AS VALENTINE’S Day goes, the setting couldn’t have been more idyllic.
Profusions of red geranium spilled from terracotta pots set on ancient-looking stone work baking in the morning sun. Vineyards and rows of tall pencil pines provided a picture-perfect backdrop, while grape vines wound their way through a pergola under which chilled water and wine were on offer. Out front, an impressive set of sparkling sports cars was lined up awaiting our attention, all of them Italian and all of them bearing the Maserati trident logo on their grills.
It looked like Italy, it felt like Italy but in fact was a world away from that ancient land of cultural significance – literally and figuratively. This scene was set in the rural hills of the Melbourne suburb of Warrandyte, a beautiful place for sure, but popular mainly for bird watching, bush walking and boating on the Yarra River. A 40-minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD, Warrandyte is gateway to even more beautiful scenery in the nearby Yarra Valley and Yarra Rangers. So our meeting point at Olivigna Restaurant, part of Pietro Galla Estate, was the perfect base from which to road test cars from a brand with a grand touring history.
‘Having the opportunity to experience cars like these in places where they were designed to be driven is worth signing on for.’
Zagame Maserati Richmond had invited Madam Wheels and other car enthusiasts to Warrandyte to experience the full suite of the Maserati range, including the GranTurismo, Ghibli, Quattroporte and SUV Levante. All that was missing, sadly – especially given the Umbrian-like weather that day – was Maserati’s spectacular convertible version of the GT, the GranCabrio.
Perhaps another time.
Things started with lunch in what looked like a subterranean cellar. On the menu were antipasti of house-marinated olives, salumi and rare-breed Kurobuta Berkshire capocolto. The food and ambiance were really special but, to the cars! I jumped straight into the GT, preferring to kick things off at the top of the Maserati power range before easing my way back down through the tamer models.
While the engines in each car had been built in Ferrari’s Maranello factory, I knew the GT housed the larger V8 and was capable of a top speed of almost 300 km/h. Not that we were going to get anywhere near that, of course, given these were public roads which, in any case, turned out to be heavily populated by road-work crews. Such interruptions might have annoyed my driving colleagues for the day – an obstetrician and money manager. But I used the stops and go-slow moments as opportunities to explore the in-car technology and swap through different drive modes.
We wound our way through back roads to the Maroondah Hwy, passing Cold stream and Healesville and along the blissfully beautiful run of Black Spur Drive. Each car was equipped with a two-way radio through which instructions on route and obstacles were shared along the way. The good doctor went missing with the Ghibli at one stage but managed to find us again soon enough.
The nice thing about the Ghibli, as I was to find out, is that while it looks like a coupe, it’s also entirely appropriate as an executive sedan. Its eight-speed V6 engine is no slouch, either, and the car comes equipped with a useful array of Advanced Driving Assistance Systems. For example, one keeps the car within its nominated lane, another warns when you’re coming up too hot on a car in front, while a Traffic Sign Assist feature keeps drivers informed of local speed limits.
But particularly helpful in the city – where the explosion of food-delivery scooter riders often display tactics more suited to Bali, frankly – is the blind spot feature which identifies things speeding up your side.
Into the Quattroporte, and an electronic steering wheel control made adjusting it into position a snap. Something that was outstanding in this car – well, all of them, actually – was that the automatic gear changes, up and down, were barely perceptible. Even when the paddles were in play, the smoothness of the shifts was truly amazing.
Having driven the Levante on another occasion (seen also here and here) – and preferring wagons and sedans over SUVs, anyway – I skipped the chance to drive the 2019 version of the Levante and got back behind the wheel of the the GT for the final leg of the drive back to Olivigna (though, if it had been the turbo-charged V8 Levante Trofeo SUV launched at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show – the limited-edition of which is pictured below in Blu Emozione Matte – I might have been persuaded). The way the GT’s sports seats held me in place, the feel of the hand-finished leather trims and the growl of that engine made it a firm favourite for me on the day.
Having the opportunity to experience cars like these in places where they were designed to be driven – safely and with professional guidance on the cars’ features along with plenty of advice on how to use them – is an activity worth signing on for. It’s the best way to try before you buy. Cycling through the full breadth of Maseratis certainly provides an excellent sense of the brand’s DNA, which makes drive days like these a worthwhile exercise. And if it feels like you’re in Italy while you’re doing it, all the better.