NEW AND FUTURE CARS: First Drive: 2009 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S

By - February 19, 2009
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Maserati is on a roll. 2008 was the company's best year ever, with a rather impressive 8586 sales worldwide. North America sucked up 2666 of those deliveries, a 1.1% increase compared to 2007. That's pretty extraordinary considering the economic collapse that came about during latter part of 2008. The Quattroporte sedan made up 3383 of the total 2008 worldwide sales, bumping the total number of fifth-generation four-doors sold over the 15,000 mark. To fully appreciate that last number, you have to remember that Maserati only sold 53 of the third-generation 1987-1990 Quattroporte and 825 of the 1998-2002 fourth-generation model.
Part of the success of the Quattroporte is due to Maserati's continued development of the car throughout its product cycle. When we first drove the Italian four-door, we complained about the cumbersome DuoSelect automated manual transmission. The company listened and finally introduced a ZF-supplied conventional six-speed automatic transmission in early 2007. We also asked for larger, more powerful brakes and our wish was granted with an interesting dual-cast aluminum hub/iron rotor option supplied by Brembo. In the March 2007 issue of Automobile Magazine, European bureau chief George Kacher wrote the Maserati should install the larger, 4.7-liter V-8 used in the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione in the Quattroporte. Like magic, a slightly detuned, 425-hp version was installed in the 2009 Quattroporte S while the standard Quattroporte continued on with the 400-hp, 4.2-liter V-8.
New for 2009 is the installation of the larger engine into the sportiest Quattroporte, the Sport GT S. This slightly more powerful, stiffer, and more driver-focused sedan was more than enough reason to hop on a plane to Modena, Italy.
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Exterior Design
All Quattroporte models received a light facelift for the 2009 model year, giving the car a closer resemblance to the two-door Gran Turismo. Not that this Italian sedan needed an update--it was still one of the most gorgeous four-door cars on the planet. The changes included a new grille and front bumper as well as larger headlights with a strip of LEDs. Additionally, new taillights were fitted along with beefier side sills. The GT S model builds on these changes and focuses on a more sporty appearance. The ride height is lowered by just over a half an inch in front and just under a half an inch in the rear. The front grille is now concave and finished in black. The headlights gain black detailing as well. Twenty-inch, eighteen-spoke wheels are also fitted along with large oval exhaust pipes instead of the twin-tips found on each side of other Quattroporte models. Overall, the changes make the car look even more aggressive, though the seven-spoke wheels from the old 4.2-liter GT S model are more befitting of the overall design theme of the sedan than the new alloys. Luckily, the old style wheels are offered as a $775 option.
Interior Design
Inside, an Alcantara and leather mix is used on the steering wheel and on the more aggressive seats. Larger shift paddles, still attached to the column, are fitted as well. The GT S also utilizes the Bose Multimedia System like other 2009 Quattroporte models. This setup was first seen in the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and offers an impressive interface for the integrated radio, digital media, navigation, and telephone functions. The interior works well overall, though some of the plastics--and especially those on the shift paddles--aren't quite as high-quality as we'd like for a car costing nearly $140,000. Buyers expect an aluminum or magnesium paddle setup with leather trim in a car in this price range. The Quattroporte may not offer the vast interior space of a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but other than lamenting the size of the trunk, four adult passengers won't be complaining about room.
Powertrain
The big news from the powertrain isn't the slight bump in horsepower, it's the sound. Yes, the Ferrari-supplied 4.7-liter engine gains 8 hp compared to the Quattroporte S for a total of 433 hp and now redlines at 7200 rpm (up 200 revs), but a push of the sport button on the dash unleashes an exotic engine note straight from the gods. Sure, the Mercedes S63 AMG and Audi S8 sound good--really good--but flooring the Maserati is like turning the volume up to eleven. In normal mode, the exhaust gases are routed through a longer track in the rear mufflers. The Maser sedan still emits beautiful music in this setting but it's pretty quiet and, most importantly, comfortable for normal driving. The sport mode dumps the exhaust through a more direct, less restrictive channel. The resulting sound is among the best of any production car on the road. The V-8 song echoing off the historic buildings is perfect for the car-crazy country like Italy, but be prepared for angry neighbors back in the States if you leave it in sport mode. In typical (and glorious) Italian fashion, if you had the car in sport mode when you shut the car off, it defaults back to that mode upon restart. You just have to love the Italians.
All this southern European madness is still hitched to one of the best automatic transmissions in the business. Those who preach the brilliance of the dual-clutch transmission haven't spent enough time in car equipped with ZF's six-speed automatic. It combines the smoothness of a torque converter in low-speed driving with positive, ultra-quick shifts when driven briskly. In the Quattroporte Sport GT S, this gearbox is also tuned--if both sport and manual mode is selected--to never upshift automatically. You can bang the engine against its rev limiter at will. Additionally, it won't downshift automatically when you bury the throttle pedal to the floor. It's a setup obviously engineered by a proper group of enthusiasts.
