This week’s road tests are of two cars that I would just
love to sit my backside in, but the number of “test” Maserati’s in this
country tend to be few and far between (if any)! Our ‘Down-Under’
correspondent, John Weinthal, however, did manage to have a delirious week with
the Maserati 4.2 and an Alfa Romeo. Here are the Words from Weinthal.
“This week has been one of those of which memories are
made. I had two great Italian cars; not supercars, but almost practical everyday
cars - one for the relatively wealthy; the second for the truly rich.
“These two-seater Alfa Romeo and Maserati convertibles, or
Spyders to the Italians, are exotic, uncompromising and great to be seen in.
There are fundamental differences between the 3 litre V6 Alfa and the 4.2 litre
V8 Maserati, even though both are made by FIAT which also makes Ferrari and
Maserati 4.2 Spyder and Alfa Romeo 3.0 Spyder
“The 287kW Maserati is rear wheel drive. It sets you back
AUD 218,000 with a conventional six-speed gearshift or AUD 230,000 with the
clutchless manual so-called F1-style Cambiocorsa gearbox of the test car.
“The 162kW Alfa is front-drive and costs AUD 73,000 with no
choice beyond a six-speed manual. The Alfa is also available with a 114 kW four
cylinder engine for just over AUD50,000, and both engines are available in
Spyder or coupe Alfas.
“A luxury, genuine four-seater, Maserati coupe with the
same exotic mechanicals as the Spyder was announced this week for AUD 203,000 as
a conventional six-speed.
“The Alfa and Maserati coupes are marginally quicker than
the Spyders because they are lighter and more aerodynamic. They also feel a lot
more rigid than the convertibles which get mild shivers on less than perfect
“For a day of mixed hard, winding hill driving and town and
motorway cruising, the Maser excited with its performance, impressed with its
classy style and comfort and assured that millionaire-for-a-day feel with its
totally confident aura. It accelerates to 100 kph in a fraction under 5 seconds
- adrenalin inducing by any road car standard.
“The Maser was only the second clutchless modern car I have
driven. Like the Toyota MR2 it has steering wheel paddles like in F1 cars
instead of a gearshift. I adapted to this with the MR2, but the truth is that
the Toyota system, which is far from perfect, works a lot better than the
Italian job. I’d opt for a conventional six-speed gearshift for my Maserati or
its sister Ferrari for driving pleasure and even greater safety, especially when
pressing on. However, it seems that few people compare the transmissions before
purchase and the majority tick the paddle-shift box on the Maserati order form.
I sympathise with them.
“At under $75,000 the Alfa is a little closer to the real
world, and by all normal standards it is quick. It handles well and the engine
and gearbox are brilliantly matched. To my eye, the Pininfarina styling
guaranteed this Alfa classic status from day one. At every stop I was tempted to
take yet another photo from some new angle. This is another case of the car as
art - sculpted rather than pressed, it lifts the spirits even as it sits in your
driveway or by the kerb.
“The Alfa might also be the car which best justifies the
argument against front-wheel-drive for cars with high performance pretensions.
It’s not an argument I generally accept. Indeed with many modern cars I defy
most drivers to discern which wheels do the driving. However, the Alfa suffers
in two ways. It has a huge turning circle which precludes a U-Turn in most
normal streets. Secondly, care is required on any rapid take-off to hold the
steering wheel firmly to counteract marked torque steer. It is easy to spin one
or both front wheels, and fast driving in winding hill country induces marked
understeer or, as the Americans say, push.
“But if you keep all this in mind, the Alfa is a delight.
It looks stunning. It is comfortable and - apart from hopeless radio controls
and the absence of cruise control - it is well kitted out. This includes a
couple of the lockable storages spaces which are so necessary in a convertible.
“The Alfa’s prime competitor is the $74,600, 176kW
rear-drive Honda S2000. Among the Honda’s plusses is a six second up and down
power hood, in contrast with the Alfa’s snail-pace and overly complex lid. But
the Honda will only be lusted after by the true car buff while even members of
the Pedestrians’ League will love the look of the Alfa Spyder and that,
surely, is what much of this sort of spend is about.
“This was an educational driving week - I could suffer more
classes like it.”