The Maserati Quattroporte is about the sexiest sedan you'll ever see, and its Italian craftsmanship reflects passion. Its styling, by the legendary Pininfarina, shows them all how it should be done, without tricks (except for three little portholes, touches that work). The lines are so shapely they're striking.
Quattroporte is Italian for "four door," and this is Maserati's flagship sedan. Its cabin is roomy for a car this low and stylish, but it's really all about the quality of its materials, with nine shades of leather and six types of wood to choose from. The controls could and should be simpler, but that's true of all the top luxury cars today.
The Quattroporte comes into its element at high speeds, and inspires confidence when driven at those speeds. This reflects the high engineering quality of the car. Alas, we live in a world where it's illegal to use such technology to its capability. Around town, the QP, as its fans call it, is as easy to drive as a Toyota.
The new, aluminum, Maserati 4.2-liter V8 is high-revving, sweet and sensual. It makes 400 horsepower, more than that of the Mercedes S550, BMW 750i, or Audi A8. The six-speed manual automatic transmission with optional paddle shifters is responsive.
The suspension is active, meaning that sensors make infinite adjustments in the shock absorbers and other dynamics, depending on the movements of the wheels and chassis. The resulting ride is flawless, neither too soft nor too firm, at any time. There's a Normal and Sport mode that respond appropriately, during casual driving and when we did a 100-mile run over some of our favorite curves through a remote forest in the Pacific Northwest. The cornering is exciting because it's so precise, thanks mostly to a double-wishbone suspension front and rear, and excellent 51/49 weight distribution. With a wheelbase of 120 inches, the Quattroporte is a fairly long car, but its handling is nimble.
The 2008 Maserati Quattroporte comes in four models, Quattroporte Automatica, Quattroporte Executive GT, and Quattroporte Sport GTS. The engine on all Quattroportes is a silky 4.2-liter V8 making 400 horsepower. All come with a six-speed automatic transmission. (The DuoSelect electrically actuated six-speed manual transaxle has been discontinued for 2008.)
Quattroporte ($114,750) comes standard with Tanganyka wood interior trim and Poltrona Frau leather (available in nine colors), 14-way power heated front seats, individually adjustable power rear seats, power rear glass sunshade, refrigerated compartment in the front armrest, power sunroof, metallic paint, automatic dual zone climate control, Bose sound system, Bosch-Blaupunkt multi-media system, rain-sensing automatic wipers, rear parking sensor, 18-inch alloy wheels, and electric parking brake.
Options include Rosewood interior trim, natural tanning leather upholstery available in six colors, Alcantara headliner, rear climate controls with rear shades, comfort pack front and rear seats (heating, ventilating, massaging), wooden steering wheel, titanium colored brake calipers, front park sensors, 19-inch polished wheels, and paddle shifters.
The Executive GT ($124,900) adds the Alcantara headliner, rear climate controls, comfort pack front seats, wooden steering wheel, and 19-inch wheels. Its chrome mesh grille sets it apart from the regular QP's chrome bar grille.
The Sport GTS ($128,165) features a track-tuned suspension and 20-inch dark chrome alloy wheels with fat tires, along with a black mesh grille, twin exhaust pipes in black chrome, body-colored door handles, and front seats designed for hard driving and cornering.
Safety features on the Quattroporte include multi-stage front airbags, side airbags in front, window airbags, bi-Xenon headlights with washing system, anti-theft system, Hill Holder, and a sophisticated Maserati Stability Program that integrates the ABS, EBD and ASR traction control.
It's gorgeous, it's sexy, it's Italian. Lines created by Sergio Pininfarina. And the best part is, it's not a Ferrari. Not that Ferraris are bad, of course, just that everyone knows what Ferraris are.
The Quattroporte has four doors, which mostly only you as its owner will know. Except for those chrome door handles, Maserati blew a chance, there, to make it look like a coupe, although the GTS does it right with body-colored handles. Gazers will have to count the door handles to recognize the QP as a sedan, causing them to do a double-take when they get to four. A sedan! That's all another way of staying the styling is ever so subtly sleek.
It's long, with a wheelbase of 120.6 inches, but when you look at the car, all you see is a beautiful long hood. However from the driver's seat, the hood doesn't look long at all, and that's quite a great trick.
That open oval grille, with a notch at the top for distinction, and puckered out like Sophia Loren offering a kiss, is stunning whether with the chrome bars or black mesh. We're partial to the racy black mesh, of course. And in the center of the grille there is the Maserati Trident (the best-looking emblem in cardom, even cooler than Jaguar's leaping cat).
The small horizontal headlights are perfectly tidy, and make it all look so easy. Same with the fascia under the grille and the air intakes. The three portholes behind the front wheels aren't functional, but they look cool; we'd be tempted to say they're reminiscent of the classic 1955 Buick Roadmaster, except the ports are much better done, with three instead of four, trapezoidal instead of round, and closer together.
Unlike a BMW, which feels the need to sculpt swoops and scallops in its search for eternal beauty, the Maserati is smooth. And it works. There's nothing plain about the Quattroporte, but nothing gratuitous; and don't call us on those ports. The QP is simply the cleanest sedan with style that we can think of. Or maybe the most stylish sedan with clean lines.
