Road Tests

Italian Ice: Exploring Maserati’s Winter Driving Program in the 2018 Ghibli, Levante, and Quattroporte

A snowy play date in the Alps

COURMAYEUR, Italy – Ask for Filippo when you get to Maserati’s Ice Proving Ground in Cervinia, about 55 miles from the ski resort town of Courmayeur, Italy. He’ll let you turn off the traction and stability control, all the better to slide one of the two Maserati Levantes around this tight track in the Aosta Valley, just on the other side of the Swiss border from Zermatt.

Free rein lets you handle the studded Pirelli Scorpion-shod Levante around the snowy 0.56-mile track like a semipro rally driver, taking care not to slam the SUV into the tall snowbanks into which the track is carved or into the other Levante at the figure eight-ish’s convergence, as that other vehicle on the track might be lapping slower with all its nannies on if Filippo is not its driver’s minder. At least, that was the case when we rallied ’round the circuit.

You can hang out the tail for a near-perfect drift around the second ice circle. Choose manual control and paddle the gears, and you’ll mostly stick to second, with a few short spurts in third. Then it’s up the short-shoot to the left-hairpin leading to the start-stop line, a hairpin I never nailed on my four laps of two runs, Fillipo noting that I had tried turning in too early on each attempt.

Few Maserati owners and enthusiasts on the company’s 2017-18 Winter Tour slid the automaker’s cars much at all during the Tour, which had finished up when auto journalists were let loose to do their worst. The Tour took a small fleet of Maserati Levantes, Quattroportes, and Ghiblis to Courmayeur and Ortisei in Italy; Gstaad, Crans-Montana, and St. Moritz in Switzerland; Saalfelden, Austria; and Baqueira, Spain. Appropriate for the brand, the St. Moritz Winter Drive coincided with the Snow Polo World Cup, which as its name suggests involves polo ponies on snow.

It’s impossible to separate the Maserati Quattroporte, Ghibli and Levante from their country of origin stereotypes as somewhat rascally, care-free alternatives to their Mercedes-Benz and BMW counterparts. Like Jaguar and Cadillac, Maserati is now an upstart competitor issuing a fresh challenge to proven and staid Benzes and Bimmers.

I didn’t take the Quattroporte or Ghibli on the Cervinia Ice Proving Ground. Instead, I drove the sedans on narrow, twisty mountain roads outside Courmayeur, with a coffee stop in the charming mountaintop town of Castello, and then back down toward Courmayeur but stopping in the Medieval village and the castle Fort di Bard, which for our group of over-our-budget auto hacks included a lavish lunch that lasted nearly as long as the drive. There are no bad meals, and very few quick ones, in Italy.

My drive partner and I were lucky to draw the only Maserati Quattroporte Gran Sport for the drive from Courmayeur to Castello. It’s the one with the 530-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8 and comes with rear-wheel-drive only, which seems an anathema for snow- and slush-covered roads. This reinforces what we already know: all you need are winter tires. In this case, they’re Pirelli Scorpions—unstudded, unlike the Ice Proving Ground Levantes’.

With dynamic control in “sport” and paddle shifters engaged, the QP’s stability control allows for nice, gentle tail-slides as you straighten the car coming out of the hairpins. The new-for-2018 electronic power-assisted steering stiffens up in “sport,” feeding in a bit of road grain-feel into the wheel, but on the mountain roads there was no noticeable difference in the suspension stiffness in these turns. The Quattroporte is a big, powerful autoroute-pounder like the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series, and delivers its 530 horsepower very smoothly, with nearly imperceptible upshifts from its eight-speed ZF automatic. Even with its crisp steering and minimal understeer, the QP feels like a car with size that must be reckoned with in these parts.

Maserati says 80-percent of Quattroportes sold worldwide (about 35,000 last year) are either the sporty high-trim RWD GranSport like my tester or the ultra-lux RWD or AWD GranLusso, both of which were added in a 2017 model year facelift. That facelift included new bumper designs and a grille with active shutters.

