Maserati's hardcore MC Stradale version of its popular GranTurismo coupe is its best car in years
Loud. Brash. Exaggerated claims. Top technology that stands valid for may be a month or two until the competitor comes out with better technology. That in short is the supercar club. And let's face it, buyers who spend a fortune on one of these cars are looking for nothing less than the aforementioned qualities.
Maserati, comparatively, has been one of the silent participants in this league of extraordinary cars. It does posses a lot of nonchalance that is uncharacteristic of the Italian car-makers. However, precious few know of the Italian brand's historic association with Formula One and other forms of motorsports. And a bare minimum remember its arsenal of mid-engined supercars of yesteryear that had names such as Sebring, Mistral, Ghibli, Khamsin, Merak or Bora, names that were probably names of Zeus' love children. But the company has often been in financial turmoil and has changed hands more than a Victorian era corset. Today, the company has been resurrected by Italian big daddy Ferrari. It shares most of its components with Maserati, along with its much-respected ethos and though Maserati has now been clubbed with Alfa Romeo, its proximity to Maranello still exists.
No longer content to nestle in Ferrari's shadow, now Maserati is looking at taking things to the next level. And that includes making cars like this one, the MC Stradale, currently its fastest and most powerful car. A car aimed as much at the race track as the open road.
It certainly looks purposeful with its lowered suspension, race car-inspired front splitter and gorgeous 20-inch wheels finished in matt black. Not that the normal GranTurismo is difficult on the eyes, but this car just seems to have it. Especially that nose with the protruding section that reminds you of the 250F Formula 1 car of the 1950s, famous for being one of the sweetest-handling single-seaters ever.
And it's very attractive on the inside too. Alcantara-lined race seats, generously splattered carbon fibre trimming and a partial roll-cage make this car feel like serious fun on the inside. And surprisingly, there's plenty of space here. Neptune's boys have also managed to knock a significant 110kg off the weight of this car and the Stradale tips the scales at a mere 1770kg, which is light for a car of this size carrying a V8 in its belly.
And what a V8 it is. Based on one of Ferrari's finest, this F430-based motor spins to 7500rpm, makes a potent 450bhp and, in the right mode, with baffles in the exhaust open, rasps and yowls as menacingly as anything. It's not got that Ferrari-like high-pitched trumpeting blare and it doesn't feel as frenzied towards the top of the power band, but I promise you there's plenty to love about this motor.
Time then to take the car out onto Shanghai's F1 circuit for a real no-holds-barred blast. I've been driving the standard GranTurismo around just before this and immediately, the contrast is huge. These cars may be mechanically similar but out on the track they feel as different as chalk and cheese. While the GT rolls quite a bit without much provocation, the Stradale feels as tight and as focused as something that's been developed for much harder use. The steering feels much more direct, the nose jumps to attention as soon as you tweak the wheel and, like all neat and tidy handlers, the Stradale's rear falls perfectly in line with the car's front wheels. Tighter springs, tauter fixed-rate dampers, thicker anti-roll bars as well as minor camber and castor changes are responsible for turning this reasonably fit car into an athlete. And be in no doubt, the invitation to ‘play' is writ large all over this car.
This is true of the motor as well that, with its highly responsive throttle and meaty midrange, only encourages you further. Selecting race mode tightens things up even more. Gears now shift up with a pleasing ‘bang' in 0.06 of a second, 0-100kph can be blitzed through in just 4.6 seconds and keep your right foot in, and you'll eventually cross the 300kph barrier.
The talkative steering natters away on long corners, the slightly rear-biased 48:52 weight distribution makes this car feel deliciously well balanced and the MC Stradale just loves being steered on the throttle. Also very impressive are the standard carbon ceramic brakes which have a short and firm pedal travel that delivers a huge amount of confidence.
Unfortunately, we didn't have the entire race track open to us but Maserati, being Italian, left the most difficult and fastest parts in. So it was flat out down the start-finish straight, way past the ‘off throttle' board, and into corkscrew-like tightening corner. Then hard left again followed by a crest and a high speed left and right section further up the course. And that was good enough to mark this car out as something really special.
The MC Stradale will be around 35 per cent more expensive than the standard GranTurismo. That makes it an expensive car whose price isn't really justified despite the increase in power and performance. Without any rear seats, it fails in practicality too. What you do get however, is unquantifiable and unfathomable amount of driving pleasure. The Stradale's tightened chassis gives it a huge jump in agility, handling has become more progressive and predictable. This Stradale is surely a piece of art too. It is more involving, more rewarding to drive and more complete, which makes it the best Maserati to hit the roads or a track in a really long time. The best part however, is that the car rides well in Indian roads too.
At an estimated Rs. 1.37 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi), it's quite expensive, but you do get a lot of car for that kind of money.
Keywords: Maserati Stradale