Two years ago, when we first drove the Quattroporte in this northern Italian center of automotive and gastronomic culture, Maserati's engineers eagerly and, it would seem, worriedly pulled us aside to elicit our reactions to the car's DuoSelect electrohydraulic transmission. Even as we nibbled the parmigiana-reggiano and sipped the Barolo that our hosts had provided, we had no choice but to tell them that, well, yes, the transmission kinda sucked. In automatic mode in urban driving, the DuoSelect was reluctant to upshift, causing the car to lurch and plod along. And even when manual mode and the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters were employed, gearchanges were annoyingly clumsy. We couldn't imagine that DuoSelect would make many friends among America's country club set, for whom creamy smooth automatic transmissions from Lexus and Mercedes-Benz are as much a part of life as vodka martinis and bottle-blonde updos.
Reacting to the chorus of complaints about DuoSelect, Maserati spent the past two years improving, if not perfecting, the gearbox. Automatic-mode gearchanges now are tidier, and in manual mode in the new Quattroporte Sport GT, they're 35 percent faster. The Sport GT is further distinguished from the "base" $108,350 Quattroporte and the sybaritic, $120,550 Executive GT by its twenty-inch, seven-spoke wheels (245/45 front, 285/30 rear); drilled brake discs; stiffer suspension; blacked-out grille and side air intakes; aluminum pedals; carbon-fiber interior trim; and huskier exhaust note.
With a rear-biased 47/53 percent weight distribution, exquisitely communicative and weighted steering, and, of course, its Ferrari-supplied V-8, the Sport GT dives into corners and rockets along undulating mountain roads like no other sedan this side of a BMW M5. Ask the Quattroporte to behave like a sports car, and it will. But if you want it to mimic a Lexus, you ought to buy a Lexus.
Maserati still needs a proper automatic or semi-automatic transmission, but when its proposed alliance with Audi died, so, too, did the Italians' opportunity to buy VW's superb DSG gearbox. With an improved DuoSelect as a stopgap measure, the Italians have been shopping elsewhere, and a new gearbox is rumored for next year. Just don't expect the new eight-speed Lexus unit.