Maserati’s cornerstone product also happens to be its oldest, and by some margin. Where now for the GranTurismo?
Prior to his untimely demise, former FCA helmsman, Sergio Marchionne was frequently characterised as a heartless technocrat entirely lacking in marque fealty. It was a narrative he did little to disavow and while the truth may not have been quite as cut and dried as his many detractors alleged, there can be little doubt that he was a gimlet-sharp pragmatist who would employ all tools at his disposal to achieve his ambitions – and if that entailed sacrificing a few holy effigies along the way, so be it.
What this made him was perhaps something more akin to an insurgent; Marchionne’s tactics being to move quickly, obtain results (quick and dirty would do), then on to the next firefight. In an ideal world, we can have little doubt that the man in the navy blue Angora sweater would not have chosen to jeopardise the market position and brand equity of a nameplate as cherished and rarefied as that of the Modenese Trident, but in the wake of the 2008 crash, as the Eurozone reeled from a sovereign debt crisis and Fiat Auto attempted to absorb the ailing Chrysler business, expediency would time and again over-ride sentiment.
Upon Mr. Marchionne’s 2004 accession in Turin, Maserati was in the process of being successfully recast in the effortlessly urbane image of Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a man in the idiom and bearing of Agnelli himself. A man so impeccably, aristocratically Italian it hurt. Under his sguardo amoroso Maserati signed off on the masterful 2003 Tipo M139 Quattroporte V, arguably the last luxury saloon to truly deserve the sobriquet, ‘bellissimo’.
Designed by carrozzeria Pininfarina, from the gifted hand of Ken Okuyama, the 2003 ‘Porte combined the graceful majesty of form which would have had Sir William Lyons nodding in admiration.
But it was for sensual GT’s that il Tridente was revered, so at Geneva four years later, Maserati replaced its heartland model with the M139-derived GranTurismo. The full-sized four-seat coupé shared a shortened platform, crash structure, engine, drivetrain and suspension design with the saloon, clothed in a more aggressive, sinuous body, again from the house of Pininfarina – this time however by the magic marker of Jason Castriota – a designer whose profile might be said to outstrip the quality of his portfolio.
Suave, luxuriously appointed and finished in supple hides, the big Maserati coupé dripped high-end Italian class. And while its bodywork might have lacked the searing elegance of line of its Quattroporte sibling the slightly bella-bruta GranTurismo carried with it shades of 1960’s Shah of Persia, Touring-bodied 5000 GT in the manner in which it deftly skirted refined good taste with just a touch of flash.
While a contemporary Jaguar XKR was probably as quick, is likely to have handled better, was considerably lighter on its feet and almost definitely offered a more compelling ownership proposition within a well-rounded, thoroughly developed product (thanks in no small part to Uncle Henry), the big and decidedly weighty Maserati was nevertheless the sophisticate’s choice.
Fast forward a decade and the XK is no more, everyone else has either packed up or repackaged, but the GranTurismo limps on. Facelifted in characteristic Fiat Charter fashion, it suffers the serial indignities of a go-faster bodykit, blacked out wheels and window surrounds, not to mention an infestation of aftermarket-looking carbon fibre addenda.
And while there remains little fundamentally wrong with the basic shape, eleven years on the inappropriate cladding only serves to further date it. Worse still, the cabin, while never a stylistic paragon, at least appeared somewhat convincing swathed in Paltrona Frau’s finest. But since the GranTurismo has been shorn of its traditional Armani-tailored image and now appears to come only in Alcantara-clad Dolce et Gabbana cap-sleeves, the cabin ambience is more Monaco nightclub than a sunset-dappled ristorante at Portofino’s fabled waterfront.
Attempts at updating the cabin interfaces have also been of the most slapdash (pun intended) variety. Shoehorned amidst the slivers of painstakingly oven-baked carbon-weave is perhaps the most incongruous and poorly integrated infotainment screen this side of a ’98 S-type, vividly illustrating FCA’s commitment to maintaining its most exclusive car brand’s positioning and market relevance.
Of course, the GrandTurismo ought to have been fondly pensioned off by now. In 2014, Maserati revealed the Alfieri concept, a contemporary reboot of the classic Trident-badged GT. A production version, set to debut in 2018, was to have been a lighter, more focused, 911 rival. Endlessly revised timelines and FCA’s debt-reduction priorities saw all manner of best intentions to hades and back again, with Alfieri (in whatever form it emerges) now provisionally set for around 2022 as the representative of Trident soul.
While the half-baked Ghibili, its ungainly Quattroporte VI twin and so-so Levante CUV illustrate the aspirations to which the brand has been recast, the fate of the aged GranTurismo speaks most eloquently of FCA’s level of care. But as we enter a post-Marchionne landscape, can those who value the marque retain any cause for optimism?
In the battle for FCA’s survival and the continued support of the vital investment community, Maserati’s patrician image simply became collateral damage. There exists a small window of opportunity for their new helmsman to correct the damage, but the job, if it is to be undertaken, will be slow, expensively painful and far from certain. Perhaps it’s simply too late for l’anima di tridente?