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Car of the Year 2002: 5th Place Maserati Spyder

Paul Dean

The Maserati Spyder embodies the cardinal characteristics of the Italian sports car: It is mechanically sound and visually striking, and it is fast. In terms of horsepower per liter, the Spyder’s 390-hp V-8 is the most powerful in the world.

If this splendid two-seater looks like a slightly undersized Ferrari, with that same flair for design and handcraftsmanship found in Italian suits, then give credit to the vision of Ferrari, which assumed control of Maserati in 1997.

With the takeover (a marriage arranged by Fiat, parent of Ferrari and Maserati) came the enormous challenge of raising the reputation of Maserati, which had plummeted after three decades of ownership changes, financial fumbles, and a skein of unimaginative, unreliable, poorly assembled, and almost ugly motorcars.

Ferrari’s answer was to examine the magic and mystique of its own lineup, then build the slightly less exclusive, not quite so hand-stitched Maserati Spyder as a speedy, innovative, and authentic grand touring car.

The styling is fresh and highly attractive, from a gentle hood and elongated oval grille styled after the Mistrals and Ghiblis of the 1960s and ’70s to an abrupt trunk that places aerodynamic purpose before looks.

Maserati’s traditional trident logo appears on the Spyder’s nose and its wheel hubs. The interior is contemporary, very smart, and all-leather. The only token of yesteryear is an Art Deco white-faced clock. The Spyder nods to Maserati’s heritage without choking on it.

Handling is flat and secure, and even getting aggressive on dewy mountain roads in central Italy did not produce chirps from the Pirellis or “ooofs” from the Maserati manager who was riding shotgun. Acceleration is swift, and high-speed conversation with the top down requires proper pronunciation but no shouting. And the 6-speed transmission with paddle shifting is every driver’s passport to
Le Mans or PlayStation 2.

With the Spyder, Ferrari-Maserati has built a fine, swift, comfortable Italian roadster that returns the elation and giggles to the art of driving well. It also is one heck of an excuse for buying a pair of string-backed driving gloves.

Specifications

Engine: 4.2-liter, 32-valve, dOHC V-8
Power: 390 hp at 7,000 rpm
Torque: 333 ft lbs at 4,500 rpm
Zero-to-60 time: 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 176 mph
Transmission: manual, or optional 6-speed paddle shifting with full automatic mode
Wheelbase: 96.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,815 pounds
Base price: $90,000 (estimated)

Second Opinions
“Could be the vehicle that finally justifies Maserati’s continued existence.” —Paul A. Eisenstein

“A hallowed, historic brand returns to the United States with styling that is timelessly gorgeous.” —J.P. Vettraino

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