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Snowy Italy does no favours for new Maserati GranTurismo convertible

The gods of top-down motoring were not smiling when Maserati launched a new convertible version of its ever-so-fetching GranTurismo coupe in central Italy.

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ROME–The gods of top-down motoring were not smiling when Maserati launched a new convertible version of its ever-so-fetching GranTurismo coupe in central Italy.

In fact, these deities were darn right dastardly.

I flung open the shutters of my downtown Rome hotel room to see large flakes of snow cascading from the heavens and whitening the red tile roofs below.

Even snow cannot hobble sublime Ferrari Italia 458

Across the Tevere River, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica looked like a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream. It hadn’t snowed in Rome since 1985.

Naturally, the Maserati public relations people were in a terrible tizzy. With the city’s only snowplow turned into a planter back in ’92, and no 20-inch snow tires within a three-country radius, things weren’t looking good.

Fortunately, the weather let up a bit and we were set loose.

The four-seat 2010 Maserati GranTurismo Convertible (known as the GranCabrio in non-North American markets) will be available in Canada this spring priced at $169,900 – that’s about a $28,000 premium over the GranTurismo S Coupe, with which it shares most mechanicals.

Under the hood is a Ferrari-derived 4.7 L V8 that kicks out 433 ponies at 7200 rpm and a torque peak of 361 lb.-ft. at 4750 rpm It drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission co-developed with German manufacturer ZF. Maserati’s Skyhook adaptive suspension features continuously adjustable gas dampers with a sport setting.

There are two potential problems with taking one of the most beautiful cars on the road (grazie, Pininfarina) and slicing off its roof: 1) you’ll ruin its looks, and 2) you’ll ruin its structural integrity.

Maserati has largely avoided both these pitfalls.

The three-layer fabric top (available in six colours) works to Maserati’s advantage here. When raised, it stays true to the lines of the coupe, and being more compact when folded, the hindquarters of the car needn’t be artificially expanded to accommodate storage as with many hardtop convertibles (Ferrari California, please take a bow). With the top lowered, the GranTurismo cuts an exceptionally striking profile.

Maserati’s mission with this car was to ensure maximum comfort for rear passengers.

The rear buckets are contoured like the fronts with a natural 22-degree rake. At a smidge under six feet, I could sit behind myself – just. My knees were grazing the seat back and head brushed the headliner. Those a little shorter will certainly be lodging no complaints, either with their accommodations or the terrific 12-speaker Bose audio.

In recent years Maserati has arrived at a distinctive dynamic signature that melds robust free-revving V8s with a lightning-quick paddle-shifted six-speed ZF auto and tactile steering. Helping is the GT C’s near-ideal 49/51 per cent front to rear weight distribution and a chassis developed by ex-Ferrari whiz Fredrico Landini.

It all comes together on Italian roads. Pressing the Sport button on the console firms the Skyhook suspension, calls up a more aggressive transmission shift map, and allows the exhaust gases to bypass the mufflers above 3000 rpm. With the road surface being quite damp, the leniency in the stability control allowed this inherently well-balanced drop-top to wag its tail.

The only real impediment to swift driving (besides the rain, snow and lone roadside wolf) was the very thick A-pillar that did a marvelous job of blocking my line of sight in left-handers.

Returning to Rome, the skies cleared so we dropped the top (28 seconds) at a red light. This is when the GranTurismo Convertible really started to make sense. The exquisitely crafted beige and burgundy leather interior, trimmed in exotic Brazilian Carbalho wood, came alive in the afternoon light, and seeing the sights unrestricted was nearly as much fun as being seen in this Bianco Fuji (pearl white) specimen.

But what really impresses is the sound of that heroic 4.7 L V8. Unlike the Ferrari California, which spits and shrieks as only a Ferrari can, the mellifluous Maser (with the Sport button pressed, natch) first comes across as Enrico Caruso, then Caruso gargling with grappa, and finally like the trumpet of a very ticked-off elephant. We may have loosened some masonry in a few Roman tunnels that afternoon.

Fully equipped at 170 large, this gorgeous Maserati comes across as a good deal when looking at other drop-top exotica that claim to seat four: the Aston Martin DB9 Volante ($237,000), the Bentley Continental GTC ($221,700) and the Porsche Turbo Cabriolet ($178,400). Less pricey alternatives include the BMW M6 Convertible ($131,300) and the Audi S5 Cabrio Premium ($72,000).

Travel was provided to freelance auto writer PeterBleakney by the car maker.pebleakney@sympatico.ca

Even snowy Italy cannot hobble sublime Ferrari Italia 458

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