Liam Bird drives the Maserati Granturismo S and the Skoda Fabia VRS

PUBLISHED: 15:41 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:18 20 February 2013

Maserati Granturismo S

Maserati Granturismo S

Liam Bird will review a dream drive and a down-to-earth drive

Every month Liam Bird will review a dream drive and a down-to-earth drive. Up first is the Maserati Granturismo S

First up is the Maserati Granturismo S


Bella macchina

I realised you were coming, I heard you. It doesnt matter where you go in Maseratis Granturismo S people will know youre on your way. Even before they get to see its Pininfarina styling theyll hear its delicious exhaust note and wait... and watch.

Its all because of a little button mounted just to the left of the Alcantara covered steering wheel high on the carbon fibre dashboard marked Sport: It helps the S make all the noise. By pressing something slightly smaller than a five pence piece you can open two pneumatic valves in the exhaust system that not only unleash another 10bhp but also allow the gases a quicker more, free flowing exit. That little button makes all difference.

With the valves closed the Granturismo has an all Italian V8 grumble that any car fan would love. With the valves open one of the most powerful road-going Maseratis you can buy produces the kind of noises that can stir the soul. Of course the 4.7litre 440bhp V8 thats identical to that fitted in Alfa Romeos 8C complete with red cam covers and a rev limiter thats been raised to 7,600rpm helps too.

The Granturismo S isnt just a noisy show off though. Because you can choose to shut those valves you can quite easily carry four people in hushed comfort. The back seat passengers will have slightly less head room than in other four-seater grand-tourers but theyll fit nonetheless.

And as long as they dont bring too much luggage the boot is a tad small and they should find the leather and Alcantara-trimmed rear quarters surprisingly comfortable. Up front the comfort continues, both driver and passenger get high-backed, electrically-operated leather-trimmed seats which at first seam a little hard but you soon realise theyre actually perfectly accommodating and very supportive. But surely something built in Modena isnt meant to be too practical? After all, steam roller-sized 285/35-ZR20 tyres, 0-60 in 4.9 seconds and a top speed of 183mph put the Granturismo very nearly into super-car territories? Yes, but despite its size the big Maserati never feels intimidating. While its true to say the S can cover ground at alarming rates if necessary, it can also become a relaxed tourer.

At 90,455 upwards the Granturismo S is anything but cheap even when compared to similarly exclusive and, arguably, better-built competition, But theres something about the sinister looks, especially in the black MC Stradale finish of our test car coupled with the subtle carbon fibre sill extensions and rear wing as well as the blacked-out grille, window trims and headlamp nacelles that takes an already handsome shape and turns it in to something special. After seeing one youll talk about it for days; after hearing one you know youll remember it forever.

Price: From 90,455.

Co-drivers view: Becky Thomas from Clun, South Shropshire
Its not as scary as I thought it would be. And its pretty easy to drive too even though its such a powerful car.

I dont usually drive automatics but this seemed simple enough, all the controls are nice and light. Im still not sure about the paddle shift gears though. Despite usually driving a Seat Arosa that has only a fraction of the power of the S Becky made driving a Maserati look pretty easy. Its not every day you get the opportunity to drive a 100,000 Supercar. I couldnt say no. I may never get the chance again. And the sound it makes is fantastic.

Practicality and performance with a twist in the 2010 Skoda Fabia VRS Estate


Czech mate

When Skoda launched the Fabia VRS in 2003 the conventional thought of the hot-hatch fraternity was turned on its head. Not only was the VRS a five- door it was also diesel powered. Its mix of practicality and economy, as well as its performance and affordability plus the fact that it was, to some, still a left-field choice meant that a new breed of Skoda buyers and admirers were born.

Step forward to 2011 and the second generation Fabia VRS challenges those thoughts again. The new VRS is now Skodas most powerful Fabia, but gone is the 1.9 diesel engine replaced by the very clever 178bhp 1.4 TSI, twin-charged unit found in a wide range of parent company VW products. And just to stretch the mind that little bit further its coupled to a seven-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic gearbox. In fact you can only buy the new Fabia VRS as an automatic. The car pictured here is also an estate, although a hatch is available too. It would appear then, that once again Skoda have blended practicality and performance and still given us an extra twist.

On the road the latest VRS handles very well indeed. Because its been fitted with XDS, a clever bit of elec-trickery that brakes the inside wheel when cornering, the steering is delightfully direct. And because its the VRS its been fitted with firmer suspension too meaning body roll is kept in check. There is a downside though. Because Skoda have decided to equip the new VRS with 17-inch wheels and low-profile 40 Section tyres it can suffer from quite high levels of road noise on broken or worn surfaces. The ride too, although for 99 per cent of time comfortable, can feel a little hard at times and vibrations can find their way into the cabin; overall though, the impression is of competent little car that rewards the driver.

The interior is built with the reassuring solidity you expect from the people who own Audi. Sports seats, Bluetooth, sat-nav, rear parking sensors, Isofix, tyre-pressure sensors and hill-hold control are all standard, plus with the rear seats folded youre rewarded with load space bigger than BMWs 3 series touring. And the Fabia easily accommodates five people.

But its the engine and gearbox that set this car apart. The 1.4 TSI unit uses both a supercharger to boost torque at low revs and a turbocharger to boost power higher up the range. The transition between the two is imperceptible.

Factor in VWs compact double clutch DSG, seven-speed gearbox which can deliver lightning quick and almost seamless changes in fully automatic mode you can change gear tiptronically too either with the stick or wheel mounted paddles and youll struggle to believe that this is only a 1390cc engine.

Just like the original, the new Fabia VRS can be comfortable, economical, practical even more so if you go for the estate and entertaining.

Price: 16,495.

Co-drivers view: Tim Newcombe of Forden, Powys
Im still undecided. The original VRS was diesel and thats what made it so appealing to me, says Tim who has owned a MK1 Fabia VRS. Im not sure if the petrol will be as popular. I like the fact the road tax is cheap though and Skoda, being VW-owned, have always had a good reputation for being reliable.

Im not sure about the looks but then this ones an estate Id prefer the hatchback, its more me. I like the seats though and the built-in sat-nav is good.

Dealers view: Carl Mattocks of Furrows Skoda in Oswestry, Shropshire
Customers are a little sceptical of the DSG gearbox and the fact its only a 1400cc. But when they try them they love them. The performance really does surprise people. The only problem weve got is keeping up with demand; the waiting list just keeps growing.

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