Trident True: Maserati Changes Everything -- Except the Soul
Half a century ago, in 1963, Maserati concocted its most enduring model by stuffing a race-bred engine under the hood of a four-door luxury sedan. The deliciously decadent Quattroporte, at the time the fastest car of its kind, was born. Through five generations, this flying wedge of la dolce vita grew to become one of our favorite sport sedans. (In our December 2007 issue, the Q’Porte spanked the bigs from Jaguar, Lexus, and Mercedes-Benz to win a hard-fought comparo.) Now, as a 2014 model, comes a radically new, sixth-generation Quattroporte–a considerably bigger machine brewed with hardware from sources as far-ranging as Chrysler and Ferrari.
On our way to Nice, France, to drive it, we couldn’t help but wonder: Has the illustrious Quattroporte lost its mojo?
As noted, the new Q is a far larger car than the fifth-gen model it replaces. Wheelbase has grown more than 4 inches, while overall length is up more than 8. Width is increased, too. Whereas the outgoing, Pininfarina-designed car exuded a nimble, almost poetic presence, the new Quattroporte, designed in-house, is decidedly grandiose, a true land yacht compared with its sport-fisher predecessor. There’s no question the size boost is a boon to passengers. Even with the driver’s seat pushed way back for a tall pilot, the rear seat offers sumptuous legroom, with more than 4 additional inches over the old car. Better still, the newfound size is all lean muscle. Thanks to extensive use of aluminum for the body panels–and even such super-light materials as magnesium in the structure — the new car has shed roughly 200 pounds of weight over the fifth-gen car. Drag is down some 12 percent (to 0.31), while lift has been cut by 24 percent. Perhaps most important — given the essential ingredient of Italian style — the new Q remains a stunning piece of auto architecture. The aggressive, LED-laced face is particularly striking. While obviously far more subdued than, say, a Ferrari 458, the Quattroporte nonetheless drew tons of approving “ooohs!” and thumbs-up from passing French pedestrians.
Things are complicated over at Maserati these days. Fiat owns the company, and since 2009 the Italian giant has been partnered with Chrysler. Thus, it’s said by many that the new Quattroporte is “built on a Chrysler 300 platform.” Asked to comment, Maserati CEO Harald Wester (a German national) winces. “Naturally,” he says, “there are commonalities to reduce costs. But less than 10 percent of the Quattroporte’s parts are carried over from other models.” The new, lightweight, all-aluminum suspension consists of high-mounted control arms up front and a multilink setup at the rear. New versions of Maserati’s trademark adaptive Skyhook dampers are utilized at each corner, with beefy Brembos on tap for braking.
The big, bold bod makes a sensational first impression, but it’s what’s under the hood that’s designed to leave the senses reeling. The prime engine is a new 3.8-liter V-8 with dual twin-scroll turbos and direct injection. Designed by Maserati and built by Ferrari, the new mill — though nearly a full liter down in displacement over the previous naturally aspirated unit — makes a staggering 523 horsepower (compared with 400 hp for the old car) and 479 lb-ft of torque at just 2000 rpm (versus 339 lb-ft). Mated with a new ZF eight-speed paddle-shift automatic, and aided by the new car’s weight-reduction regimen, the new V-8 makes this the fastest Maserati four-door in history. The company claims a 0-to-62-mph time of just 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 191 mph. (Only Maserati’s Enzo-based MC12 sports car is faster.) At the same time, Maserati trumpets a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption.
By late 2013 in the U.S., Maserati will unveil a second Quattroporte powertrain choice: a new, 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6. Based on Chrysler’s Pentastar block and sharing its combustion chambers, turbos, and direct-injection system with the V-8, the new six will deliver 404 horsepower at 5500 rpm and 406 lb-ft at 1750. Performance, of course, takes a hit compared to the V-8, but this will be a quick car nonetheless. Maserati claims 0-60 in 5.1 seconds and a 177-mph top end. Also coming, and optional only with the V-6 engine, is Maserati’s first-ever all-wheel-drive system, co-developed with Ontario, Canada-based Magna International.
The gen-five Quattroporte was such a flavorful piece — sensational handling, operatic exhaust note, high-Renaissance cockpit — that we had mixed feelings when approached the new car for a test drive. But as we launched from seaside Nice into the twisting mountain roads of Saint-Paul de Vence, the newly magnified Quattroporte did not disappoint. True, there are trade-offs. The once-artful interior now looks somehow “corporate”; the wood trim, for instance, lacks the previous car’s exquisiteness; and where’s that famous reek of aromatic Italian leather? And the racy bark of the normally aspirated V-8 is gone, replaced by a more muted growl.
That’s mostly the end of our complaints. The V-8 may be more subdued, but it still sounds wonderful, soaring to the redline with appropriate drama, and emitting just enough sonic excitement at low rpms to remind you of its Ferrari breeding, without being so loud as to become tiresome. You’d never know it’s a turbo: Lag is nonexistent, and you’ll never hear the blowers whining. Your only clue is the immediate, effortless surge of torque in almost any gear.
The eight-speed transmission is a peach. Leave it in automatic, and it will happily and effectively do all the torque-slicing for you, neatly downshifting as you brake into corners. There’s also a full manual mode, and once you select it, the tranny completely falls under the authority of your paddle-shift commands — even if you choose to scream along near the 7200-rpm redline all day.
For such a large automobile, the Quattroporte is remarkably dexterous, as we noted more than once while inching past oncoming traffic on Vence’s tight two-lanes. Citing better feel, Maserati purposefully eschewed electronic power steering in favor of a more conventional speed-sensitive hydraulic setup. The all-new aluminum steering box seems a wise decision, because the wheel is both sensitive and beautifully weighted. On the center console are several custom vehicle settings. The suspension offers a tighter Sport mode that conspicuously firms the ride, while an I.C.E. (Increased Control and Efficiency) button cuts engine output by about 80 hp while also tailoring shifts for maximum economy.
Though so much has changed, the new Quattroporte remains faithful to its luscious predecessors. This is a sport-luxury sedan of unique character, offering far more to inspire enthusiastic drivers (styling, sound, performance, moves) than most of its more businesslike competitors. Indeed, Maserati is extremely bullish on its new sedan. The Italian maker hopes to sell 13,000-15,000 a year (mostly in the U.S. and China) by 2014 (compared with just 6200 Masers total last year). Add the coming Ghibli sports car and the Levante SUV, and Maserati hopes to raise output to a whopping 50,000 units annually by 2015. It’s all part of a $1.6 billion investment by Fiat to return its European operations to profitability in the next few years.
It’s too soon to make final judgments (a full-on instrumented comparison test is obviously in the offing), but based on our limited first drive of the bigger, bolder Quattroporte, we’re inclined to say that investment will pay off handsomely.
|2014 Maserati Quattroporte V-8|
|BASE PRICE||$135,000 (est)|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.8L/523-hp/479-lb-ft twin-turbocharged DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||4250 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||207.2 x 76.7 x 58.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||13/19 mpg (MT est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||259/177 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.28 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Summer 2013|