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Click to view picture gallery“A highly-desirable,
  four-door sports grand
  tourer, the Maserati
  Quattroporte is, for
  the first time, available
  with an automatic
  transmission.
  Thus equipped, it is
  sure to find favour with
  well-heeled customers
  able to spend £80,000
  on a car...”


ALTHOUGH THE MASERATI QUATTROPORTE four-door grand tourer saloon was introduced in 2003 with a Formula One-type DuoSelect paddleshift and clutchless manual transmission, the British market in this sector is more suited to a model with a conventional automatic transmission. Enter the new Quattroporte Automatic.

Launching the new Quattroporte Automatic to the UK's motoring media this week, Maserati GB's head of sales, Peter Denton, said 75 per cent of all 285 Quattroporte sales in this country this year will be taken up by the models with the new six-speed ZF automatic transmission.

Like the Quattroporte DuoSelect, the new Automatic model is available with three levels of specification. The Quattroporte Automatic costs £77,090; the Automatic Executive GT is £85,990 and the best-selling Automatic Sport GT costs £83,290. These are the same retail on-the-road prices as the Quattroporte DuoSelect variants.

The same high level of standard specification applies to all models and includes electrically-adjusted front and rear seats, automatic headlights and wipers, choice of leather and wood trims, navigation and superior sound systems, dual-zone air conditioning and a stability programme with traction control. In fact, everything that you would reasonably expect to have in an executive saloon. A wide range of options is also available, enabling the owner to 'fine-tune' their own car to their exact requirements.

All models come with a three years' unlimited mileage warranty and a three-year peace-of-mind, 30,000 miles servicing package.

Ivan Capelli, director of the Maserati GT Driving Course and former F1 driver, said at the media introduction this week: "Each transmission option has its own strengths. Customers are now able to select the most suitable transmission for them. DuoSelect offers a more involving experience, giving the ultimate in sports saloon driving. The new Automatic transmission is the best of both worlds: relaxed and effortless but with a high performance ability when required."

Much is made by Maserati of the handling and weight balance of the Modena-built Quattroporte saloon. Models equipped with the DuoSelect system have a front engine with a rear gearbox and transaxle layout giving a 47:53 per cent front:rear weight distribution. The Automatic models have the engine at the front but now mounted 7mm further rearward and joined directly to the six-speed transmission. Drive to the rear wheels is via a two-piece transmission shaft and a self-locking differential. In this configuration the 49:51 per cent weight distribution is still biased towards the rear for maximum grip.

In both DuoSelect and Automatic configurations the V8 engine of the Quattroporte saloons is mounted behind the front axle. Capelli explained that this is to help with the optimum weight distribution, where it also improves the accuracy, 'turn-in' and front-end grip characteristics of the steering.

The automatic transmission is a six-speed ZF unit — also used by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar — although this is the first time this transmission unit has ever been used in conjunction with an engine that can rev to 7,200rpm. The overdrive sixth gear improves fuel consumption over the DuoSelect model in the extra urban mode by nine per cent.

The same core Maserati 4.2-litre V8 petrol engine is used for both Quattroporte model ranges. For the DuoSelect variants, it uses a dry sump and can be recognised when the bonnet is raised by the red cylinder head covers. In this form, power output is 395bhp at 7,000rpm with 333lb ft of torque at 4,500rpm. The top speed is 171mph and zero to 62mph is covered in a very quick 5.2 seconds. CO2 emissions are a high 370g/km and the average official fuel consumption is quoted as 17.9mpg.

For Quattroporte Automatic models, the V8 engine is crowned with blue cylinder head covers, while the use of a 'normal' wet sump improves engine quietness. Maximum power output is still 395bhp but peak torque is raised to 339lb ft at the lower figure of 4,250rpm. Top speed is 167mph and zero to 62mph is 5.6 seconds. CO2 emissions are less — at 345g/km — and fuel economy, at 19.2mpg, is also improved.

Around 285 Quattroporte sports saloons will be sold in the UK this year and 100 are already spoken for. Customers ordering a specific model with specific options will find delivery will be in time for the September registration plate change. However, there are cars in the dealer network available for immediate delivery, most of them in Sport GT or Executive GT trim levels.

This year Maserati GB expect an overall total of 570 sales of all model types, which will represent a growth of 24 per cent over 2006. Five years ago, Maserati's annual sales in the UK were just over 300 units. The new Quattroporte range sells against the sector-leading, and highly-rated, new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the aging BMW 7-Series, the BMW M5 and the Audi A8.

Giving the media a glimpse into the future regarding the growth of the brand in the UK, Peter Denton said he expects the growth of Maserati GB sales to be driven by the all-new GranTurismo two-door, four seater Coupé being launched later this year, and he expects their overall sales to reach 800 units annually by 2010. This equates to eight per cent of total Maserati annual production.

Denton also said the GranTurismo will represent 60 per cent of Maserati's UK sales, and the additional new model range is likely to be priced in the mid-£70Ks.

Maserati GB currently has a total of 15 dealers — all dual outlets with Ferrari. These include one each in Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff; with others place strategically in major cities throughout the England. Currently there are no plans to expand the dealer network.

Enough of figures; more about the actual cars. On test were both the current DuoSelect and the new Automatic Quattroporte Maserati models. I opted for driving the Quattrosport Automatic on public roads in the conditions we all experience everyday of our motoring lives. These include poor road surfaces, traffic congestion and A-roads and winding B-roads.

The Quattroporte is without question an exceedingly elegant four-door sports saloon. It is stunning to look at and has a superbly equipped and luxurious interior. And while it is also a big and heavy car, because of the graceful styling it really doesn't look its true size from the outside. It has huge road presence and you will most assuredly be noticed.

Inside it is luxurious, as I have already said, and can be personalised to reflect the owner's choice. The car is technically a five-seat saloon and, yes, at a pinch it will take three adults in the rear. The electronic adjustment of the rear seat does allow for increased legroom — although it is not in the same league as the Mercedes, Audi or BMW equivalents. The quality and finish appears excellent. The car is hushed on the inside and overall is an excellent package and good value for money, especially if the residual values can be improved now demand is outstripping supply.

The 395bhp V8 petrol engine is a real joy. It serves up immense power, is hugely responsive and gives this heavy car a real turn of speed. It also sounds fantastic under full power acceleration conditions. Having the automatic transmission — which still has the option of tiptronic type manual gear changes — really is the best choice for this kind of car in this sector.

The software in the electronic transmission learns your driving style and adapts the response settings automatically. Alternatively, push the Sport button and instantly the car's brain sharpens up the suspension, steering, throttle and gearshift patterns. In Normal mode, the car rides flat and level with plenty of grip but the suspension feels a little too soft on anything other than motorways. In Sport mode — whilst I enjoyed the better steering and throttle responses — the suspension was just that little bit less compliant and too hard, resulting in a jittery and unsettled ride at higher speeds over some road surfaces.

Overall, however, the Quattroporte Automatic is highly desirable. It may not be perfect, but it does have real character and it is now a viable alternative in a sector dominated by German models. High running costs can be taken for granted but definitely won't bother anyone with around £80,000 to spend, especially when their money buys them such an elegant saloon with sporting looks. Plus it's well equipped, seemingly good value for money and now offers an automatic transmission option to go with the fantastic engine. — David Miles

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Maserati Quattroporte Automatic Sport GT | £83,290
Maximum speed: 167mph | 0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 19.2mpg | Power: 395bhp | Torque: 339lb ft

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------------------------------------------- Maserati Quattroporte Automatic