2003 Maserati Coupe

2003 Maserati Coupe 2003 Maserati Coupe
First Drive Review

There hasn't been this much fervor over resurrection in Europe for, oh, about 2000 or so years. But the source of the excitement is not of the traditional mystical variety. It's about cars.

For openers, Mercedes-Benz has exhumed the long-dead Maybach. Bugatti is on its second resurrection. Some Spaniards even want to revive Hispano-Suiza.

To this list, add Maserati. Well, Maserati wasn't exactly dead, although it probably should have been. The awful specter of the 1989-91 Chrysler's TC by Maserati (a bobbed LeBaron convertible with a gathered-leather interior and a trident in the front grille) should have been enough to make the Maserati brothers, founders of the legendary marque, tunnel out of their graves, take Maserati behind the barn, and kick it to death.

Ah, but we shall forgive Maserati its sins, if only because we'd like to see more Italian cars here. The question is whether U.S. buyers feel the same way.

For now, this Giugiaro-penned Coupe (and its Spyder brother) is the only evidence of Maserati's second lease on life. And it's a good start.

The Coupe is the same basic car as the Maserati 3200GT, which was designed before 1997, when Ferrari took over Maserati. Ferrari has designed a new naturally aspirated 385-hp, 4.2-liter V-8 and rear-mounted transaxle, improved the quality of the interior, reworked the suspension and structure, and put new taillights on the car.

This may impress Europeans who had a chance to buy the 3200GT. But for Americans, it doesn't matter how much better the new Coupe is compared with the 3200GT. If Maserati is to win over the 1300 buyers it expects this year, the new car must be competitive with Porsche, Mercedes, Jaguar, and others. And it must overcome the nasty rep left by the Biturbo and Chrysler's TC.

One would have hoped, then, that this newest Maserati would have excelled in a quality Italians are known for--sexiness--and looked less like a fast Oldsmobile Alero. Thick and soft-looking, the Coupe is simply not Giugiaro's best work. You won't confuse this car with a Ferrari, which was the goal. Maserati is the grand tourer in the stable; Ferrari is the hell-bent stallion.

This is not to say the Coupe isn't a quick car. Maserati says the Coupe gets to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. The heavier Spyder we tested did it in 4.7 (January 2002). And the deep rumble with which the engine achieves this feat is nothing short of beautiful. That sort of acceleration puts the Coupe directly in competition with the Porsche 911 and Jaguar XKR--two cars Maserati anticipates its buyers will also consider. Judging by the seat of our pants and the numbers we got from the Spyder, braking performance should also equal or better that of competitors.

Which brings us to price. At $84,625 for a Coupe GT with a six-speed manual and $87,921 for one equipped with the paddle-shift transmission called the Cambiocorsa, the Coupe is cost-competitive with the Jaguar XKR and a well-optioned Porsche 911.