sports saloon. And it
has just quadrupled its
appeal, thanks to a
slick ZF automatic
transmission that also
offers full manual
WHILE ASTON MARTIN DESERVES to have been voted the 'coolest' brand for the second year in a row by the CoolBrands Council, there are
a handful of other cars out there that are equally worthy of the accolade. Maserati's Quattroporte, to name one. Beyond its undeniable 'coolness', the Quattroporte a genuine luxury four-door sports saloon has much to recommend it; including gorgeous, idiosyncratic styling, a fabulous cabin and supercar performance.
And now, as the Maserati Quattroporte Automatic, it boasts a 'proper' automatic transmission. Before the newly-available ZF autobox
option came along, Maserati owners were limited to just one choice: Maserati's DuoSelect.
A core element of the Quattroporte's appeal has always been hidden under its smouldering Italian looks: its blue-blooded sports car dynamics. Adding 'Automatic' to the name hasn't changed that one jot. Well, only slightly and the leaning is still towards rear-biased for maximum grip. Models fitted with the DuoSelect system have a front engine with a rear longitudinal gearbox rigidly connected to the engine, using a transaxle layout that results in a 47:53 per cent front-to-rear weight distribution.
Engines in the new Automatic models, however, are now mounted fur-ther back (by 9mm, but still located behind the front axle) and joined directly to the ZF automatic gearbox; drive to the rear wheels is now via a two-piece transmission shaft connected to a rear self-locking differential. Then result is a slight rearrangement of the Quattroporte's weight balance to 49:51 per cent that, significantly, is still biased towards the tail. Interestingly, BMW's 7 Series employ a 50:50 weight distribution while the new Mercedes S-Class has a front-to-rear balance of 51:49. The Audi A8 manages with a 56:44 per cent front-to-rear set-up.
Apart from that, the Quattroporte continues to offer the same high level of standard specification that includes electrically-adjustable front and rear seats, one-shot electric windows, Blaupunkt Information Centre with 6.5-inch colour screen (trip computer, hi-fi with radio/
CD player, SatNav) and a high-end Bose sound system that has been specially developed to match the acoustic characteristics of the Quattroporte's cabin, automatic Bi-xenon headlights and wipers, leather interior with wood inlays, multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, electric rear sun blind, all-round laminated glass, power-fold mirrors, dual-zone climate control and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The range-topping Executive GT spec Quattroporte we tested also comes with a rear seat comfort pack (heating, ventilation and mass-age!), a wood and leather steering wheel, retractable airline-style rear picnic tables, a rear climate package that provides dedicated rear climate controls and sun blinds for extra privacy. It also has distinctive ball-polished 9-spoke 19-inch alloys wearing meaty lo-pro Pirelli P Zero Rosso tyres (245/40 front and 285/35 rear). In short, everything that anybody would reasonably expect of a luxury saloon.
As you would also expect, all models come with a three-years/unlimited mileage warranty and, commendably, a three-year/30,000-mile 'Peace of Mind' service package. Nice, too, to find that there is no price difference between Duo Select and Automatic models. The range line-up is priced as follows: Quattroporte £77,090; Quattroporte Sport GT £83,290; and Quattroporte Executive GT £85,990.
The Quattroporte's new ZF automatic transmission is a six-speed unit that is used in everything of quality, from the Rolls-Royce Phantom to Astons and Jaguars. It is a particularly welcome option and means that Maserati's range of sports saloons can now be specified with either the DuoSelect or the new Automatic. Former F1 driver and director of the Maserati GT Driving Course, Ivan Capelli, succinctly sums up the dif-ferences: "DuoSelect offers a more involving experience, giving the ultimate in sports saloon driving. While the new Automatic transmission is the 'best of both worlds' serving up relaxed and effortless driving but with a high-performance ability when required."
For the technically-minded, the Quattroporte DuoSelect derived from F1 technology is a six-speed robotised manual gearbox by Graziano. It's also used by Ferrari and Aston Martin. There's no clutch pedal and the clutch is operated by an electro-hydraulic pump to give four driving modes: Automatic; Manual; Sport; and Snow+Ice. Lubrication is by dry sump and, as already mentioned, it uses a transaxle layout usually reserved for high-performance sports cars.
The ZF transmission in the Quattroporte Automatic has been modified by Maserati to match the high-revving V8 (up to 7,200rpm) and offers a sequential manual mode that can also be operated via optional
shift paddles on the steering wheel. It also provides an 'overdrive' 6th gear that ensures relaxed cruising and improved fuel consumption the touring figure is 9 per cent better than the 2006-model year Duo-Select. Wet sump lubrication is used for a quieter operation and the transmission is located directly behind the engine for near-perfect 49:51 per cent weight distribution.
There are slight differences in the engine outputs for the DuoSelect and Automatic versions. Both use the same 4.2 V8 but the Automatic's wet sumped version is identified by blue cylinder head covers (red
for the dry sump DuoSelect). Both pump out 395bhp at 7,000rpm but
the Automatic produces higher torque at lower revs: 339lb ft at 4,250rpm vs the DuoSelect's 333lb ft at 4,500rpm. When it comes to performance, the Automatic will run to 167mph and race to 62mph from standstill in 5.6 seconds (171 and 5.2 for the DuoSelect).
