“With a big car, you have lots of power, but lots of electronics to hold the car on track,” says Alex Fiorio, in rhythmic, Italian-accented English. “But with this car, you put the electronics off, and it doesn’t slide at all.”
As if on cue, Fiorio hucks the 4250 pound, $102,500 Maserati Quattroporte off a steep left-facing drop. A full second and two heavy ka-thunks later, we’re back on terra firma, and Fiorio gleefully yelps, “See!? Perfectly flat!”
That’s the first 20 seconds of my lap with Fiorio, a former World Rally Champion who raced Lancia Delta HFs in the wild and crazy ’80s. We’re at the Fiat Group’s gorgeous Balocco proving grounds just outside of Milan, hustling the car around the Langhe handling track. It’s like a mini-Nurburgring Nordschleife, flanked with green trees and shrubbery, lots of aluminum K-rail, and virtually no run off. A shunt here would be embarrassing and very expensive.
Good thing that is impossible with Fiorio at the wheel. When asked if oversteer is possible in the 404-horsepower, all-wheel-drive Quattroporte S Q4, he smiles and says, “In the dry, it is very difficult. Even with the electronics off, the torque is going back and forth.” He motions to the front and back wheels. He then sends us hurtling through a left-handed sweeper and the sensation coming up through the tires and chassis is all grip and forward momentum. As the back end just starts to break away, the front tires bite and pull the Quattroporte through the corner.
At least that is what I think I felt when riding shotgun with Alex. Later, when I take laps at half his speed, I can’t feel the same rear-to-front transfer, despite the readout in the instrument panel showing up to a 50 percent torque split.
Seamless torque transfer is only one of the Quattroporte all-wheel-drive system’s many tricks. At 132 pounds, including the transfer case, prop shaft, front differential, and twin half-shafts, the system is lightweight and compact. Designed by Magna, this primarily rear-biased system is exclusive to Maserati and for use only on the V-6 powered Quattroporte S Q4 (S is for six-cylinder, Q4 for all-wheel drive) and upcoming Ghibli.
All-wheel drive isn’t the only reason the limits are so staggeringly highly for this large luxury land yacht, as I discover through Fiorio’s shocking disregard for the Quattroporte’s Sky Hook suspension and our well-being.
As we orbit the track, Fiorio points out various dips and rough patches just before we charge right over them with his foot firmly planted. At one point, he calls out corner curbing milliseconds before nailing it with the left wheels. There’s a double thump and the horizon dips right, but the big Maserati tracks clean and true. We take another serious dip at high speed, and for the split second an asphalt view fills the windscreen, I can see gouge marks in the pavement from other vehicles that have been whipped through here. I brace for terrible scraping noises that never happen. Despite the long wheelbase and substantial overhangs, no panel ever touches down; this thing is like the Ford Raptor of luxury sedans.
Fiorio laps with the two-mode suspension set to firm and the ZF 8-speed transmission in Sport and Manual modes. Shifts via the fixed, twin alloy paddle shifters are quick; though not twin-clutch instantaneous, they are on par with the best sport/luxury sedans in this segment. It’s not perfect, though; around town in automatic mode, the shifting experience suffers from a specific sort of vagueness. The PRND shift lever slides back and forth in detents, but the problem is knowing which position it is in. Shifting from park to drive can be done without looking — just slam the lever all the way back. Changing from park or drive to reverse requires visual confirmation either by looking at the instruments or shifter position, not ideal for quick three-point turns or parallel parking. We encountered the same issue with this transmission in that other Fiat product, the Chrysler 300. Hopefully ZF comes up with a belated, gated solution.
In his review of the Quattroporte GTS, Arthur St. Antoine singled out the effortless thrust of the 523-horsepower twin-turbo V-8. Well, the GTS’ little brother ain’t too shabby either. Like the V-8, the S Q4’s V-6 was developed by the legendary Paolo Martinelli and is built at the newly christened Gianni Agnelli engine plant at Ferrari’s Maranello HQ. Prior to joining Fiat as head of powertrain, Martinelli lead engine development for Ferrari’s Formula 1 team during the Michael Schumacher era. Martinelli’s V-10 race engines brought Ferrari the most wins, podiums, finishes, and championships in company history. In total, Martinelli helped the team collect five Formula 1 driver’s titles and six constructor’s titles from 1996 to 2005.
Martinelli’s team developed two V-6s for the Quattroporte, but America will only receive the more powerful V-6 in the S Q4. This twin-turbocharged, direct-injection 3.0-liter V-6 makes 404 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque and was, according to Maserati, the most powerful V-6 available until Cadillac announced its 420 horsepower, 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6, which will power the 2014 CTS Vsport. Still, Maserati is holding tight to the claim that its V-6 offers the most output per liter in the world.
That might be up for debate, but there is no question this V-6 is something special. With 90 percent of its torque available at 2000 rpm and spread over eight cogs, the S Q4 never gets caught flatfooted. Silky waves of thrust squish occupants into the Quattroporte’s leather-lined thrones at half throttle. But it’s not overly boisterous about town; the cabin is well-isolated from road and wind noise, and despite favorable track comparisons to desert race trucks, the ride around town is creamy and well-damped, without feeling heavy.
Hitting the Sport mode causes the transmission to drop a gear and opens baffles in the exhaust that create a pleasing racket. Downshifts come with a bit of rev-matched zing; lift the throttle abruptly and there’s a sinful crackle of engine overrun. The sound is not nearly as sharp or melodious as the old Quattroporte’s naturally aspirated V-8, but then, how could it be? With twin turbochargers cramming air into a combustion chamber sprayed with fuel via seven tiny injector ports, the S Q4’s V-6 is miles ahead on the technology front. In fact, any comparison to the fifth-generation Quattroporte is inappropriate, as the sixth-generation Quattroporte in S Q4 trim offers so much more: more power, better fuel economy, more cargo and passenger room, and an indomitable all-wheel-drive system.
The better question is whether the larger yet leaner, smarter and sharper S Q4 can help the Quattroporte take market share away in the large luxury sedan segment. Maserati believes it can conquest Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A7 and A8, Jaguar XJ, and Porsche Panamera owners, with sales driven by the lower-priced, all-season S Q4. This powertrain will also find its way into the lower-cost Ghibli sports sedan this summer. So it’s clear that with a worldwide sales goal of 50,000 units by 2015 (up from 6200 in 2012), Maserati hopes its six plus four strategy will add up to a lot more than 10.
|2014 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4|
|BASE PRICE||$102,500 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.0L/404-hp/406-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||4250 lb (MT est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||207.2 x 76.7 x 58.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||June 2013|