Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale Centennial. DRIVEN

April 01, 2015

To celebrate a century of the Trident, Maserati unveiled a Centennial Edition version of its most powerful and hoon-tastic road-going model, the MC Stradale. James thought it time to spend an afternoon mulling over the last 100 years.

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EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
V8, 4691cc454bhp @ 7,000rpm383lb ft (519Nm) @ 4,750rpm4.5 secs303kph1,800kg (252bhp/ton)$164,700

Something doesn’t feel right.

I had expected, as my drive in the Centennial Edition Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale makes its way through the Fujairah-ian mountainscape, to be reciting every cliché in the book concerning the ‘emotion of the experience’. Our test model is after all a special edition tribute to the company’s 100th anniversary, at the base of which is the most savage member of Maserati’s roadcar division on sale today. I should, at the very least, be wistfully thinking about the 3500 GT, the original ’67 Ghibli, Fangio’s 250F, and other members of the Trident’s hall of fame with rose-tinted spectacles accordingly affixed and with whitened knuckles gripping the steering wheel.

But I’m not. Thoughts of the Tipo 61 and even the lunatic MC 12 are pushed aside as I consider whether, bank balance not withstanding, I would really fork over $165K for the GranTurismo MC Stradale Centennial Edition given the grocery list of issues I’m currently having with it.

Like I say, this doesn’t feel right.

Rewind a few hours and you find the team under slightly more familiar circumstances, watches and dashboard clocks showing a stupidly early time in the morning, the Stradale suitably positioned against a mountain backdrop for some final glamour shots, and the C&P team deep in discussion on the MC’s ‘look’. Admittedly this doesn’t take too long since we all agree it’s a superb design, albeit one a bit long in the bicuspid: thumb back through the history books to 1914 and Maserati’s first day on the till, and you’ll probably find the GranTurismo’s blueprints on Alfieri’s desk. Fortunately the sands of time have not eroded those curves, the traditional three air vents over the front wheel arch, and the whopping great air intakes in the front bumper. The GranTurismo really does look as good today as it did on its debut in 2007.

For the Centennial Edition though, Maserati has thrown in some 20in Trofeo Design wheels (which really do fill out those bulging wheel arches), carbon fibre wing mirrors, door handles and rear spoiler, and some truly beautiful Rosso Magma paint: dig out your Big Book of Italian Clichés and you’ll find that translates as ‘dark red’. The cabin has been given a similar tributary dust over too, dark re…Rosso Corallo stitching replacing the GT’s traditional white, some carbon fibre trim for good measure, and an obligatory commemorative plaque.

I’d not anticipated that the Centennial’s revised look though would cause a few problems. The sun is still rising, and owing to the three-layer paint, the shade of which supposedly changes colour depending on the light, photographer Hari has spotted another angle to shoot. Then another, and another, and one more still, he simultaneously promising me “just one more shot and we’ll go”. I worry whether they’ll actually be any time left for a drive this afternoon…

“We all agree it’s a superb design, albeit one a bit long in the bicuspid: thumb back through the history books to 1914 and Maserati’s first day on the till, and you’ll probably find the GranTurismo’s blueprints on Alfieri’s desk.”

But soon an opportunity arises. I’m asked if I could turn the GT around so that it’s facing away from the camera and towards the mountains. “And then after that, we’ll definitely go,” says Hari. “Of course,” quoth I, depositing myself in the driver’s seat, turning the key, pushing ‘1’ (which replaces ‘D’ for some reason), and hastily making a run for it.

Cries for vengeance and shaken fists from my abandoned colleagues pursue me in the carbon fibre-accented wing mirrors. Sorry chaps, needs must. Perhaps now I can get down to some serious driving on the tarmac snaking its way through the mountains, with 100 years of Maserati to keep me company.

Or so I thought. I’m only a few kilometres in, and…something just doesn’t feel right.

My first consternation is with the 4.7-litre V8 under the carbon fibre bonnet. It’s a dated unit, having first made its debut in the GranTurismo Sport in 2008, but in the MC Stradale still packs 454bhp and 383lb ft of torque. It will hit the ton level-pegging with a Porsche Carrera S and still motor on to a 303kph top speed. In short, the MC Stradale can shift.

It’s the way in which this is done though that flatters to deceive. As the rev needle rises, the Fujairahan landscape whips past at a fantastic lick, without however the aggression the Maserati Corse name would suggest. Don’t think either with the ‘Centennial Edition’ badging comes mechanical updates and a special diet for more lunatic handling. That hefty 1880kg kerb weight remains, and while the MC Stradale is certainly not slow, acceleration is linear at best. Certainly the sense of occasion I’d expected from a 100th anniversary model hasn’t quite hit me yet.

It’s unlikely to do so via the six-speed MC Race Shift gearbox either. A unit essentially borrowed from the Ferrari 599 spare parts bin, the Race Shift performs in much the same vein as Aston Martin’s seven-speed Sportshift III. That is to say, monstrously. Indeed, Maserati recommends its MC Stradale customers leave gearshifts as late as 7000rpm, where the full ‘ker-chunk’ drama of peak horsepower can really be felt. While that may be true on the mountain roads I’m currently exploring, it didn’t prove particularly comfortable through town on the way here, each gear change bringing with it a lurch in momentum as the revs drop and consequently making the drive as comfortable as an attack of measles. For a stripped out track weapon where every last tenth is the goal and ride comfort has no place on the agenda, the Race Shift will no doubt work magnificently. But in the MC’s road going alter ego, complete with air-conditioning, BOSE surround sound and coat hangers fixed to the backrests, it’s misguided.

