First Drive: Maserati GranCabrio

No question - this new, drop-top Maserati has to be one of the best-looking convertibles to hit the streets for years. Its sensuously curvaceous bodywork houses a 440bhp V8, a slick-shifting six-speed automatic with paddle shifts, electronically controlled suspension and room for four. Unlike many high-end convertibles, whose cramped rear seats are designed for a species that has yet to emerge, the sumptuously upholstered space in the rear half of the Maserati's cabin really will accommodate a couple of adults, and pretty comfortably too if they're 5ft 8in or under. The Italian company sees this space as a major advantage over the GranCabrio's competition, and it is, but it's the elegant Pininfarina styling that's more likely to lure buyers to showrooms. Especially as the Maserati's convenience is badly undermined by a boot that will struggle to accommodate the spoils of a weekend shop for two.Although this car might look like a simple top-chop of the GranTurismo coupe, substantial chunks of it are new in the quest to construct what Maserati claims is the most rigid body in a class whose rivals include the Jaguar XK, BMW 650, Mercedes SL, the Aston DB9 Volante and Porsche's 911 Turbo Cabrio. Strengthening to the sills, the rear bulkhead, the windscreen surround and the inner structures of the doors, together with front suspension tower tie-bars all compensate for the absence of a roof, and for a weight penalty of only 100kg including the hood. Most cars put on 150kg with this kind of surgery, though it has to be said that the GranCabrio's all-up weight of 1980kg is distinctly hefty.

None of which will worry anyone lucky enough to get a drive in this car, the anticipation of which will be heightened by closer inspection of its perfect proportions, the luxuriant leather trim of a glamorously Italian interior and the prospect of dropping that roof. Which takes 28 seconds can be achieved at speeds of up to 19mph and has the instant benefit of allowing you to hear one of the finest exhaust notes in the business. You can turn its volume up, too, by pressing the Sport button, which opens a baffle to produce a reedy burble that you can mix with a mildly thunderous back-beat when you sink the accelerator and make the V8 rev.

Which it does willingly, propelling the Maserati to 62mph in 5.4 seconds and on to a hair-ripping 175mph. Though with the windows up, buffeting isn't too bad at more sensible speeds, even in the back. In truth, the GranCabrio doesn't feel quite as rapid as you'd hope given its power output – blame its weight for that – but in a cabriolet it's often more pleasurable to go a little slower and feel the breeze. What you won't feel much of, happily, are the quakes of quivering bodywork. The GranCabrio is not quite the unshakeable rock that is a Bentley GTC, but you'll rarely feel tremors provoked by a ride that mostly, proves comfortably supple. Handling? The Skyhook suspension produces admirably flat cornering, the steering is swift to react – if short of feel - and the Maserati changes direction with agility of a smaller car. The Sport button, which cuts roll and sharpens the responses of throttle and transmission, usefully livens the Maserati too - find the right road and it's fun, if less exhilarating than Porsche's 911 Turbo.

All of which adds up to a pretty impressive car that's considerably more polished than the old 4200 Spyder, Maserati's last open-top model. It's not the fastest or most athletic high-end, high performance cabriolet, but it's certainly the most beautiful, one of the best finished and the roomiest too, at least for passengers. At £95,630, it isn't cheap and the 4.7 litre V8 is thirsty, but this car is hugely desirable and a rich pleasure to drive.
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