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Maserati Quattroporte light on its feet

The standard Maserati Quattroporte is such a lovely looking car inside and out that you just want to forgive it any shortcomings.

MODENA, ITALY – The standard Maserati Quattroporte is such a lovely looking car inside and out that you just want to forgive it any shortcomings.

But for a car that was to compete with the best big luxury sedans of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the sad fact is its 4.2-litre 400 hp V8 engine was slightly out-gunned.

Sure, in some markets, the 7 Series and S-Class offer V6 engines. Maserati only has the V8, which was more powerful than any of those.

But it was also the best you could get from the marque of the Trident.

So they dipped into the parts bin and technology cupboard of its engine supplier – no less a light than sister company Ferrari – and came up with a 4.7 L V8, essentially the same engine used in the delectable Alfa Romeo 8CC coupe (which Maserati also builds) and in the upcoming Ferrari California Coupe, although slightly detuned for a more comfortable drive.

The 425 cavallini and 362 lb.-ft. of torque are not only competitive with its rivals’ V8 engines, it produces performance that isn’t far off the V12s some of them offer.

This urge is fed through the six-speed ZF automatic transmission that was introduced as the Quattroporte Automatica last year.

(There’s something about the Italian language, eh? Imagine Cadillac calling its top-of-the-line luxury car “Four-door Automatic.”)

Incidentally, the Duo-Select F1-style transmission appears to be still available in Quattroporte, but they don’t talk much about it anymore. Just as well; it is ill-suited to a luxury sedan.

This relatively modest increase in power makes a huge difference. The 0-to-100 km/h sprint time is 5.4 seconds, just two ticks slower than the base car.

But in part-throttle, i.e., in normal, driving, instead of a mumbled “Huh? You talkin’ to me?” when you mash the pedal, the car just gets up and goes, accompanied – as you would expect from a Ferrari-based and -built engine – by a glorious symphony of exhaust music.

It just feels a whole lot faster than the numbers suggest.

You can let this ultra-sophisticated automatic shift by itself, or massage the shift lever or the optional steering-column-mounted paddles.

Either way, the shifts are smooth, seamless and lightning-quick. Makes you wonder sometimes why other carmakers bother with anything more complicated.

To keep all this power in check, big Brembo brakes with dual-cast rotors – aluminum and iron cast together into one huge but lightweight piece – put stopping distances in the range of some of the world’s best sports cars.

The S model, which will carry a price of slightly more than $150,000, comes with Maserati’s so-called “Sky Hook” suspension. This term is usually reserved for active suspension systems; this is really just electronically controlled dampers that automatically adjust to road conditions, car attitude and speed to maintain a good balance between ride comfort and handling agility.

It works very well for handling – the big car goes where and when you point it, especially when you have selected Sport mode. This also changes the throttle response curve and crisps up the transmission shift strategy.

The weight distribution of 49 per cent front 51 per cent rear also contributes to the car’s nimbleness.

The Sky Hook doesn’t work quite so well for ride – it is comfortable enough, but some bump-thump from road irregularities does find its way into the sumptuous cabin.

Speaking of which, it has been significantly upgraded for the S, with more form-fitting seats, revised instrument panel graphics, a new sportier steering wheel, and even more interior colour and trim options. As if ordering one of these wasn’t complicated enough.

It isn’t the most spacious car in class; legroom is okay but the car feels a bit narrow and the trunk space is severely limited. You can order the optional fitted luggage if that’s a major concern.

Optional as well is the same Bose multimedia sound system that was introduced in the Ferrari Scaglietti last year. Instead of myriad buttons, or a complex computer mouse-like device like BMW’s iDrive, the very old-fashioned-looking round volume and tuning knobs each perform a wide variety of functions, depending on which system you are working with – radio, CD, the 40-gig music hard drive, telephone or satellite navigation.

I have to say that it appeared vastly more complex and difficult to use than I remember from the Scaglietti. I did not find the instruction manual until it was too late – and I was surprised it was in English, not Italian. With some instruction and acclimatization, this should be easier to work than it was for me.

While I don’t particularly like transponder keyless ignition systems, it feels odd to be in a car this expensive without one.

There’s been a lot of reworking of the exterior, too. Front and rear overhangs are increased slightly, at the front to accommodate a new nose with larger air intakes for greater cooling for the more powerful engine, and to create a vertical bar grille to tighten the family resemblance to the sporty Gran Turismo Coupe.

The vertical grille bars and the portholes on the sides lead some wags to compare the car to a Buick. Hey – there are some nice-looking Buicks!

New bi-xenon adaptive headlights with an LED strip for the turn signal in the bottom give a fresh modern look to the car, which is, after all, five years old.

New bishop’s hat taillights also incorporate LED technology.

The Quattroporte S doesn’t blow the competition away on any particular technical feature, although the engine certainly is wonderful. And it does everything well enough to be competitive with anything in its class.

I find it beautiful. Not everyone seems to, although there is little argument over the interior.

It offers the luxury sedan buyer something well out of the ordinary. In these circles, you would see yourself driving in and out of the country club every day if you had a BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Audi A8.

You would have to be flush enough to put up with cliff-face depreciation, and J.D. Power rankings that would have BMW or Mercedes-Benz managers summarily dismissed.

But if you can afford it, that would be a small price to pay.

Travel was provided to freelance writer Jim Kenzie by the automaker. jim@jimkenzie.com

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