The standard 18-inch wheels are 11 spokes. The optional 19-inch wheels are beautiful tapered nine-spokes, wagon wheels honed to fine art, and the 20-inch wheels are thicker seven-spokes.
There's very little overhang behind the rear wheels (or ahead of the front wheels), but again, there's mystery to that reality. You don't notice the short deck until you look for it, although you might notice the strategically placed Maserati emblem on the coupe-ish C-pillar. The tail is totally clean, no lip or spoiler, which makes you wonder if it's all true what they say about lips and spoilers being necessary to keep a car planted to the pavement at high speed. The Quattroporte can do 170 mph, and runs at 130 or more on motorways in Europe, a lot.
The taillights are kind of (forgive us) Acura-looking, but the smooth bumper fascia and cool double twin exhaust tips that peek from holes in that fascia make up for it. And right there above the license plate, in neat chrome script, it clearly says it all: Maserati.
Interiors aren't quite as tangible as exterior styling, so the Italian edge in visual sensuality goes away a bit. It comes down to materials, and even though one might say that cows are cows, leather isn't always necessarily just leather. The Italians do a good job there, too. Shoes, anyone?
With nine possible colors of leather and six types of wood, if you order your Quattroporte, you can go crazy weighing your decision. Isn't that 54 possibilities? Oh, wait, more than that, because you can order two-tone seats. Our test QP was medium brown, with the optional Rosewood trim, and what's not to like? Although photos of the black leather with red stitching, and Black Piano wood trim, look hot. Then there are the light tones. We're glad we don't have to make this decision.
Our upgraded steering wheel came in dark Rosewood, three wide spokes with leather on the inside, beginning at 2 and 10 o'clock with nubs for your thumbs and wrapping all the way around the bottom. You can hang your thumbs there and still reach the big shifter paddles with your little fingers; the left paddle downshifts, right paddle upshifts. But chrome trim on the black aluminum paddles? Really, now.
Maserati misses on the ergonomics of the turn signal stalk, which is stubby and too hard to reach beyond the paddle shifter.
The steering wheel has controls, but they're as confusing as an Italian election, at least to us. Right thumb does the radio, whose reception isn't as strong as many low-cost cars we test. But we liked the mute button located there. There's another button on the steering wheel that says INFO, but despite repeated pressing no information appeared in any little windows on the instrument panel. However we're sure that somewhere, deep in the manual, is the info required to learn how to operate the INFO button.
The gas mileage computer is crazy, as it calculates the range based on your mileage in the previous mile or so. This results in readings like we got: after some hot driving, our distance to empty was 98 miles. We then drove 26 miles at an easy pace, and the distance to empty magically grew to 277 miles. The overall mileage will be somewhere around 15 mpg, which doesn't seem that low, but low enough that the QP gets hit with a $2600 U.S. Gas Guzzler Tax.
Tuning the radio is not intuitive. Too many knobs require too many moves resulting in too much distraction to get where you want to go with the radio, even after you learn the drill. Our Quattroporte had a navigation system but no disc, so we couldn't test it.
The gauges in front of the driver are nice, having a blue background with white notches around the rim of the speedometer on the left and tachometer (redline 7500!) on the right, both with that Trident sign again, just to remind you of your Maserati-ness, as if you could forget. Between them is a window about three inches wide and five inches long, for a digital clock, temperature, date, odometer, transmission gear and radio station. There are also oil and water temperature gauges, with red needles, same as the speedo and tach. Those white notches within the gauges turn lime green at night. Now write your own sentence in this space. We're kind of at a loss, unable to say "lime green" and "Maserati" in the same sentence.
Our dashboard was a dull black leather that also covered the tops of the doors, and switched to a lush brown at the glovebox. There were nice leather handles to close the doors, but the levers to open the doors were only big enough for two or three fingers.
The wood-paneled center stack is topped by vents and a football-shaped analog clock, under which is the navigation screen over a CD slot. On each side of the screen are four buttons, controlling sport and snow modes, stability control off, door locks, sunscreen and a couple other things. Below that are three more panels of buttons with arrows aiming in all four directions, having to do with setup stuff, and below that is the climate control with 19 buttons. Get out that manual, baby.
The shift lever is a wonderful wooden knob with the Maserati emblem. The parking brake is a button that flips up, as the brake sets automatically. There are two small cupholders and nice door pockets.
The headliner and pillars are covered in a classy beige suede. There are grab handles over the three passenger doors, with more chrome trim that makes them look like suitcase handles. Up at the sunroof there are more buttons, and that's also where the optional tire pressure monitor lives, not exactly the most noticeable position.
The seats are firm and quite comfortable, with bolstering and contours that lean toward luxury over sport. Through the windshield, the car actually has a cab-forwardish feel, at least to our senses, which is paradoxical considering how long the hood is; it must be the slope.
The rear seat offers good legroom. The fifth passenger gets a hard bench with a tunnel between his or her ankles, and that's no fun, but two back-seat passengers should be just fine.
