Driving across coral islands bursting with mangroves and along catwalk-like spans surrounded by open ocean, it feels like you’re flying over the water. It’s just you, the road, and an endless vista of green and aquamarine blue. It’s a strange experience — but one that makes you feel like you may have been there before …
The first time I did the drive from South Florida to Key West, it felt like a hazy, dreamlike experience. Or maybe it was me in cruise control, half-lucid and shaking off a hangover from the night before in Miami. Regardless, if you’ve never driven the Overseas Highway, or US Route 1 to Key West, remedy that situation immediately. Because it’s worth it.
What started as a concept promoted by the Miami Motor Club in the 1920s as a means to get to fishing areas in the Keys eventually lead to the creation of the southernmost part of US Highway 1 in 1938, connecting Key West to the mainland.
But before that, an industrialist by the name of Henry Flagler began an ambitious project to connect the Keys via railroad back in 1912. When that railway was badly damaged by a hurricane in 1935, some of the infrastructure was used to create the current Overseas Highway that we know today.
Throughout the years many additions and changes were made to make the route more direct, and to accommodate a four-lane highway in some parts. It now consists of 42 bridges en route to Key West, including the magical Seven Mile Bridge.
Overseas Highway has been named an All-American Road, one of only 30 other scenic US roadways. And with a trip coming up to the Keys, I was eager to do this drive once again.
Usually when one thinks of driving a great US road, an American muscle car comes to mind. But I had a different kind of cruiser in mind, one with a bit more style — a car that’s used to driving around magnificent seasides like the Italian Riviera along the coast of the Mediterranean.
Enter Maserati (FCAU). The storied Italian luxury and performance automaker offered up a 2018 GranTurismo Sport for our drive down from Miami to Key West. On paper, this car would be a great fit — a powerful GT coupe that could devour miles on the four-hour trip with ease.
We were given the MC edition, which according to Maserati adds ‘track-inspired style and performance.’ Sounds great, I thought. But then a concern came to mind: Would this car be too sporty, too stiff, to enjoy a leisurely drive down through the Keys?
Nagging concerns aside, the GranTurismo is still a beautiful car to look at, one that’s still turns heads. I say “still” because the car debuted back in 2007, over 10 years ago.
Yet, the Pininfarina design has stood the test of time. The lines on this car are rakish, starting with that wide-open mouthed-grill displaying Maserati’s trident logo, pushing out to the wide python-like headlights, and flowing back over the long hood. The curves of the car look purposeful and taut, with the car slung low and wide in the back with everything tying up nicely with a lip spoiler and rear lights that have aged gracefully.
Age hasn’t been kind in other areas though. The car has been updated over the years, but you’ll still see things that will remind of days gone by, such as an aging climate control system with old-school green backlit LED screen, and a non-digital instrument panel with a speedometer that uses 20 mph increments.
But it all gets better when you turn the the key and start up the car (no push button start here, an actual key goes into a slot). That powerful and loud Ferrari-based (RACE) Maserati V8 roars to life. With 454 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, the naturally aspirated V8 takes the car from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. But forget the numbers here; the engine revs high and sounds like a banshee near the limit, and it put a big smile on my face. The engine is the heart and soul of this car.
As you can imagine, the car really comes alive in sport mode: The V8 revs higher, the exhaust opens up, and everything tightens. The transmission with paddle shifters holds gears to the redline, so you do have to pay attention here.
One thing that surprised me was how comfortable this car is, even in sport mode. The suspension was taut yet still absorbed cracks and potholes on the Miami streets as well as on the Overseas Highway. This car is a great grand tourer, the kind that can you drive for hours without fatigue. Kudos to Maserati for the comfortable seats, which in our tester were wrapped in leather and Alcantara.
Once on the Overseas Highway, it was smooth sailing, if you will, down the road. The GranTurismo just ate up the miles as we cruised over land and sea, with the emerald green water surrounding us.
The after effects of Hurricane Maria remain, with some areas still under construction (like the famous Postcard Inn) and others in a state of disrepair. But the road is completely fine, and there are plenty of sights for travelers to see. From the look of it, it’s only a matter of time before the Keys will be back to normal.
Our first pit stop was one of my favorites (hat tip Kevin Chupka), Hog Heaven Sports Bar and Grill located on Islamorada. A fantastic joint for barbecue, and of course it’s signature freshly-caught hogfish sandwich. We pulled up in its parking lot alongside numerous Harleys. The black Maserati caught a couple of eyes and even some nods of approval. Yes, even grizzled bikers appreciated the GranTurismo’s aggressive, yet stylish design.
After filling up on the aforementioned hogfish sandwich, it was back on the road with the GranTurismo gobbling more miles on the Overseas Highway, leading us to the majestic Seven Mile Bridge, a stunning road and expanse over the clear water of the Keys. Just open the windows (or droptop if you’re so lucky), turn off the stereo and soak in the wind, the ocean breeze, and the vista that you couldn’t possibly replicate anywhere else.
After crossing the bridge we had another pitstop, this time at Bahia Honda Key and State Park, a protected land with a public beach. Here you can catch a good look of Flagler’s still-standing railroad structure. It must have been quite a sight riding on a train with water surrounding you and, in some parts, as far as the eye could see.
We cruised down the rest of the way toward our final destination, Key West. We pulled into town around 5:00 p.m., just in time for the famous Sunset Celebration, where Mallory Square is packed with tourists and locals alike, watching the glowing orange and pink sun go down over the water. We hopped out of the car and headed toward the horizon, a perfect cap to a great American drive — done in Italian style.
The fine print
The Maserati GranTurismo MC starts at $151,720 but can get much higher than that with options like our Alcantara package, high gloss black interior elements, carbon fiber components and electronic damping control.