x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Road Test: Maserati MC Stradale is a trident with poke

Maserati's new GranTurismo MC Stradale is beautiful, with hooligan tendencies, says a smitten Kevin Hackett.

The noise coming out of the pipes of Maserati's beautifully crafted MC Stradale in Race mode is truly spine-tingling. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National
The noise coming out of the pipes of Maserati's beautifully crafted MC Stradale in Race mode is truly spine-tingling. Rich-Joseph Facun / The National

"To add speed, add lightness." Allegedly the words of the Lotus founder, Colin Chapman, who, even if he never uttered those words, at least lived with that very same mantra. I've recently decided to put this theory into practice by signing up with a personal trainer/dietician type person because, to be frank, I would definitely benefit by shedding a few kilos. It won't be easy but it will be worth it.

In general, both human beings and cars are too heavy these days. It's all the unnecessary rubbish we put inside that's the problem - for humans, it's junk food combined with a sedentary lifestyle and, for cars, it's all the new gadgetry and safety equipment customers demand. In both respects, performance is blunted and it's difficult sometimes to know at what point enough is enough. And then, when you've realised there's too much extra baggage, what can you do about it?

Performance car manufacturers have started to wake up to this, although Lotus and a small handful of car companies have always resolutely stood apart as being different and never produced heavyweight motors. The results, after sports cars have spent some time with the automotive equivalent of a personal trainer and dietician, can be spectacular. Just consider the Porsche 911 GT3RS, Lamborghini's Gallardo Superleggera and Ferrari's 430 Scuderia: all of them lighter than the originals, leaner, more efficient, stronger and, essentially, more fun to spend time with. A bit like me in a few months' time, then.

Maserati's GranTurismo might seem like an odd contender for the whole get-fit thing. It's a big car, spacious and so good looking it hurts your eyeballs. It's the consummate GT car, not some frustrated racer, but that hasn't stopped Maserati campaigning it in GT4 competition, as well as its own Trofeo Cup series. And this has obviously inspired Maserati's top brass to offer a lighter, fitter, more focused GranTurismo for road use: the new MC Stradale ("MC" stands for Maserati Corsa, which is the company's competition department, while "Stradale" essentially means it's road-going). What could possibly be a finer proposition?

I had a choice: test a white one with stupid red decals and black wheels or the one you see here - much more subdued in the most gorgeous blue with alloys that can actually be seen. For me, this is the perfect combination because a car like this doesn't need to shout about its presence - the engine note does that quite admirably, thank you. In the GranTurismo S, which this car is based on, there's a button marked Sport, which opens up the exhaust baffles and liberates one of the most spine-tingling sounds on the planet. In the MC Stradale there's the same button but there's another one that says Race, and it's this one you press for the full sonic experience. Suffice to say, when the car is in my custody, it's always activated.

Even if this car was a dud to drive, if I had the requisite funds there would still be one in my collection because, apart from the physical beauty it possesses, the antisocial bellow that emits from its twin exhaust pipes never fails to have me dribbling with glee. It's times like this when the English language shows its limitations. How on earth do I find the words to describe the glorious racket this V8 makes? Let's have a go, anyway. It's like Ferrari (who builds the engines for Maserati) has left a bunch of nails in the outlet chambers and every time you lift off the throttle, those eight cylinders gargle on them. On the overrun it spits, crackles and coughs. You half expect flames to come shooting out of the pipes - it's the most addictive sound and all thoughts of saving the planet go out the window because you want to keep the noise on, which means foot down, flat out, lift off, foot down, flat out, lift off, repeat ad infinitum.

But there's much more to this car than sonic exuberance and movie-star looks. It's more powerful than the S, with an extra 10hp bringing the tally to 450 horses. It's 110kg lighter, thanks to racing seats (complete with ridiculous harnesses) in the front and a complete lack of chairs in the rear, but it still weighs a considerable 1,770kg. It's a very long car so will never be as nimble as a 911 or a Vantage on the more twisty roads and tracks of the Emirates but, find enough space, disable the traction control and it will behave like an utter hooligan. With the electronic nanny switched on, grip levels are huge but, when they're off, this thing likes to go sideways. And we like that very much.

The chassis has been slightly stiffened and the dampers are eight per cent less forgiving yet the road experience is still remarkably civilised for what's supposedly a stripped-out race car. Further lightness has been added with carbon brakes that make a decent fist of wiping off huge amounts of speed, which itself has been increased. The MC S runs out of breath at 301kph, while it'll roar from rest to 100 in 4.6 seconds. Not supercar quick, but quick enough to sate most appetites.

It's not overly Spartan. On the contrary, it's still a luxurious environment and I reckon this is one Maser I could live with on a daily basis. Only two black marks against it, though, and they're actually deal breakers for me. The rear seats in the normal GranTurismo make it a genuinely useable piece of Italian exotica and Maserati is refusing to fit them to this model. And the front seats, while adjustable and comfortable enough, should come with normal inertia reel belts so occupants can at least reach the buttons on the dashboard. But then, when a car is this beautiful and sounds so incredible, maybe I could have my arm twisted. Go on, I'll take it. In blue without the boy racer stripes.

Base price / as tested Dh575,000 / Dh639,000

Engine 4.7L V8

Gearbox Six-speed automated manual

Power 450hp @ 7,000rpm

Torque 510Nm @ 4,750rpm

Fuel economy, combined 14.4L/100km