Beside the addition of electric power steering, the 2018 model added adaptive full LED headlamps, a new Integrated Vehicle Control system developed with Bosch, and added to the optional Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS), highway assist, lane-keeping assist, active blind spot assist and traffic sigh recognition. There’s a nice, subtle Ermenegildo Zegna mulberry silk interior trim option, which includes seat and door inserts. The twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 (not available in the GranSport) gains 20 horses and 15 pound-feet for 430 hp and 480 lb-ft.

Maserati says the Quattroporte’s ADAS system amounts to Level II autonomy, though the car remains, somewhat charmingly, behind the S-Class/7 Series state-of-the-art. There’s no head-up display, for example, and the center-stack controls are far less cluttered than the Germans’. Drive it yourself.

If you want “sport sedan,” whatever that means these days, you must downsize to the Maserati Ghibli, a car that has suffered some not-undue criticism for its Chrysler 300 roots. Whereas the Quattroporte is the paragon of understated Old World class, with rich, subtle woodgrain appliques inside, along with nicely padded touchpoints and high-quality leather, the Ghibli still gets a bit plastic-y at points, especially from the back seat.

But on the roads to and from Castello, its tighter, large-midsize stance really pays off. All Ghiblis available for this Winter Drive were equipped with the 3.0-liter V-6 and AWD, making for some fun runs up and down the mountain road even as one Italian grandmother watched us disapprovingly from the edge of her driveway, just past a switchback’s apex. The Ghibli handles the switchbacks like a much smaller car than the Quattroporte. Maserati’s Intelligent All-Wheel Drive standard on the Levante and available on the Ghibli and Quattroporte is 100-percent RWD in most situations, and can switch to 50/50 max in 100 milleseconds.

Model year 2018 Maserati Ghibli changes and updates mirror the Quattroporte’s, including electronic power-assisted steering, adaptive full-LED headlamps, the Integrated Vehicle Control and enhancements to the optional ADAS system, and the V-6 engine’s power and torque upgrades for the Ghibli S and SQ4. The new Ghibli also features a subtle exterior facelift.

After lunch at Forte di Bard, I took a relatively leisurely 52-mile drive back to the Grand Hotel Royal e Golf in Courmayeur from behind the wheel of a Quattroporte GranLusso Q4. To stave off a potential pasta coma, I tried the lane-departure control, which worked as expected, though it was by no means cutting edge. It gently bumps you back into your lane if you edge too close to the markings. Everything feels smooth in these cars.

The next day, a few of us indulged in downhill skiing (well, two snowboarders and me) on Courmayeur, with the much taller Mont Blanc in the nearby background. All but a couple-hundred feet at the top of a 5,118-foot vertical drop was covered in thick fog … let’s just say I could have used some LEDs and a lane-departure control of my own.

2018 Maserati Levante SQ4 Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $84,250/$98,550 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/430 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 438 lb-ft @ 4,500 to 5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 16/20 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 197.0 x 77.5 x 66.1 in
WHEELBASE 118.3 in
WEIGHT 4,649 lb
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A

 

2018 Maserati Quattroporte GTS GranSport

ON SALE Now
PRICE  $137,970
ENGINE 3.8L twin-turbochargedDOHC 32-valve  V-8/530 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 480 lb-ft @ 2,000-4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 15/22 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 207.2 x 76.7 x 58.3 in
WHEELBASE 124.8 in
WEIGHT 4,189 lb
0-60 MPH 5.0
TOP SPEED 179

 

2018 Maserati Ghibli S Q4

ON SALE Now
PRICE $82,060
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/404 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 405 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 16/23 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 195.7 x 76.6 x 57.5 in
WHEELBASE 118.0 in
WEIGHT 4,122 lb
0-60 MPH 4.7 sec
TOP SPEED 176 mph

 

2018 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4

ON SALE Now
PRICE $112,920
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/350 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 428 lb-ft @ 2,250-4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 16/23 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 207.2 x 76.7 x 58.3 in
WHEELBASE 124.8 in
WEIGHT 4,233 lb
0-60 MPH N/A
TOP SPEED N/A

 

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