x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Maserati GranCabrio S: c'mon feel the noise

It's the noise that gets me. Every single time I put my foot down in a Maserati GranTurismo S, the resulting cacophony makes me forget the foibles and imperfections of this exquisite car and pronounce it one of the all-time greats.

The boot space in the Maserati GranCabrio Sport is pitiful, but it will turn heads with the glorious cacophony from its engine. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
The boot space in the Maserati GranCabrio Sport is pitiful, but it will turn heads with the glorious cacophony from its engine. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

It's the noise that gets me. Every single time I put my foot down in a Maserati GranTurismo S, the resulting cacophony makes me forget the foibles and imperfections of this exquisite car and pronounce it one of the all-time greats. Even as a standard model, the GranTurismo manages to tick plenty of boxes: it's roomy enough for four adults to sit in comfort (are you listening, Aston Martin and Jaguar?), it's quick enough to keep most drivers entertained and it's rather nice looking. But the S has a couple of things up its sleeve: it's ever so slightly more powerful and there's a button on the messy dashboard that's marked "Sport". Whenever I'm in one, this button is always on, no matter what. It's switched on as soon as the engine rumbles into life.

Like I said, it's the noise. For depressing the Sport button activates the exhaust bypass valves and liberates one of the most blood-curdling, nape-tingling, pulse-quickening sounds ever manufactured by mankind. The Ferrari-built 4.7L V8 might never set the world alight when it comes to outright performance but when an engine sounds this good, it's no great shakes.

So the prospect of experiencing these aural delights without a steel roof section getting in the way was always going to be enticing. And here it is - the new GranCabrio Sport. But before I get in and press "that" button, it's perhaps a good idea to look at what makes this model a bit special. The GranCabrio rapidly became Maserati's biggest-selling model and it's not difficult to see why. It's so utterly gorgeous (roof up or down) that it can be forgiven almost anything, but there's more to it than heart-stopping good looks. It has character by the truckload and offers genuine usability along with something it's difficult to put a price on: exclusivity.

But with the Sport, Maserati has taken the opportunity to improve a few niggling faults. The front-mid mounted engine now offers 10 extra horses (450hp) and 20Nm more torque (a maximum of 510Nm), which you'd need to be a forensic scientist to notice, especially as its top speed is - wait for it - 2kph up from the standard car. 2kph! Where's the chequebook?

Fortunately, there's more on offer than a paltry extra 2kph. Some of the engine's internals have been coated with a friction-reducing concoction and the oil sump has been revised for more efficient flow. Result? An improvement in fuel consumption of six per cent. But don't get too excited, fuel misers, as it still drinks at a combined rate of 14.5L/100km and, when you drive it like you mean it, I swear you can see the benzina gauge moving in a southerly direction.

The suspension has been tweaked to better respond to road undulations, using accelerometers to register both wheel movement and chassis flex, sending the data to a computer thingie somewhere in its depths which, in turn, apportions the desired amount of damping in any given situation. For a car weighing a frankly unforgivable 1.9 tonnes, that's probably a good thing if it's purporting to be a sports model. And the springs and anti-roll bars have been upgraded to further the sportiness or something. We'll see about that.

Brakes are improved, too, with grooved, ventilated and drilled discs on all four corners and Maserati claims the car can grind to a halt from 100kph in a distance of just 35 metres. The brakes on the standard car have come in for some criticism in the past because they feel way too spongy, with excessive pedal travel for a performance car. So, on paper at least, this is quite some machine.

Before I get carried away, however, there's one thing that positively irks me to the point of distraction. And that is the boot space. Or rather, the total lack of it. While the GranCabrio Sport eschews the folding metal roofs that have become de rigueur these days, in favour of a fabric one, there's seemingly no benefit when it comes to luggage space. Open the boot and you're greeted with a full-sized spare tyre and no room even for a change of underwear. So if you want to take the car for a weekend away you'll need to make sure the kids aren't coming so the rear seats can be put to good use. Ridiculous.

Enough of that, though. For this is a glamorous Italian thoroughbred and it's supposed to be ridiculous. It's the car's job to make you scratch your head in bemusement and frustration. It has character. And I love it deeply, even before I've pressed "that" button. I love the curvaceous panels, the new Rosso Trionfale paint and I love the design of those 20in alloy wheels. Just a pity they're covered in stupid black paint.

Most of all, though, I love the noise. There's an old-fashioned key to start proceedings - something else I love - and, when it's twisted, the engine catches with a bark as the revs shoot for the sky for a second. Onlookers will believe you've done this on purpose to show off but it really isn't the case. The Sport, unlike the tin-topped GranTurismo S, comes with a six-speed automatic rather than the automated manual, which just goes to add to the GT vibe. I can just tell that any long journey in this thing will be a joy.

On the move, it's quiet and refined, even with the roof down. There's a deep bellow from the exhaust until "that" button is pressed and then it turns into a snarling, rip-snorting beast that leaves no head unturned. It's a truly glorious sound. But then I already mentioned that, didn't I?

What it does for drivers like me is turn them into antisocial hooligans. Surrounded by the high-rise buildings that pepper Dubai Marina, the noise ricochets around, delighting and disgusting pedestrians in equal measure. But get it onto the open road and it comes into its element. It isn't even close to being supercar quick but that doesn't matter because it sounds better than any other. It also makes a decent fist of handling corners, despite its weight and the fact that it's nigh on five metres long. But it never really manages to convince as a sports car.

It's different. In fact, I'd say it's unique in the marketplace because I can't think of a natural rival. Perhaps the closest would be Aston's DB9, but the Italian is way less expensive. It offers more interior space than BMW's new 650i convertible and oodles more exclusivity, too, not to mention that Italian charisma. I want one. I really do. It's fast enough, it looks stunning, it feels well built and it turns heads for all the right reasons. But most of all, it's the noise.