrives in U.S. showrooms this summer, is a proper GT, and will likely set the segment's benchmark well into the next decade. The coupe is built on a slightly shortened version of the platform already in use on Maserati's handsome, nimble Quattroporte sedan, a car whose wiles have seduced even a Third World -- debt-relief-advocating Irishman like Bono. Repurposing a sedan's chassis for more sporting duty typically produces clunky, fundamentally compromised driving dynamics, yet the Quattroporte's underpinnings (four-wheel independent suspension, tightly coiled springs) aren't the kind found on your garden-variety Buick: They are among the best bones on the road, whether the situation calls for blind mountain-curve passing or boulevard cruising.
Both cars were penned by legendary Italian design shop Pininfarina. But where the Quattroporte stopped short of completing the lithe, swept-back look initiated by its sensuous front fascia -- losing momentum around the bulbous tail -- the GranTurismo feels wondrously cohesive. Above the rear fender, a sharp diagonal crease accentuates the trunk lid's upward-curled lip, giving the impression of a rear spoiler that doesn't exist, while the taillight clusters cleverly invert the headlights' elongated-teardrop motif. Up front, a concave, vertically slatted oval grille evokes Maserati's definitive GT, the 1954 A6GCS, without reading like a clumsily integrated nostalgia play à la Ford's lauded 2002 "Retro" Thunderbird coupe.
In short, the GranTurismo offers Italian bravura and style of operatic proportions -- and that's before you even get to the five bulging calf hides tucked away in the boot. While sports-car manufacturers issue accessories both functional (keychains, driving gloves) and frivolous (logo-embroidered cashmere vests, marble-mounted scale models), Maserati one-ups its competitors by offering a set of custom luggage crafted specifically for the GranTurismo's trunk dimensions by the Florentine leather-goods design company Salvatore Ferragamo. Each set consists of five pieces, available in one of four colors that can be matched to the carpets lining the GranTurismo's trunk. This purposeful fashion statement can be yours for roughly $10,000 above the car's projected $130,000 base price.
The Maserati/Ferragamo partnership exemplifies a not-so-novel idea in automobile positioning. Whether it's a special-edition First Act guitar that plugs into the dash of a Volkswagen Beetle or a custom Kona mountain bike rigged atop Ford's youth-oriented Focus hatchback, automakers are more eager than ever to partner with brands that can resonate with target markets. Manufacturers see these relationships as a way to provide buyers with an external benchmark for build quality and corporate identity; i.e., you won't end up with a lemon, because XYZ & Co. wouldn't dare risk its good name by fraternizing with lemon makers.
Maserati, a proud mark that helped create the GT template with declawed racing machines like the A6GCS, trades heavily on its competition heritage and its anointed status among vintage car collectors. Yet along with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, Maserati is owned by Fiat Group, which was essentially controlled by General Motors' 20 percent stake in the company from 2000 to 2003. Fiat won its emancipation from GM in 2005, but even so, Maserati has never worn the "subsidiary" mantle very gracefully -- and it certainly didn't care for carmaking Detroit having a presence, however superficial, in coachbuilding Modena.
Against the auto industry's climate of buyouts and licensing agreements, then, the GranTurismo stakes its turf. For Maserati, the car stands as a reclamation of brand identity as much as a proclamation of brand purity. Fortunately, its trunk is big enough, and its engine powerful enough, to carry the baggage.