Maserati is a name synonymous with thrilling Italian performance cars. But it’s also one that Americans rarely hear, since the company stopped selling cars in the U.S. in 1990. But now Maserati is back, but not with the burly Quattroporte or cool Biturbo, but with this totally new Maserati coupe. A car that promises style, performance, and technology, worthy of the brand’s legendary name. Welcome back, Maserati!
Even before the first wheel was turned, this was the object of considerable affection by everyone who loves cars: The all-new 2003 Maserati Coupe. This sleek trident badged two-door hardtop is available in two models, the manual Coupe GT, and our test Coupe Cambiocorsa, with the namesake automatic clutch gearbox. Plus, an even more enticing open top Maserati Spyder.
At first glance, the arched “Gran Turismo” bodywork of the new Coupe reminds us of classic Maserati’s and Ferrari’s of the 1960s. Appropriate since Maserati is now part of Ferrari, benefitting from their considerable engineering and low-volume expertise. The classic swooping hood lines dip low, with a longish front overhang ending at a clearly Maserati grille opening complete with chrome trident. The ample 104.7-inch wheelbase allows for mostly smooth flowing lines, with proportions only going askew between the door and the rear wheel wheels. The rear end is neatly clipped, and while the least distinctive aspect of the body, it’s finished off nicely with no less than four chrome exhaust tips.
Open the long doors and your senses are again filled with classic Maserati identity. The twin cockpit seating areas are finely sculpted, with large-stitch, wide ribbed leather upholstery, three-spoke telescoping steering wheel, and a comprehensive chrome-bezeled gauge cluster protected from glare by a deep hood. Driver seat comfort is quite modern, with good leg room inside a wide foot well, while the passenger side seems more cramped. Full power seat adjustments include driver’s side position memory. The center stack completely mixes then and now. An analog clock and flipper vents top a video screen Maserati information center that monitors audio, automatic climate, trip computer, and optional satellite navigation features.
The off-proportion exterior was needed to give the Coupe its classic 2+2 configuration. A rear pair of richly appointed seats will coddle your kids and kit bags, but not much else. There is a trunk, though, where the optional CD-changer resides, along with a tight 11 cubic feet of designer luggage.
Traction control is standard on the 6-speed manual GT, and on our car with the Cambiocorsa automatic-clutch manual transmission. Like the system we first tested in a Ferrari 355 F1, it uses twin steering wheel paddles to both shift gears and actuate an electro-hydraulic clutch. Once mastered, it delivers rapid shifts under the hardest acceleration. The driver can override the system with full automatic operation, change shift points in sport mode, and allow for low-grip slippery conditions.
All this technology hauls up behind the Coupe’s most impressive asset, a 4.2-liter, all- aluminum, twin-cam, 32-valve V8. Output is an impressive 390-horsepower and 330 pound-feet of torque. Carefully derived from the V-8 that drives Ferrari’s 360 Modena, its mechanical music at idle is only bested by the results when wheels do begin to turn. But for that, no normal roadway was sufficient. So, we turned up the heat at Georgia’s Roebling Road Raceway. The tight turns of this two mile road course are not unlike the narrow Italian mountain roads that were the proving grounds for the first Gran Tourismo cars.
While far from a pure sports car, the Coupe delivers plenty of performance. We shot off the blocks with a very satisfying 0-60 time of only 4.7 seconds. The quarter mile was dispatched just as quickly in 13.4 seconds at 106 miles per hour. Maybe it’s the conservative look of the Maserati Coupe that makes these times all that more impressive.
Dive into a corner and you instantly know the difference between a GT and pure sports car. The soft springs and body roll can catch you by surprise. While turn-ins are greeted with a bit of push, you can easily push the car through with the V8’s instant throttle response. The Cambiocorsa delivered crisp shifts up and down, and with its rear transaxle mounting, sets the Coupe up for well balanced reactions. The aluminum intensive suspension consists of unequal-length control arms front and rear. The optional Skyhook continuous damping system has both normal and sport modes.
Triple digit speeds on the front straight were hauled down by Brembo brakes with four- piston calipers. We did laps all day without hearing , or smelling , any complaints from them.
While not designed for this kind of track abuse, it wouldn’t take much to make the Coupe a real competitor, although as great automotive entertainment it’s fine like it is. That includes when touring down more normal byways. The ride is smooth, with great bounce control, and a body solidity we’re not used to in Italian cars.
Now, our reunion with Maserati wasn’t perfect. There were hints of some electrical gremlins in our very early test car, but it made it through our tough week of testing in fine shape.
And that brings us to what shape your bank account has to be in to own a Maserati Coupe. Well, at $84,025 for the GT manual, or $87,225 for the Cambiocorsa, it’s not inexpensive, except in comparison to the least expensive Ferrari at more than 50 grand more.
An exotic car for a down stock market? Maybe. An individual Italian work of automotive art at prices within the realm of reality? You’re getting warmer. The finest example of a Gran Turismo automobile in decades? Warmer still. An impressive restart for one of the most fabled names in the auto world? Now, that’s the 2003 Maserati Coupe Cambiocorsa, exactly.
Engine: 4.2-Liter, Twin-cam, 32-valve V8
Torque: 330 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.7 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.4 Seconds @ 106 MPH