Maserati had been out of the U.S. market for a decade when the renowned Italian builder of exotic sports cars returned for the 2002 model year with a brand-new Spyder convertible.
The Spyder project began after Ferrari took control of Maserati in 1997. The two-seater's styling is credited to Italdesign-Giugiaro, one of the top Italian design firms, and Ferrari handles the car's marketing in the U.S. Little has changed for the 2006 model year.
At the 2004 Paris Motor Show, Maserati unveiled a 90th Anniversary edition of the Spyder that featured aerodynamic carbon-fiber parts. Only 90 were to be available in the U.S., and 90 more would be produced for the rest of the world. A mild update for 2005 included a larger grille and two-tone interiors.
Modern touches blend with traditional sports-car styling in the Spyder, which rides on 18-inch wheels. A contemporary version of the historic oval Maserati shield appears on the hood and is positioned above a familiar trident on the grille. Arch-type roll bars are installed, and the power top operates electrohydraulically. Weight distribution is 53/47 percent front to rear.
A Skyhook automatic suspension control system was developed with Mannesmann-Sachs. Sensors constantly monitor the movement of the wheels and body, and a computer adapts damping according to driving and road-surface conditions.
Ten shades of leather upholstery for the handcrafted interior are available. Each seat is powered and has an integral head restraint, and a memory feature for the driver is standard.
An information center features a 5.8-inch color display. Electronic rear-parking sensors are available.
Under the Hood
The Spyder's 4.2-liter V-8 develops 390 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 333 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. An electronically actuated six-speed-manual Cambiocorsa gearbox with four modes — Normal, Sport, Automatic and Low Grip — is offered. It can operate in fully automatic mode, or the driver can manipulate paddles behind the steering wheel to change gears. A conventional six-speed manual is also available.
Standard safety features include side-impact airbags, electronic brake-force distribution and traction control. All-disc antilock brakes were developed with the Brembo company.
Except for the harsh-shifting Cambiocorsa transmission, the stylish Spyder delivers a satisfying and exhilarating road experience. Once you learn how to tame it a bit, the Spyder performs with real gusto.
A heavy throttle foot in automatic mode can make downshifts horrid. When you first step on the gas, the Spyder seems reluctant to move; when it does, the car likes to lurch ahead.
Noise and vibration are abundant at idle, but the Spyder rides rather comfortably. The seats are pleasantly supportive, but some of the gauges are difficult to read. Impaired over-the-shoulder visibility with the top up can make merging into traffic worrisome.