New Maserati masters the art of seduction

Maserati’s latest is a bit of a gigolo — so schooled in the art of seduction that it will make you want to pay, no matter the cost.

It smells good. It looks good. Drivers: Queue Blondie soundtrack here.

New for 2010, it’s called the GranTurismo Convertible. The third model in the Maserati tridentate, the $140,000 canvas-topped beauty rounds out a rarefied lineup that began with the Quattroporte sedan while Maserati was owned by Ferrari and continued with the GranTurismo coupe after the Italian manufacturer became an independent entity within the Fiat Group.

Like many romantic relationships, whether for the love of speed or otherwise, Ferrari is still entwined with Maserati. The GranTurismo Convertible’s 4.7-liter V-8 is courtesy of its more macho former partner and is built in the same Maranello, Italy, factory. Its lithe and sculptured bodywork was conceived by the same Pininfarina design team.

While Maserati clearly benefits from those affiliations, it plies them in a different direction with the GTC, taking the under-the-hood, over-the-top heft of its 433-horsepower engine and combining it with an understated elegance designed to broaden its demographic.

Its product placement over the years on popular TV shows such as “Desperate Housewives” and “Entourage” already says it, but Maserati isn’t just targeting men who are managing their portfolios and midlife crises. It’s pursuing young lads and successful women in the hopes they’ll say ciao to a hand-built Italian sports car with a racing legacy and auf Wiedersehen to the usual go-tos for the well off: BMW’s 7 series and Mercedes-Benz SLs.

And they might, if they’ve got that kind of cash. I know I would. If only Maserati would take my house on trade.

The GTC is an outrageously fun car to drive, not just because of its sultry style or easy-access power but because of the questioning it inspires in its onlookers. As a youngish female driver, I could sense their wonder: Is she a self-made woman, or is she kept?

Wouldn’t they like to know?

I just enjoy a well-made machine, which is how I found the GTC, from the moment I strapped myself in to the hand-stitched leather seat and closed the driver-side door with a satisfying thunk. The GranTurismo Convertible is a heavy car. Its 4,365 pounds include a 200-pound weight gain over the GranTurismo coupe to make the roof retractable, but that weight just melted away on takeoff.

The GTC is capable of 176 mph and can reach 60 in less time than it takes a woman to zip up her handbag and throw it over her shoulder — about 5.5 seconds. But it isn’t just a straight-line hot rod. The 90-degree V-8 is placed two inches behind the front axle for a front mid-engine alignment that lightens the steering but keeps the weight balanced. And it’s situated inside the imported Quattroporte chassis that uses a flat aluminum underbelly as a stressed member to keep the car as lightweight and low to the ground as possible for better cornering.

The six-speed automatic is smooth shifting, quiet, solid and playful enough that you can really get going behind the wheel — at the pull of a lever or the push of a button. While the lady in me appreciated the fluidity and grace of the transmission, the motorcyclist in me enjoyed the paddle shifters, which allowed me to throw the stick shift into semiautomatic mode and click through the gears rather than just press the toe of my heel to the floor mat and steer. I loved that I could just hit a dashboard button called “sport” to electronically, and seamlessly, tighten the suspension while transporting me to the sweet spot of the power band, which reaches peak horsepower at 7,600 rpm.

If only the rest of my life were this easy.

I was behind the wheel of the GTC for several hours with absolutely no idea how fast I was going because I was only aware of one of the car’s two speedometers at first. The more dramatic of the two is analog, and in kilometers per hour, rather than miles per hour. Which had me thinking, while I was gliding past traffic in the carpool lane, then canyons, that if an officer pulled me over to check out my wheels and, oh, by the way, ask me how fast I was going, I wouldn’t be lying when I batted my Lancome lashes and shrugged.

The car I was testing was so fresh from its trip across the pond that it was still filled with Italian gas. It was a European spec. Future GTCs imported to the U.S. will have a speedometer display in mph.

The two-door GTC is quite the gentleman. It didn’t just treat me like a lady, wrapping me in its buttery and embossed leather seat and dazzling me with its exotic, hand-carved moon wood details. It could also have accommodated my friends. The slightly reclined bucket seats continued in the rear of this four-seater, though passengers wouldn’t be able to bring anything but themselves. The trunk’s 6.1 cubic feet of space is hardly ample for a “Sex and the City"-style shopping spree. At most, it will hold an overnight bag — or two.

Sitting inside the car, the convertible aspect of this car functions so well, if I hadn’t ducked my head under its Pinot-tinted top when I climbed in, I would never have even guessed this car was a convertible. There was almost no wind noise and definitely no flapping. It just flies.

The Maserati GranTurismo Convertible isn’t a romance that comes cheap. But some of the most satisfying liaisons never do.