The Automatic's chassis makes excellent use of aluminium double-wishbone suspension front and rear and features sophisticated anti-squat and anti-dive geometry. It also comes with Maserati's Skyhook automatically controlled adaptive damping system that lets the driver choose between two settings: Normal for a comfort-biased ride and firmer, sportier 'Sport'. Other improvements include a ten per cent improvement in bump absorption along with an upgraded Brembo brak-ing system using massive 300mm ventilated discs all-round and four-piston callipers front and rear. The brakes are exceedingly potent the 62mph-to-zero stopping distance is 35.3 metres and there's good progression from the pedal. Naturally there is ABS, EBD and ASR as well as Maserati's Traction and Stability Control programme to keep things shipshape. The standard airbag tally consists of two front dual-stage smart airbags, two front seat (side) and two side curtain (front and rear).
Kerb presence has always been another big plus for the über-elegant Quattroporte. A very big plus, in fact. Inside it is equally impressive, spacious yet intimate; the understated opulence underscored by the very best materials and craftsmanship. The soft leather upholstery tailored by leather specialists Poltrona Frau is a delight to touch and smell. There are nine colours to choose from and five types of wood trim: Rosewood, Walnut, Mahogany, Tanganyika and the classy, high-gloss Black Piano of our test car. The trademark oval-shaped clock embedded in the middle of the fascia graced with a dark blue face to match the attractive speedometer and rev-counter reinforces the knowledge that you are indeed sitting in a Maserati.
Achieving the perfect seating position is quick and easy for all occup-ants, thanks to the fully-adjustable and exceedingly comfortable powered seats. The driver gets three memory settings linked to the door mirror positions and an Easy Entry system that facilitates getting in and out of the car by powering back the driver's seat and simul-taneously lifting the steering wheel closer to the dash. This facility can be switched off if you prefer. Commendable thoroughness is evident throughout the cabin. To mention just one example: the chilled com-partment incorporated in the centre front armrest not only is it airtight and shaped to take two drinks cans, but if you dial up freezing cold you get exactly that.
Not to put too fine a point on it, those travelling in the back are pam-pered with a capital 'P': the individual electric rear seats (as agreeably shaped and crafted as those in the front) allow rear passengers to stretch out and relax in comfort all the more indulgent thanks to aircraft-style slide and tilt seats that can warm, cool or massage and mesh side (manual) and rear (powered) sun blinds. All passengers benefit from three-stage heated seats and very efficient dual-zone air conditioning, while specially laminated glass on all windows cuts down the heat and glare from the sun as well as soundproofing the interior.
On the road progress can be serene or scintillating. You decide.
Left in D, the transmission serves up seamless shifts that make wafting indulgently habit-forming. And when you decide a sportier hands-on drive is more appropriate you can, with a deft sideways flick of the elegant and highly tactile selector lever, select manual sequential shifting. Manual mode is brilliant, thanks to clean up/down changes in the ZF six-pack of well-judged ratios. Pressing the Sport button spices-up the driving experience even more firming up the suspen-sion, speeding up the gear change, reducing the level of intervention of the traction and stability program and increasing the sensitivity of the accelerator. Go for it and you won't be disappointed!
The speed-sensitive steering obligingly light in town feels alive, directing the Quattroporte's chrome-embellished grille accurately through bends and corners exactly as it should on a genuine sports saloon. Make no mistake; although the Quattroporte artfully disguises its size with its svelte Pininfarina-designed bodywork, this is a big car. It tips the scales at 1,990kg and measures a few (actually, 52) milli-metres over five metres from nose to tail. Yet it never feels unwieldy: sometimes quite inexplicably it sees just half its actual size and weight. Ask it, and this Maserati will demonstrate a mix of poised road holding, handling and agility that makes it brilliantly entertaining to drive. Given the chassis' handling dynamics (and massive tyres and alloy wheels), the ride is remarkably and impressively compliant.
And it sounds great, too. The Quattroporte's 4,244cc naturally-aspirated V8 (four overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder) generates an impressive 339lb ft at 4,250rpm 75 per cent of it already available at 2,500rpm). Better still, it's rev-happy and, worked hard, it sings as only a V8 can, with a throatily sonorous voice that none but an Italian car manufacturer could ever engineer. In spite of this masterful soundtrack, the Quattroporte's cabin is refinement itself at whatever speed it's legal to travel whether you're driving round the M25 or on Germany's unrestricted autobahns. Absolutely stable at speed, the Quattroporte is a genuine trans-Europe express offering maximum comfort for four. Appropriately, the headlights often the Achilles' heel of high-performance cars deserve a special mention here. the Quattroporte's Bi-xenon units throw a wide spread of light that even on main beam is not dazzling, allowing the car to be driven safely and quickly during the hours of darkness.
With an £86,000 price tag, the Quattroporte has to be about more than mere money. And it is: few cars have the ability to make you feel as good behind the wheel as the Maserati Quattroporte. Were you
of a mind to glance at your reflection as you waft past shop windows, you would see a happier, better-looking reflection of yourself that no amount of money could buy. Savour the feeling of contentment this car engenders because few other things in life are as easy. Who knows, with cars as beguiling as this, you may well keep it for the rest of your life...
Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT Automatic | £85,990
Maximum speed: 167mph | 0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 18.6mpg | Power: 395bhp | Torque: 339lb ft
CO2 345g/km | VED Band G £300 | Insurance group 20
Visit Maserati's website