I have a long history with the Quattroporte. When I first drove the Quattroporte, during its introductory media event in Florence, Italy, in March 2004, I was amazed by the styling, the energetic V-8 engine borrowed from Ferrari, the oh-so-Italian interior, and the handling, which led me and others to call the Quattroporte “the four-door Ferrari.” I was not so impressed by the paddle-shifted semi-automatic manual transmission, which was extremely jerky in urban driving, with unacceptably long, rough upshifts. It was clear then that Maserati knew that the transmission would be unacceptable for many American buyers, as the QP’s engineering team was interrogating the U.S. press corps for its reactions to the gearbox. The DuoSelect was great when you were driving the car at its limits on hilly Tuscan roads, I told them, but it wasn’t going to fly with the country club set who would buy the car in America.
Maserati, which along with Ferrari is a separate entity within Fiat, has never stopped working on the Quattroporte over the past five and a half years. In spring 2006, I drove another version of the car in Modena, at the company’s headquarters. Although it was still saddled with the DuoSelect, company officials bragged that the shift times had been lessened and it operated more smoothly. This was only a slight improvement, and by then it was common knowledge that the QP was soon to get a proper automatic transmission, a six-speed ZF unit used for years by BMW.
In January 2007, I finally drove a QP with the ZF automatic, in Monte Carlo. From the first moment my codriver and I pulled away from the Hotel de Paris, it was clear that the new gearbox finally transformed the Quattroporte into a big-bucks luxury sedan that could truly compete with the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the BMW 7-Series, the Jaguar XJ, and the Audi A8. There was and is nothing revolutionary about the six-speed ZF (in fact, most of the aforementioned competitors have moved on to more sophisticated gearboxes), but it does what it needs to do, which is to provide smooth, relatively seamless shifts when the Quattroporte’s driver wants only to drive in automatic mode.
Now here we are in the summer of 2009, and the Quattroporte has evolved into three distinct models after last fall’s facelift: the base car, still powered by the 4.2-liter V-8; the 4.7S, which was our test car, with a new 4.7-liter version of the V-8, and the Sport GT-S, also powered by the 4.7-liter V-8 but with a sportier suspension and a bit more horsepower. I drew the straw to drive our test car over the long July 4th weekend.
When my friend Charley and I started loading up the Quattroporte 4.7S with a cooler, luggage, and enough fancy food and wine to cook several meals for our hosts in Leelanau County, Michigan, we quickly realized that the trunk wasn’t nearly big enough to hold all of our stuff. My roll-on bag was relegated to the rear seat, and the rear footwells were filled with briefcases, backpacks, and the like.
Joe DeMatio cont
Settling into the driver’s seat, I appreciated the cavity in the driver’s door that held my cell phone and a couple other small items. The two cup holders in the center console accommodated our insulated mugs fine, but the lid for the console storage compartment was very difficult to open, and I kept wondering if I was breaking it when I pried it open. We discovered an iPod connector in the glove compartment that linked easily to the superb stereo.
From the driver’s seat, the ergonomics are pretty good. The shift paddles are positioned in exactly the right place and are clearly labeled “down” on the left and “up” on the right. They are delicate little things that feel great in your grasp. The steering wheel itself is rich looking and has redundant volume controls. It took me a while to figure out the cruise control, which is operated via the turn-signal stalk, but once I did, it worked great. The stereo and navigation screen interface is not particularly intuitive to use, although I’m sure an owner would figure it out soon enough. The whole interior ambience is appropriately rich and Italian; you would never mistake the QP’s cabin for, say, a German car’s.
We both found the front seats to be very comfortable over several hours, and rear-seat passengers discovered that their thrones had a power recline function. One friend who rode back there also found controls in the center rear armrest that enabled him to move the front passenger’s seat forward, a neat trick for people who will be chauffeured in the QP.
