Maserati Gran Turismo

What’s the point? That was my first reaction after I heaved my backside over the high wall of the MC Stradale’s carbon-fibre seat and flopped into the deep bucket. While adjusting the rearview mirror, I discovered that the rear seats were chucked out to make way for the roll cage (standard equipment on the GT MC Stradale). And to drive home the utter impracticality of this car for everyday use was a pair of very inconvenient four-point harnesses.

The simple job of getting in and out. And belting up each time, was not so simple anymore, so this car, with such strong motorsport cues, had better be great to drive. However, the spec sheet just didn’t seem to make it worth the calisthenics involved. To be honest, 450bhp and a sub-5sec 0-100kph dash aren’t unusual figures these days. It’s what an AMG Merc of M-spec BMW are easily capable of. So coming back to my point; why have the impracticality of a quasi-track car if you don’t get the performance to match? But as they say, don’t judge a book by its cover or a car by its specifications – the MC Stradale isn’t about numbers or anything on paper. It’s the way it drives on the road and deep into your pounding heart that makes you understand why this sexy Italian machine is so special.

The styling is simply drop-dead gorgeous in a way only an Italian car can be. The sensuous curves of the Gran Turismo haven’t been spoiled by the race-car bits the MC gets. In fact, the aggressive-looking ‘splitter’ under the front bumper, the massive 20-inch wheels and car carbon-fibre embellishments enhance the styling, making the MC one of the best-looking the MC one of the best-looking cars I have seen.

This Maserati is also one of the best cars I have driven. Not because of its performance or sheer A-to-B capability (I know many cars that do a quicker job) but because of the way it captivates you by tingling all your senses. It starts with the sound. This is one of the finest qualities of the MC Stradale, which you can orchestrate by playing with the transmission settings and throttle, to change the voice of the 4.7-litre V8 from a throaty burble at low speeds to a more operatic note at full chat. Switch to ‘Race’ mode and the exhaust bypass opens, the engine shredding the atmosphere with a delightful, loud howl from its twin tailpipes.

This motor doesn’t quite shriek like a Ferrari (the 458 uses the same V8 block) but the less frenzied yet incredibly sweet tone of the Stradale’s engine makes you want to visit the redline all the time. I couldn’t resist pulling max revs in first and second gear on the tight and twisty hills outside Modena, just to hear the engine’s big-chested bellow reverberate through the valley. That was enough to convince me that the asking price of Rs 1.64 crore is well worth it for the MC stradale’s aural repertoire alone.

In fact, this big daddy Maserati’s soundtrack is so good that it overshadows its performance, which isn’t any less throlling. On any half-decent stretch, it will cross onto the wrong side of 200kph in a flash and the strong shove in the small of your back doesn’t let up until you run out of road.

But the MC Stradale is not a car for raw acceleration or motorway cruising. It comes alive one a twisty road and is an utter joy when you flow it from one corner to the next. This also makes you realise why Maserati (taking a cue from owner Ferrari) shuns turbos; it’s only with natural aspiration that you get an engine that is so free-revving and responsive. The six-speed ZF transmission is as eager as the motor, with super-quick shifts and throttle blips during downshifts. It comes with three different modes, which range from ‘Auto’ to ‘Race’, to suit different driving situations and conditions. But the default settings for me were always the ‘Sport’ and ‘Race’ modes, where you get full control of the gearbox via the long, banana-shaped, carbon-fibre paddles. The engine responds to the tiniest of throttle inputs and even the gentlest flex of the right foot is met by a reaction that is oh-so-linear and instantaneous. And in ‘Race’ mode, the ESP doesn’t cut in too early. The leeway allows the rear wheel to slip a bit more to let you tighten your line with the throttle. This gives you an incredible feeling of control over the car’s accelerative forces and there’s nothing more rewarding than balancing the car through a string of corners with your right foot.

But such exquisite balance couldn’t have been achieved if it wasn’t for the MC’s near-perfect 45/51 front/rear weight distribution. It may not dart into corners with the immediacy of a mid-engined car and it’s no go-kart either. Nonetheless, turn-in is still pretty sharp and the quick, accurate and feelsome steering makes the MC Stradale one of the most satisfying cars to drive, albeit in a mature sort of way. It’s effortless to drive quickly, and so predictable.

The best bit is that it’s amazingly plaint for a race-bred car. Of course, the suspension is very taut and vertical movement is kept in check, but the MC doesn’t jolt its occupants over ridges or sharp edges, But remember, we are in Italy where the roads, though not billiard-table smooth, feel like velvet in comparision to Indian roads. I can imagine the Stradale getting tortured on Mumbai roads, its gorgeous bodywork being shaken to bits and the rubber-band profile tyres shredded by the handiwork of the BMC.

But then, this isn’t a car to be driven in a city at all. It’s for hard-core enthusiasts who are willing to seek out the best roads in the country. And the good thing is that there are many – Chandigarh to Shimla in the north Lonavala to Aamby Valley closer to Mumbai or Udaipur to Mount Abu in Rajasthan. How do you get to these fantastic routes? If you’re willing to shell out Rs 1.64 crore for the MC Stradale, then you should be prepared to spend a couple of grand on transporting the car to a place it can be enjoyed to the fullest. There’s no other way.

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