EnginePowerTorque0-100kphTop speedWeightPrice
V8, 4691cc454bhp @ 7,000rpm383lb ft (519Nm) @ 4,750rpm4.5 secs303kph1,800kg (252bhp/ton)$164,700

Here I am then, trying to celebrate a century of the Trident in one of its most ferocious road cars accompanied by a shonky ride and borderline lackadaisical acceleration. Regular readers may even now assume a 2 star rating is a mere formality for the GranTurismo MC Stradale Centennial Edition.

But it isn’t. Because I like it.

I know, I know. And I’m not even through my list of grievances yet, onto which I must jot the grabby brakes. With little travel in the pedal, finding the sweet spot is difficult enough, and my afternoon is spent trying to find any sensation at all. Their impact is impressive though, allowing me to get the MC balanced on entry into some of the area’s sharper turns without the front end squirrelling.

My change of heart in fact comes when I take the Maserati out of ‘bumbling along’ normal and stick it into ‘Race’. The gear changes are no less shonky but they are at least quicker, ditto the acceleration now that the V8 has been given a kick in the feels. ‘Race’ appears in the driver information screen, and there’s a renewed sense of urgency almost quivering through that now tightened suspension. None of which I particularly care about, because with Race comes a deeper, more guttural, and absolutely astonishing soundtrack from Maserati’s V8.

Good God it really is stunning, the warble even at idle setting hairs on edge I didn’t even know I had, almost plucking them out at the route entirely as the revs streak through 4000rpm.

THERE is the drama I’ve been waiting for, with everything now in ‘drive by the seat of your knackers’ mode, the MC Stradale begins to make more sense. Suddenly 100 years of Maserati really does begin to creep in.

“There’s a renewed sense of urgency almost quivering through that now tightened suspension. None of which I particularly care about, because with Race comes a deeper, more guttural, and absolutely astonishing soundtrack from Maserati’s V8.”

Previously the steering had felt woolly, a hair’s delay between input and turn in had left me with little confidence in the front wheels. While there are still dead spots on turn in even in Race mode, the heightened sense of enthusiasm begins to creep in as we pick up speed through the turns. There’s a little too much roll through the turns – a hallmark of that kerb weight, despite an impressively stiff chassis – for me to really be on it, but there’s good weight in the wheel, massive amounts of grip in the front tyres, and a rear axle that’s beginning to get a little frisky into some of the sharper corners. Once again, those Brembo brakes are quick to restore order.

And of course, there’s that soundtrack, a deep V8 growl of intent that’s suddenly brought the whole journey alive: I’ve even stopped swearing (briefly) at the gearbox. It’s a soundtrack that accompanies me across kilometre after kilometre of mountain road, echoing back for good measure. I’m not wrestling the MC through the turns, gunning for each apex, or pushing my limits. I’m driving one of the most emotive machines I’ve experienced in quite some time.

Though there’s power steering, there’s still a connection. I don’t get the sense that the machine is doing all the hardwork for me (although it probably is), since the everything feels a little too soft for that. I’m fighting against the onslaught on understeer, balancing the car to negate roll through the turns, trying to find the sweet spot for the next gear change, anticipating the clump of power assisted steering that will appear out of nowhere. Unlike many supercars I’ve driven where I can’t help but wonder how much of the work is being done by ‘the machines’, I all too aware how hard I’m being made to work in the MC Stradale. And it feels…right.

I’m not going to lie, there is a lot wrong with the Maserati GranTurismo MC Stradale. The steering really is too woolly to ever truly feel ‘on it’ during a drive, any sense of feel through the brakes is difficult to find, acceleration could be more energetic, and the less said about the Race Shift box the better. And weirdly, very little of that matters. Yes, a Porsche 911 GT3 will handle incomparably better, a Nissan GT-R would leave the MC Stradale quivering with fright on the startline, and the refinement of an Aston Martin will be greater for a similar price tag. But there’s just something about the MC Stradale that calls to me. It doesn’t need to handle like the best Stuttgart has to offer or plough my spine to dust under heavy acceleration. That’s not the point. Every drive, through the mountains or in town, teeth-grinding or glorious, is always an occasion. There’s a genuine connection to the drive that, while often frustrating, is always intact. There’s character, aided in no small fashion by that simply astonishing V8 soundtrack, that’s impossible to ignore and which some of the Maserati’s far more capable rivals sometimes lack. In the GranTurismo MC Stradale, it’s not about being the fastest or the best handling. It’s about the thrill of driving, and for a Centennial Edition, that seems bang on.

But I implore you Maserati, please – PLEASE – fit a proper gearbox. It will make the next 100 years all the more enjoyable.

*Images courtesy of Harisanker.S and Awesome Group

Technical specifications

Engine: V8, 4691cc

Power: 454bhp @ 7,000rpm

Torque: 383lb ft (519Nm) @ 4,750rpm

Transmission: Six-speed electro-actuated “MC Race Shift”

Front suspension: Double wishbones, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar

Rear suspension: Double wishbones, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar

Brakes: 380mm x 34mm six-piston (front), 360mm x 32mm four-piston (rear)

Wheels: 20in Trofeo Design (front and rear)

Tyres: 255/35 ZR20 (front) / 295/35 ZR20 (rear), PZero Corsa

Weight: 1,800kg

Power-to-weight: 252bhp/ton

0-100kph: 4.5 secs

Top speed: 303kph

Price: $164,700