Maserati is one of the unquestionably great names in car making. Founded in 1914, the Italian firm endured a 20th century filled with highs and lows, mixing great sporting victories and classic GT cars with spells of wayward design and engineering and even more ill-conceived business partnerships. But then somewhere along the line Maserati made good again, beginning with 1998's 3200GT, a Giugiaro-styled coupe that finally gave the company a swift, stylish GT after two decades of diversions into the far reaches of ultra-boxy Italian design.
Today, Maserati is part of the mighty Fiat Group, with strong familial ties to other Fiat-owned brands like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo. Its current line-up, the GranTurismo, GranCabrio and Quattroporte, is - dare we say it - starting to look a little long in the tooth, with the latter introduced in 2004.
However, a replacement for the highly acclaimed Quattroporte is waiting in the wings, and a new, smaller saloon, the Ghibli, is also inbound, designed to stick the three-pointed trident in the sporty territory covered by jaguar.com" target="_blank">Jaguar Rs, bmw.com/" target="_blank">BMW Ms and Mercedes AMGs. Inevitably, there's also an SUV - the freshly-named Levante, nakedly pitched at porsche.com/uk/models/cayenne/" target="_blank">Porsche's Cayenne and due in 2013.
We recently sampled the GranCabrio Sport, a sharpened version of the handsome soft-top, first introduced in 2009 and based on the 2007 GranTurismo. Revised versions of the latter's Sport model are now appearing on the roads. Both cars originally emerged from Pininfarina's studios and have been lavishly praised for their appearance, from the gaping front grille through to the trim flanks and neat tail.
The two cars get big points for being genuine four-seaters - even the GranCabrio - something that cannot be said about the majority of their competitors. But in order to accommodate four adults in such a low, swooping bodyshell, the Maserati has had to grow in stature, making this a sizeable car, far removed in feel from the nimble sporting drop top of old.
As the name would suggest, the GranTurismo was originally created as a true grand tourer, designed to cosset and scintillate while also affording a comfortable perch from which to traverse the best roads in the world. That's the theory. In practice, both GT and GC have suffered slightly from mission creep, as the original car's power output and ride have been progressively dialled up to keep the car apace in the relentless 'horsepower wars'.
The GranCabrio Sport is therefore faster, more aggressively styled and firmer than before, largely undoing the car's calmer 'touring' qualities. Maseratis have always been loud, and the GC Sport is perhaps loudest of all, with a snarling exhaust that gives the impression a full grid of F1 cars is following you down the road. It's not a car for shrinking violets. Nor is it a car for those without a competent osteopath, because the sports seats are amongst the firmest we've ever sampled.
Hard and fast seems to be the defining characteristics of this car. If that's still not enough, Maserati recently announced an even more focused variant of the droptop, the Maserati GranCabrio MC, which brings even more design and engineering elements in from the racing industry. Right now, Maserati are writing out romance in favour of raw power, so if you're not the sentimental sort, the GranCabrio Sport makes a major statement.