Grand Touring: Maserati’s Spyder marches on in finest Italian GT form
By NATALIE NEFF
STUNNING IN ITS ATTENTION to design detail, the Maserati Spyder delights the senses with its pitch-perfect proportions and an interior so sinfully laden in leather that it’s easy to imagine cows martyring themselves for such a cause. But as often as Italian cars are defined by their beauty, so, too, are they marked by a thoroughbred’s temperament that simultaneously rewards and punishes—and steals your heart in the process. The Spyder lives up to this heritage more than any other of the breed today.
While the Maserati’s engine bathes you in a glorious noise, intimating in operatic tones of its potential, managing that power can be more than taxing. The Cambiocorsa sequential manual is extraordinarily difficult to manage smoothly anywhere under full-song, but even at full-song it could be smoother.
Below full revs (and boy does it rev, with horsepower peaking at 7000 rpm), it only allows for as-smooth-as-it’s-going-to-get upshifts with the gas mashed to the floor or by precisely coordinating a slight lift with a pull of the shift paddle. And don’t even think of throwing it in “auto” mode, which shifts so roughly your head gets thrown forward and back with every shift—at any rpm.
We also found it difficult to park the Spyder, because even simply easing on the gas from idle causes the throttle blip. Delicate parking maneuvers become a herky-jerky affair. Maserati apparently updated the software for the ’03 Cambiocorsa, but according to Maserati the car will get even more revisions for ’04—including the addition of a “hillholder” feature. The new model should start rolling into showrooms as you read this.
Even if you don’t manage to get it to gallop smoothly, the Spyder does move out, its 390-horsepower 4.2-liter V8 getting up to speed quicker than it feels. You won’t necessarily smoke the rears right off the line, but triple digits pop up on the speedo before you realize. Maserati claims a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 176 mph, and we have no reason to doubt those numbers.
It brakes as well as it accelerates, too. Stopping the Spyder never feels exactly eye-popping, but we’re sure the space needed to pull it to a stop from 60 mph slots it in the top echelon of cars we’ve tested. Its steering is also satisfyingly quick and as close to razor sharp as anything on the road.
As with most convertibles, you expect a loss of stiffness and a bit of shake. The Maserati, however, produces so much cowl shake as to render the rearview mirror virtually useless. We expect more body refinement in an almost-$100,000 car, especially given its 3814-pound curb weight. But again, that may be one of those things that fans of all things Italian may forgive, and with all its shakiness, the Spyder manages to stick to the road like a demon, with more lateral grip than you’ll ever need.
The soft-top itself produces a tremendous amount of noise when up, which gets worse the higher the speeds climb, to the point of booming at highway speeds.
Inside, the seats are perfectly comfortable, with plenty of side bolstering to keep even the most aggressive driver snug. But some details, like the placement of the turn- stalk signal too far away due to paddle shifters, can be annoying. Also, the power-folding top seems to take forever to activate, though when timed it only required 26 seconds to open, 33 to close.
The Spyder, as with many convertibles, doesn’t offer much rearward visibility, but we found it a bit surprising how little toward the front of the car we could see. Even though the car looks small from the outside, it feels like a bigger GT from behind the wheel, due to how little of the corners of the car you can see.
The Spyder does give Italian lovers an alternative, and we like much about its old-school personality. But while most exotics have left behind much of that finicky behavior we have so long identified with them, the Maserati seems to glory in it.
Understand that and enjoy.
2003 MASERATI SPYDER
# ON SALE: Now (2004 models also available)
# BASE PRICE: $90,972
# POWERTRAIN: 4.2-liter, 390-hp, 333-lb-ft V8; rwd, six-speed paddle- operated sequential manual
# CURB WEIGHT: 3814 pounds
# 0-60 MPH: 4.9 seconds (mfr.)