But you won’t want to be chauffeured in this car; you’ll want to drive it yourself. The steering, the handling, the braking, and the body control are all exemplary. Dig deep into the accelerator pedal, and you’re rewarded with the wonderful high-pitched scream of this high-revving V-8, which has auditory characteristics that are far sportier than any of the QP’s German competition. To make the most of the V-8, you push the gearshifter into its side slot and either shift it manually in that gate or use the paddles; either way, there’s nothing like being in third gear in this car at 70 or 80 mph. It might not be as fast or as powerful as a Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, but it’s got more soul.
Although most of my time in the Quattroporte was spent on Michigan freeways, I was able to have some fun on Leelanau County’s back roads, reaching three-digit speeds and giving my three passengers a bit of a thrill. Everyone who encountered this car, among them friends who have seen me in all manner of expensive automobiles, went ga-ga for the Maserati. Our hosts, flying in from California, were absolutely delighted to be picked up at the Traverse City airport in it and tried to convince me to leave it with them for the duration of their vacation. This car is really still a rare sight in Michigan, and especially in Northern Michigan. Lots of people who wouldn’t have given an S-class or a 7-series a second glance were craning their necks and doing double takes.
There’s a simple reason for this, other than the Maserati’s relative rarity: it’s absolutely gorgeous. And it’s amazing that, more than five years after it went on sale, it looks as fresh and sexy and hot and Italian as ever. The fact that it’s an absolute blast to drive is just icing.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
After Mr. DeMatio had his fill of back roads, he met me at the airport – where I was arriving and he was departing – so that I could drive the Maserati back to its dealer in Troy, Mich.
Lugging the weekend’s worth of luggage my girlfriend I and had taken to New York, I popped open the trunk and was surprised to find a rather shallow space. It would have been decent for a coupe, but isn’t so hot in a full-size sedan. After dropping DeMatio off at his terminal in plenty of time for his flight to Korea, we spent no less than fifteen minutes figuring out a navigation system that can only be called eccentric.
That aside, what’s relevant here is that even after five years, the Quattroporte is still the best-looking sedan on the planet, and likely will remain such until the Fisker Karma comes out – and its range-extending hybrid powertrain won’t sound nearly as terrific. Not many cars get stares and wondering comments when you’re just pulling into Panera Bread to get some coffee. And of course, it’s a performer. I had a brief chance to push the car on some back roads a week earlier and was amazed at the way the 4389-pound sedan shrank around the steering wheel. What a contrast with our long-wheelbase BMW 7-series, which never lets you forget how far its caboose sits from the driver.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
As I approached the Quattroporte on the second floor of the parking structure, I noticed a couple of twenty-something guys circling it. When I hit the key fob to unlock the doors, they looked a little startled and started heading off sheepishly. Then one of them turned around, walked over to me, and said, “Seeing that car made our day. Thanks!” Now, we’ve had some pretty impressive cars in our test fleet, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had anyone thank me just for letting them look at a car in a public parking lot. And that should tell you something about the Quattroporte. On paper, its competitors are the Mercedes S-class and the BMW 7-series (in their most uplevel trims), but in real life the Maserati has a cachet that those two cars — as good as they are — just can’t match.
The cachet isn’t just about the exterior styling (although it is quite lovely), extending to the way you feel when you lower yourself into the extremely comfortable driver’s seat. Everything about the car seems to cosset the driver. The Quattroporte’s interior is full of lovely materials and exudes the warmth of the Italian character. As for driving, my time behind the wheel was short and sweet, but the engine accelerates swiftly and smoothly, and the handling is commendable. All in all, a lovely place to spend some time.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Base price (with destination): $130,150
Price as Tested: $135,350
Alcantara headlining $1750
Brake calipers painted $750
Paddle shift $1350
Piping color $350
Mahogany interior trim $1000
12 / 18 / 15 mpg
Size: 4.7L V-8
Horsepower: 425 hp @ 7,000 rpm
Torque: 361 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm
Weight: 4389 lb
19 x 8.5-in front; 19 x 10.5-in rear alloy wheels
245/40ZR19 front; 285/35ZR19 rear Pirelli PZero Rosso tires