The Audi also has a separate Tiptronic gate, but once the novelty has worn off, one tends to stick the lever in drive and leave it there until the end of the journey. A similar approach works best for the standard air suspension, which feels too brittle in dynamic mode and occasionally lacks concise body control in comfort mode. In auto mode, the chips sort themselves out. Thanks to the standard Quattro four-wheel-drive system, traction is never an issue.
Despite four-wheel drive and a silky transmission, the A8 falls behind the hard-charging Quattroporte on Tuscany's demanding secondary roads. The Audi is a letdown with its lifeless steering and excessive understeer at the limit. The A8L does not match the Maserati's level of roadholding, nor is it as entertaining. The German car duly goes where you point it and also benefits from more attentive brakes, but on these zigzag, undulating roads, it's just doing its job, and it evidently does not have as much fun doing so. You won't notice a significant difference in attitude until you press on, when the A8L begins to roll more and grip less. Instead of totally committing itself, the aluminum-bodied sedan leaves a bigger margin for error but rarely offers the same degree of tactility and feedback as the new barge on the block. The Bavarian 40-valve, 4.2-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine musters a more moderate 330 horsepower at 6500 rpm, along with 317 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm, which accounts for the more leisurely 0-to-60-mph acceleration time of 7.0 seconds. (The car's top speed in the United States is limited to 129 mph.)
The Quattroporte is a very special, distinctive car that is hardly going to appeal to the mainstream luxury-car buyer. Maserati is aiming to sell up to 2000 in the United States every year, a mere drop in the bucket compared with the 23,000 S-class Mercedes-Benzes, the 20,500 7-series BMWs, or the 4000 Audi A8Ls that find buyers. This is a car for extroverted individuals, people who want something different, a car that occupies a different niche of the premium-luxury market. It's definitely not a passive, intracity express that can be steered with two fingers while the brain is ticking along in neutral. Instead, the Italian highline sedan rewards a driver who has commitment, competence, and consistency. The gearbox and the ride quality are hardly top of the class, but the buyers of this car probably won't care. This is a four-door thoroughbred sports car, a five-seater with the heart of a Ferrari, even if happens to wear a trident badge. You don't have to be a Maserati purist like Angelo to fall for the Quattroporte, but an open-minded, nonconformist attitude certainly helps, as does a squirt of high-octane gasoline in the blood and a little love for all things Italian. Beyond that, you can trust your four-wheeled object of desire to make its own case convincingly.
The Audi comes across as a coat-and-tie automobile for those who prefer not to advertise that they have arrived. Its engine is supersmooth and hush-quiet, its throttle action is progressive instead of instant, and its torque delivery is inconspicuous. The A8L is all about speedy progress, effortless operation, balanced road manners, and strong performance that is supported by a top-class safety net. For the majority of luxury-car buyers, it is the clear choice over the Maserati, but it definitely doesn't stir the soul in the same way.
Front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sedan
4-door, 5-passenger, steel body
> Price base/as tested $90,000 (est.)/ $95,000 (est.)
> Engine 4.2-liter DOHC V-8
> Power 394 hp @ 7000 rpm
> Torque 333 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
> Transmission 6-speed sequential
> Steering Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
> Suspension Front: control arms, coil springs Rear: control arms, coil springs
> Brakes Vented discs, ABS
> Tires 245/45ZR-18 front, 285/40ZR-18 rear Pirelli P Zero Rosso
> Performance 0 - 60 mph in 5.1 sec Top speed 171 mph