The best driving impressions of the Quattroporte come at 90 miles per hour. It lives to zoom up there. Does that make it a better European car than American? Well, yes. Aren't all European high-speed sedans better to drive in Europe? But not necessarily. Go find some curves, and you'll come home very happy.
The 4.2-liter, 90-degree V8 engine is new, with double overhead cams and aluminum block and heads. It makes 400 horsepower at 7000 rpm, and 339 pound-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. Those are strong numbers, although the QP isn't trying to be a BMW M5 or Mercedes C43 AMG, which have more power. However, the Quattroporte beats the horsepower of the BMW 750i (367 hp), Mercedes S550 (388 hp), and Audi A8 (335 hp). In torque, it's Mercedes, BMW, Maserati and Audi, in that order.
The Maserati engine loves to rev, and it sings at higher rpm. It doesn't rev particularly quickly, but it's so incredibly sweet up around 6000 rpm. And unlike some V8s (the AMG Mercedes for example), it doesn't sound under-stressed, as if the redline is set too low; no, the Maserati screams like 7500 rpm is indeed the limit. This is a good thing. It makes you feel like you're using all your car, and leaves you fulfilled.
The V8's 339 pound-feet of torque is certainly healthy, but because it comes at 4250 rpm, you need to use the transmission more. Maserati says that 75 percent of that torque is available at 2500 rpm, but we found ourselves climbing a hill at 70 mph and 2100 rpm in sixth gear, and when we put our foot down without downshifting, it didn't exactly zoom. The QP can manage such lazy acceleration, it's just that the sweet engine deserves a downshift.
At 90 miles per hour, the Quattroporte rises to a new level of performance, and inspires a new level of confidence. When you get there, you go: Wow, this is where this car belongs. The feel of the engine at those speeds is sensational. Sweet is the word that keeps coming back. More S words: silky, smooth, sensual. While still being visceral. Silky and visceral is a combination that's so very rare. Italian passion pulls it off.
The electronically controlled twin wishbone suspension, which Maserati calls Skyhook, is excellent. Sensors monitor wheel and chassis movement and make shock absorber adjustments, 10 times faster than some other systems, claims Maserati. It uses anti-dive and anti-squat geometry, to keep the nose and tail level under braking and acceleration. There's a Normal and Sport mode, and they responded appropriately, during casual driving and when we did a 100-mile run over some of our favorite curves through a remote forest in the Pacific Northwest.
We drove the QP over a lot of different surfaces, and found no harsh spots nor soft spots, and that's saying a lot. We drove it hard over twisty bumpy roads, and on the freeway over familiar bumps that jar other cars, for example the Mercedes C43 AMG. The precision of the chassis in those corners gives you the same kind of satisfaction that the engine gives you at 6000 rpm.
The QP is a mostly a driver's car, but, unlike some other good driver's cars, it won't get you in trouble unless you mess up, not merely when you make a small error, like some good driver's cars.
The steering is quick and precise, although with a car this size, it's never going to feel like a go-kart. Still, you have to pay attention, or else you might find the car wandering. The balance is exceptional, with a weight distribution of 49/51, mostly because the engine is located behind the front axle, a touch farther back than the BMW 7 Series, a few inches farther back than the Mercedes S-Class, and way farther back than the Audi A8.
That said, the turning circle of 40.4 feet isn't exactly sharp. But around town, it's as easy to drive as a Celica. Except, sometimes when you pull out from a standstill, when the wheels are turned, the rear tires snatch. It feels like they're biting or slipping, and the rough spot is disconcerting.
The six-speed manual automatic transmission is great. It's programmed to allow the driver to make his own decisions. It will short shift, for example, allowing an upshift under hard throttle at rpm's well under redline. In automatic mode, in fact, when you're accelerating and you lift off the throttle, it will upshift. That's the total opposite of many such transmissions, and sort of proves a point we often make: there is no right or wrong technique, there's only what the driver wants.
You can make some aggressive downshifts with the paddle shifters, more aggressive than most transmissions will allow. The QP transmission will even take a downshift into first, to help slow the car to a stop, and that's fairly rare. The engine growls nicely during the downshift into second, but it's not programmed to rev-match by an automatic blip of the throttle. In some other cars, that's fun, and contributes to smoother downshifts.
The Sport mode makes the shifts more aggressive, although we found, as we often do, that Sport mode only really makes much sense when you're also in Manual mode. The kickdowns, whether in Sport or Normal, are smooth.
It didn't seem like the brakes on our Quattroporte were up to the capabilities of the engine and suspension and its 4,400-pound weight. They're Brembos, the best, with big 13-inch ventilated rotors and four-piston calipers, but they're not up to the performance of the brakes on last year's Sport GT, which benefitted from cross-drilled rotors and braided steel brake lines. We called a Maserati dealer, and asked the service department if the lines might be changed to braided steel, and the answer was yes.
The Maserati Quattroporte Automatica is an exceptional luxury sports sedan, totally and beautifully Italian in its character. Its 400-horsepower, high-revving V8 is a sweet and sensual engine, feeling different than the BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar. The car's cornering is precise and satisfying, thanks largely to its 51/49 balance, and the six-speed manual automatic transmission with paddle shifters obeys the driver.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Columbia River Valley.
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