Jaguar XKR vs Aston Martin DB9 vs Maserati Granturismo

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If you’ve just landed in the Middle East on a nice expat package with housing allowance, car allowance, living the dream allowance etc. and found yourself a nice fancy Villa on the Palm/Apartment in the Marina/Compound in Satwa furnished in the best possible taste by one of Jumeirah’s finest interior designers, then firstly well done – and yes, it as little hot isn’t it?

Next up, it’s time to sort out the wheels.Now, I’m making the assumption that you’re a well-to-do guy with few commitments here and you’re not after something sensible for the family and kids. You want something that says as much about you as the oversized TAG on your wrist does – a real one at that, not a Karama special. You want the valet parking guy to leave your car outside the front of The Address as you spend an evening attempting to woo the ladies at Neos (drinking freshly-squeezed orange juice of course…).

You want to cruise up and down Dubai’s Al Diyafah Street impressing the locals, before attempting to race a G55 AMG down beach road, setting off speed cameras in the process.You want a sports car – but, you don’t want a Porsche 911 or Audi R8 like the others, you want to be a little different. Well, here are three alternatives vying for your attention.

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Maserati, Jaguar, Aston Martin – three badges that carry with them a certain pedigree that the German nameplates can only aspire to have.

The Granturismo here is so new it’s still to be fully run in, and is the S Automatica. This means it gets the bigger and more potent engine from the Granturismo S (a 433bhp 4.7-litre V8 instead of a 4.2-litre) but the smoother-shifting proper auto ’box from the cog-swapping boffins at ZF. There’s a similar gearbox at work in the facelifted Jaguar XF-R, now with a 500bhp 5.0-litre super-charged V8 – though we’re not quite sure who wasn’t happy with 420bhp in the old car, but we’re not ones to complain about more power. Finally we have the Aston Martin DB9 – the oldest of the three, it’s been around since 2004. It has a 6.0-litre 470bhp V12 and so much character and presence you wouldn’t believe. Why not the Vantage? That’s only a two-seater, all of these are 2+2’s – which varying levels of success.

I could argue all day about which of the three is the better looking – non-petrolheads go weak at the knees around the Aston, old men chug on their cigars when the Jag comes into view, but everyone looks at the Maserati. And before you try, never shorten Maserati to Maser, as in ‘I drive a Maser, don’t you know…’ – it’s a bit common, like saying Dubs instead of Dubai, just don’t – alright?

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At first glance there’s a bit of an anomaly between the three engines on offer here. 6.0-litres of handbuilt V12 in the Aston plays 5.0-litres of supercharged V8 in the Jaguar – and it’s the blown eight that’s the highest in power. The naturally aspirated V8 in the Maserati looks a bit meagre in comparison. However, it’s only petrolhead anoraks who really play the horsepower cards – and there’s only 0.2secs in the 100kph run between the three of them anyway. On the road, it’s the different characters of the three cars that sets them apart, not their acceleration times or top speeds.

It’s the Aston I sample first, but I don’t get off to a good start as I fail to actually start the thing. Like the brawnier DBS, the DB9 has the ‘Emotional Control Unit’ key wotsit – a big chunky block of polished glass and stainless steel which you feed into the centre off the dash. The DB9 used to suffer from a horrid old key from the Ford parts bin –I remember having the exact same type of key with my second car, a pathetic 1.1-litre Mk3 Ford Fiesta, not exactly the type of car Aston should associate with. To add insult to injury, the key was lumped together with the alarm fob from a Volvo – the Aston leather keyring never really helped improve matters.

However, as aesthetically unpleasing as the old setup was, it always worked – put key into ignition, foot on brake, turn key – lovely V12 springs to life. Now, it’s a similar procedure – foot on brake, insert ECU, lovely V12 springs to life – only for no apparent reason, on numerous occasions, it didn’t. Only after fumbling with various combinations of key in, brakes on, key half in, brakes half-on, would it eventually work.

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The other problem with all this fannying about in the car is that you get to spend rather a lot of time looking at the interior – which is really beginning to show its five-year age. The sat-nav and stereo set-up works well enough – the sound system is really good, just the buttons to get to different parts of the menu are frustrating, and the small dot-matrix screen difficult to fathom out, let alone read.

