A couple of months after the launch of the V-8-engined Quattroporte GTS, Maserati will introduce the entry-level Quattroporte S powered by a new turbocharged V-6 engine. Maserati's entry level is still a pretty lofty level, with a price tag of just over $100,000, a 410-hp powerplant, and the same XXL footprint that measures 207 inches in length and 77 inches in width. Even with only six cylinders and 3.0 liters of displacement, the lesser Modenese luxury liner can keep up with such V8-engined rivals as the Audi A8 4.0 TFSI quattro, the BMW 750i xDrive, and the Mercedes-Benz S500 4Matic. "That's my point, exactly," emphasizes a beaming Harald Wester, who runs the Maserati brand and is the senior engineer of the Fiat Car Group. "The new Quattroporte combines V-8 performance with V-6 fuel economy. The four-wheel-drive model accelerates in 4.9 seconds from 0-62 mph, reaches a maximum speed of 177 mph and averages 27 mpg [in the European combined cycle]. Thanks to the better traction, the all-wheel-drive version is 0.2 seconds quicker off the mark than its rear-wheel-drive counterpart." So why can't we have all-wheel drive with the V-8 GTS? "It's a packaging issue," explains Wester. "But we are looking at it."
Developed with and built by Ferrari, the 3.0-liter Quattroporte S V-6 ticks four vital boxes: it spins freely to 6000 rpm, its torque plateau extends from 1750 to 5000 rpm, it delivers an ambitious 410 hp, and it sounds as if it had been trained by Pavarotti. The eight-speed autobox -- which is shared with the GTS -- offers five different drive programs. Auto and manual will run in normal or sport mode, the latter ensuring faster shifts at higher revs, a quicker throttle response, and a more spine-tingling soundtrack above 3000 rpm. Push the I.C.E. button (for increased control and efficiency), and the drivetrain will operate with pursed lips for improved comfort, fuel economy, and stability. A mechanical limited-slip differential is standard.
Grab the wheel
The Quattroporte S will be offered both with rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, but the latter version has several advantages even beyond traction and grip. The real issues here are handling, steering, and roadholding. Although its front wheels have no propulsion duties, the steering in the rear-wheel-drive car disappoints. It feels more detached and artificial than in the rear-wheel-drive GTS, its weighting is on the light side, and the feedback deteriorates ever so slightly as you wind on more lock. Perhaps the most serious flaw is the disturbing counter-action: when you turn the wheel, the wheel nudges back once it has reached the desired steering angle. Although we applaud Maserati's decision not to install an electro-mechanical system, this hydraulic setup manages to feel strangely passive and noncommittal. In the Q4, the same steering does a more convincing job. It is better connected, more responsive, and more linear. True, at times there is a trace of torque steer being transferred to the palms, but you don't mind because this is more about information than about interference. The on-center communication is more detailed, too, and the weighting is nicely progressive which means that the haptic signals remain intact even through tight corners and sudden lane changes.
Without Q4, the Quattroporte S fails to shine in certain dynamic departments. We already mentioned the steering, and we should also point out the early ESP intervention in tight corners, as well as the skyhook suspension, which tends to be more sky than hook on undulated pavement. In the Q4, these drawbacks pale against the more entertaining handling, the stronger roadholding, and the more aggressively set-up chassis. Body roll, pitch and yaw are now kept much better in check, steering response and throttle action are quite a bit sharper, and the active torque distribution helps to maintain a sportier flow.
To confirm early impressions, we compared both versions on the Balacco handling circuit with the former F1 driver Ivan Capelli first at the helm and then in the passenger seat. Comments Capelli: "Although it is purely rear-wheel-drive above 100 mph, Q4 transforms the Quattroporte. On the track at least, it feels like a different car altogether." There is no doubt about it: the Q4 is the more transparent tool, the more rewarding to drive, and the faster car by some margin. Whereas on damp pavement the rear-wheel-drive model struggles to put down its maximum torque of 406 pound-feet, its all-wheel-drive sibling distributes the twist action among all four wheels in a fluid and homogenous motion. Normally, the Q4 entertains a 70 percent rear-wheel bias, which increases to 90 percent above 80 mph. As soon as the traction control chip senses a trace of slippage, however, the torque is split at an even 50/50 percent. Through a wet hairpin, you may even encounter a brief front-wheel-drive bias. It's this active yet subtle juggling of forces which makes the Q4 so much fun to modulate at the limit.
The ride comfort varies between reasonable and acceptable, depending on whether the vehicle is shod with 19, 20, or 21-inch rubber. A sport button firms up the dampers; push it, and the chassis will tighten its muscles, a move which is further enhanced by the optional 21-inchers fitted to both test cars. Although the brakes show zero carbon-ceramic content, they have a relatively easy time decelerating the 4233-pound S Q4, which is slightly heavier than the V-8, but still light for this class.
Compared with the GTS, the S Q4 is 0.2 seconds behind in the sprint from 0 to 62 mph, and its top speed is 15 mph below the V-8 car's. Predictably, there is also a difference in fuel consumption, but that swings in favor of the twin-turbo 3.0-liter engine (although neither model yet has EPA estimates). The V-8 whips up more mid-range torque, it zooms ahead with even greater urge above 125 mph, and its vocal talent is adept at raising goose pimples, but we would still write our check for the S Q4, which is not only more affordable but also better balanced overall.
Speaking of writing a check, we come to the key drawback of the Quattroporte S Q4: the bullish asking price -- $106,900 in the U.S. market. And even at that price, the Quattroporte is not exactly rich with driver assistance systems. Since similar money buys a V-8 in an A8, a 7-series, and an S-class, so why should luxury-car buyers spend its cash on the Maserati? "Because it is better equipped, significantly roomier, and the much more emotional choice," answers Herr Wester. "Even more to the point, it makes for a very special driving experience."
What makes this car compelling is its ambience: the cool and classy cockpit, the generous packaging, the wealth of wood and leather, the italianitá that successfully defines the style and the craftsmanship. Would we put our money down for la nuova Quattroporte? Maybe, but we'd first want to try the upcoming new Ghibli. If that car lacks space and that special sense of the occasion, the Quattroporte S Q4 might be a viable alternative -- at least to the likes of a Jaguar XJR, a Lexus LS600, and a Bentley Flying Spur.
2014 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4
|On Sale:||Summer 2013|
|Engine:||3.0L twin-turbo V-6, 410 hp, 406 lb-ft|
|Curb Weight:||4233 lb|