think fast: What’s the ul­ti­mate sum­mer ac­ces­sory?

A cool con­vert­ible, of course; Maserati gives the grand tour

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMANCARS - By Pa­trick Ge­orge

There are lots of ways to keep cool in Austin as the heat con­tin­ues to rise, such as spend­ing an af­ter­noon at Barton Springs.

You also could drop about $140,000 on a 2010 Maserati Gran Turismo con­vert­ible. Do that, and you will stay very, very cool.

Be­fore I drove this Ital­ian grand tourer at a re­cent press event at the Barton Creek Re­sort, I had my con­cerns about its per­for­mance.

Sure, it’s hand-built and fea­tures a Fer­rarisourced V-8 en­gine, but it weighs more than 4,000 pounds. Its quoted zero-to-60-mph time is 5.3 sec­onds — fast, yes, but pretty far out­side the ter­ri­tory of com­pet­ing Corvettes and Porsches. And it only has an au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

But the Maserati Gran Turismo con­vert­ible isn’t about num­bers or per­for­mance fig­ures. It’s about pas­sion and ex­cite­ment, us­abil­ity and pre­ci­sion. It’s a quick, hard-corner­ing beast, and at the same time, it’s com­fort­able and ex­tremely well ap­pointed.

A lit­tle back­ground: Maserati is an Ital­ian com­pany that’s been around since 1914. To­day, it’s owned by the Fiat group, along with Fer­rari. The Maserati is mar­keted as a kind of “Gen­tle­man’s Fer­rari,” a car with a race­proven en­gine and technology that also can be driven com­fort­ably ev­ery day.

This is ap­par­ent when you step into the driver’s seat, which is like sit­ting on the most ex­pen­sive couch at the nicest fur­ni­ture store in town. The steer­ing wheel has grooves for your thumbs so you can keep your hands at the 9 and 3 o’clock po­si­tions at all times, with the trans­mis­sion’s pad­dle shifters in easy reach. The rest of the in­te­rior is cov­ered in high-qual­ity soft leather, alu­minum and wood. The back seats have de­cent legroom for two adults.

Un­like a Fer­rari or a Lamborghini, the Gran Turismo’s ex­te­rior is un­der­stated, with a clas­sic coupe shape. It’s hard not to look awe­some in this car, and the best way to drive it is with the top down, with sun­glasses and a non­cha­lant look on your face. Be cool. Be Ital­ian.

Revving the 4.7-liter, 433-horse­power V-8 pro­duces a roar so glo­ri­ous, you won’t care about the price tag as it hap­pily reaches a race-car­like 7,200 RPMs.

On the road, you can barely feel road bumps, and the steer­ing feels solid. Al­though the brakes

Con­tin­ued from D1 are huge 13-and 14-inch Brem­bos, I found their grip to be a bit lack­ing.

In sport mode, the ac­cel­er­a­tor be­comes more re­spon­sive and will hit red­line be­fore shift­ing. Corner­ing be­comes flat, and sus­pen­sion stiffer. Oc­ca­sion­ally a “BRAP-BRAP” sound comes from the ex­haust — a mis­fire built into the ig­ni­tion sys­tem for ef­fect.

De­spite its weight and length, the Gran Turismo went into the twists and turns around RM 2244 with next to zero body roll.

Al­though the car fea­tures pad­dle shifters, I rarely used them. In sport mode, the au­to­matic trans­mis­sion al­ways seemed to be in the gear I wanted. How­ever, I found it frus­trat­ing that the trans­mis­sion switched back to nor­mal “Drive” if I didn’t shift with the pad­dles of­ten enough. This could be a prob­lem on a race­track.

But let’s face it: That’s not this Maserati’s mis­sion. True to its name, it’s a grand tourer, not a pure, hard-edged sports car. It’s de­signed for long, fast and en­joy­able drives, hence fea­tures such as a 40-gi­ga­byte hard drive for mu­sic, satel­lite ra­dio and satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

In ad­di­tion, Austin has a full-ser­vice Maserati deal­er­ship in the An­der­son Mill area, so un­like many high-end cars, own­ers won’t have to send them to Hous­ton or Dal­las for re­pairs.

Be­ing out in the sun doesn’t feel so bad.

Ri­cardo B. Brazz­iell AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

This car can hit 7,200 RPMs. And the steer­ing wheel has grooves for your thumbs. Nuff said.

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