And whilst moving the gearbox shifter from the wide transmission tunnel that bisects the Aston’s interior might make space for a couple of cup holders and a big cubby between the front seats, the P R N D buttons on the centre console are a bit naff. Parking manoeuvres are tiresome.

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It is nicely finished in high quality leather and suede, but the bare metal surfaces are downright dangerous if you leave the car in the sun for a few hours. Wear shorts and you’ll burn your left knee on the door pull within seconds – not nice.

No such problems starting the Maserati though, as it comes with a proper key – a nasty blue plastic Fiat key admittedly, but a key none the less. It’s a nice interior too – so long as you overlook the optional yellow ‘highlights’ of this particular example – and can actually seat four real people without the need of a hacksaw and rather a lot of anaesthetic.

At first glance the gear-shift paddles might seem ludicrously oversized, but they actually make a lot of sense as they give you a variety of positions to hold the wheel. Yes, whilst my driving instructor did teach me to hold the wheel in the 10-2 or 9-3 position, I admit there are times when it’s actually more leg-4 or 8-phone (yes I know, naughty me) – and Maserati realises that too. Even in the most relaxed position, you can still find the paddles to change gear.

However, the sat-nav is particularly horrible and about three years out of date (even with the latest maps) and there’s way too many buttons hidden in odd places. The simple gear-selector is a welcome return to normality though.

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Not so in the Jaguar. Out goes the traditional J-gate and in comes the fancy rising and turning GearSelectorDrivePlus (or whatever nonsense name Jaguar’s given it) from the XF. It’s completely intuitive to use – turn right to drive, left to park, one along to reverse – easy peasy. But, on start up it lacks the drama of the same thing in the XF as the air-vents don’t pirouette into sight, still sometimes it’s better to keep things simple.

The rest of the interior is just that – nothing flash, but nice and straightforward to use. The touch screen sat-nav works exactly as you’d want it to – though keep a cloth handy to remove greasy fingerprints. In fact, the most complicated area I found was how to change stability and traction control modes. There’s DSC on/off, dynamic mode (shown with a chequered flag) and winter mode (useful here), but I couldn’t fully work out how to get things just as I wanted. Saying that, you don’t really need to worry about switching modes, the standard setting gives enough slip to put a grin on your face out of corners, without so much leeway as to kill yourself. Perfect.

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The Jaguar’s got the best all-round driving ability – plus the best sounding engine, though the lack of roof helps considerably. The steering is very light, but body control is tight, roll limited, and engine performance is really, really strong. That supercharger means that there’s plenty of torque available low-down with the natural character of the V8 providing all the fun higher up. The needle eagerly flicks its way towards the rev line and the paddles never fail to perform their job as they should. They are a little small though, and can be difficult to find when things are happening at high speeds.

It’s a similar problem in the Aston, but with the added problem that sometimes the shifts themselves are clunkier than they should be. The V12 feels heavy and slow to rev by comparison to the other two, it takes an age to get the revs up to the high end of the range where the power lies.

Weirdly, the DB9 feels the heaviest on the road, even though the official figures put it as the lightweight of the group – only in comparative terms, 1760kg is still quite chubby.

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Though the Maserati has very heavy steering at low speeds – on first encounter I thought it had flat tyres – it makes for a very direct machine when the road opens up. It’s not an out-and-out sportscar though, the suspension still errs on the soft side for that, however, that makes it all the better in town – where, to be honest, it’s likely to spend most of its time.

The Aston scrapes its nose on even the most pathetic of speed bumps, and was the only car of the three that started to complain about being out in the heat for too long. It also doesn’t feel like it’s worth the extra outlay, especially in comparison to these two more modern pieces of kit. It gets you attention on the road though.

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But what of the Jag? It may have 500bhp, but it still manages to be a pussycat at low speeds. It’s the best to drive out of town and enjoys cruising in town too. However, it’s missing that little something that the Maserati has – edge.

A few years back, if you mentioned to someone that you drove a Maserati sportscar you’d be greeted with a concerned look and, if you were lucky, the number of a good specialist mechanic. However, that’s no longer the case.

The Granturismo feels extremely well built, with plenty of poke from the S’s bigger V8, the bombproof Automatica transmission, and with a slightly higher ride is best suited for town and doesn’t do itself a disservice out on the open road. It’s also one of the best-looking cars around and can be customised to your exact tastes.

It’s certainly not the default sports car, but is definitely my choice here. Be different.

Categories: Road


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