A day in the fast lane

I haven't sat in a convertible since a giddy high-speed summer in 2002, which I spent zooming about on the German autobahns in my husband's Alfa Romeo Spider.

We've long since downshifted to a sensible city-sized SUV, so it was with a touch of trepidation that we took charge of a brand new 2011 Maserati GranCabrio Sport for a day of high-speed thrills (and preferably no spills).

The GranCabrio Sport is a convertible model based on the Maserati GranTurismo design, with a number of sporty features for extra speed and gusto.

It is a red extravaganza of a car; immaculate, shiny and worth a whopping $338K – a fact I wished I hadn't known as I took the key and steered it self-consciously from the Maserati showroom in Sydney.

My first thoughts were less about the smoothness of the ride, and more of a swift prayer to the gods in charge of shiny red paintwork.

But after a few turns of the wheel, I felt much more at home in the lush cream leather seats as my charge proved far more manoeuvrable than its elaborate dashboard control panel implied.

The steering wheel itself is adorned with all manner of knobs and buttons, including two paddles on either side that let you seize the initiative from the automatic transmission should you crave a bit more hands-on control. Their purpose is to switch this already supercharged automatic car to manual – while another button labelled 'Sport' adds an extra dash of performance.

Out on the open road I dutifully gave it a few gratifyingly loud revs, but when it was my husband and co-pilot's turn to drive, he took it to the floor pushing us from 30kmh to 80kmh in a matter seconds. Phwoar!

We soon discovered that this was by far the best way to turn heads on the motorway.

The other way was to put the roof down – which took about 20 seconds while in motion, transforming the vehicle into an instant crowd pleaser.

And doing both at once proved a sure-fire method of eliciting broad smiles from nearby male pedestrians.

Even more impressive than the throaty roar and immense speed of the GranCabrio Sport (to my mind at least) was the aerodynamics at the front which meant my hair didn't turn to bird nest within minutes as it tends to do in open-topped vehicles.

So with hairdo intact, I became a member of the idle rich for the day as we cruised our way around the Northern Beaches in our sparkling gem of a car.

But like most precious jewels, the Maserati GranCabrio Sport does have a flaw or two.

The car's front clearance was so low to the ground it made us feel very twitchy near any type of speed bump - like the one we cautiously slid over in the carpark at Pilu – an upscale Italian restaurant on the seafront in Sydney's Freshwater – where we were treated to spectacular views and a sumptuous lunch.

And while we loved having four seats in the vehicle for those passengers who appreciate life in the fast lane (like the brave Fairfax video producer who accompanied us for the day) we did concur that the small boot space might cramp the style of anyone carting a set of golf clubs or large suitcases.

Maserati has dreamed up all manner of plush features to balance out any shortcomings – most of which we didn't get to try out on our test drive. You need only glance at the blinking dashboard to figure out that this beast would take far more than a day to fully reveal its charms.

It may not be the fastest set of wheels on the road - and those in the know say that not even a souped-up, sporty Maserati will deliver the raw speed of a top end Ferrari or Bugatti - but car ownership isn't just about pushing the pedal to the floor.

There is a majesty and style in this vehicle that is impossible to deny. So If you have a spare few hundred thousand and want to show off a most magnificent set of wheels – then the GranCabrio Sport most certainly looks the business.


Vital stats

The Maserati GranCabrio Sports: A convertible car based on the Maserati GranTurismo.

Who for: Anyone who wants to flash their cash with a very stylish pair of wheels.

Engine: 4.7-litre V8 engine with output of 331 kW and peak torque of 510 Nm.

Top speed: 285 km/h (with roof on) and accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 5.2 secs.

Transmission: six speed automatic with ability to switch to manual paddle shifters.

Best features: Big gutsy revs, immaculate design that looks stunning with the roof down.

Worst features: Small boot space, low clearance.

Louisa Hearn travelled and dined courtesy of Maserati Australia

twitter Follow ExecutiveStyle on Twitter