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Chassis
Other Quattroporte models use an adaptive suspension system, supplied by Boge, called Skyhook. The GT S model dumps that setup in favor of single-rate Bilstein dampers and springs that are stiffened some 28% in front and 7% in the rear. Buyers may specify the Skyhook system as a $3200 option on the GT S if they prefer, but we're not sure why you'd want to--the Bilstein system's handling benefits handily outweigh any degradation of ride quality. The standard twenty-inch wheels featured grippy Pirelli P Zero tires (245/35YR-20 in front and 295/30YR-20 in back) on our test car. Maserati also made slight adjustments to the steering system calibration to match the other chassis modifications.
Driving
To get straight to the point, the Quattroporte GT S is brilliant. It carries the extroverted, loud, and fast Italian car stereotype perfectly. To drive a car that is this fast and beautiful-sounding through Italy is a treat that we won't soon forget. Yes, we see cars like the Audi S8 and Mercedes S63 AMG as the logical competition to the GT S model but, to be honest, the German models are hot rod specials compared to the Italian masterpiece. They have good, strong engines and stiff suspension, but they don't come close to the chassis balance and raw emotional appeal of the hottest Quattroporte. Driven quickly on the back roads outside of Modena, you'd never guess the four-door weighs nearly 4400 pounds. The front-end grip is spectacular and the car rotates with extreme precision. Rear grip is plentiful as your rocket out of the corners, surely helped by 51% of the weight sitting over the rear axle. In reality, it's best to think of the GT S as a more expensive (and superior, in many ways) alternative to a BMW M5.
Looking at the performance, the Maserati is very quick. The Sport GT S blasts from 0-62 mph in only 5.1 seconds, according to its manufacturer, and the top speed is 177 mph. We had our test car up to around 170 mph on the Italian Autostrada before coming up on slower traffic, and at those very high speeds, the GT S was very smooth and stable.
Even the best cars in the world have faults, and the Quattroporte is no exception. Most importantly, make sure you take the Maser sedan for a test drive before signing the purchase contract. Other than a few shudders through the chassis and steering wheel, the car worked well on the smooth roads in Italy, but ride quality, especially at low speeds, might be a bit rough on crumbling US tarmac. We've never found the Maser to ride exceptionally well, even with the Skyhook setup, though luckily the impressive performance gains of the Bilstein setup don't seem to make things much worse. We also find the steering slightly dead on center. Luckily, it's wonderfully accurate and, in typical Italian style, perfectly weighted once a bit of lock is dialed in. The brakes, a Brembo setup shared with the Quattroporte S, have a similar story. They're powerful and feel fantastic once they bite, but there is an eerie dead spot at the top of travel. This may be something you get used to when driving a GT S every day, but it's still worth noting and was a beef brought up by other journalists during our trip.
Conclusion
Sure, logic has to come into play when it comes to final thoughts on the Quattroporte Sport GT S. Depreciation and reliability have never been a Maserati strong point, but a dealer friend of the magazine tells us that the durability of the Quattroporte improves with each iteration.
But forget about that for a moment because the Quattroporte offers style and blend of driving dynamics that easily makes up for those potential issues. There is a refreshing lack of gadgets in this luxurious sedan--there is no iDrive or MMI-style interface. The GT S suspension offers no adjustment, resulting in a very involved and focused feel. As you approach and then sit in the driver's seat of the Maser, it feels extremely special. You twist a conventional key in the ignition to fire up the glorious V-8 engine, something that brings a simple reward so lacking in the modern keyless starting system. The chassis balance, powerful engine, and brilliant transmission all combine to make it a near-perfect package in this market.
Still not convinced? We dare anyone who is thinking about an S8 or an S63 to give the Quattroporte a chance. Find a twisty road, pop the transmission selector in manual mode, and just drive. Then find a tunnel, an underpass, a wall, anything that will reverberate that engine note at near ear-bleeding levels. You'll be hooked, just like we are.
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2009 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S Specifications
Base price: $138,100
As tested: N/A
Powertrain: 4.7-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8
Horsepower: 433 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 361 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
Measurements
L x W x H: 200.7 x 74.6 x 56.0 in
Wheelbase: 120.6 in
Legroom F/R: N/A
Headroom F/R: N/A
Cargo capacity: 15.9 cu ft
Curb weight: 4387 lbs (manufacturer)
EPA fuel economy: 11 city/18 highway
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