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