Sabtu, 07 Juni 2008



By Jay Shoemaker

Since its introduction in 2004, the fifth gen Maserati Quattroporte has been a sedan poised on the brink of greatness. Its fatal flaw: a clunky automated manual transmission ill-suited to the model’s luxury mission. Unlike some propeller-badged Germans we could name, Maserati’s Italian parent heeded the catcalls directed at its high tech gearbox. FIAT sourced a ZF six speed fully automatic transmission to cure the problem, subito. So, are we there yet?

Some reviewers hereabouts consider the QP the last word in Euro-slink. I just can’t get past those Buick-like portholes. That said, Maserati’s vaguely sinister corporate symbol adds a welcome touch of glamor to an otherwise pedestrian exterior, and careful customization can dramatically enhance the car’s visual appeal.

To my eye, the ideal recipe combines the Executive GT’s 19” wheels, red brake calipers and chrome mesh portholes with the Sport GT’s front grill (flat black mesh). It’s the best amalgamation of pace and grace since the supercharged Jaguar XJR first whined its way onto the American automotive stage.

I feel silly admitting how much I enjoyed opening the QP’s doors. There are two buttons; one works electronically, the other mechanically. Both operate with with perfect synchronicity and a sound not unlike a hi-tech safe door clicking open.

When I confessed this portal pleasure to my wife, she dismissed the duality as nothing more than Maserati’s engineers realizing the limitations of their dubious mechanical heritage. Even so, this small but endearing quirk helps give the big Maser a sense of occasion.

Once inside, the interior is more expansive than expected; the rear seats are tight in some dimensions, but legroom is not one of them. The middle armrest reveals yet another unexpected delight: a button that glides the passenger seat forward.

The quality of the QP’s cabin materials is beyond reproach. The lustrous wood, fragrant leather, plush carpet and elegant liners are superior to those found in any German car you can name– unless you cite Bentley, and even then the sumptuousness quotient is virtually identical. As long as you tailor your QP using a dark palette– the light colored interiors approximate a modern bordello– you couldn’t ask for a more luxurious carcoon.

That is, as long as you don’t mind packing light. The QP’s trunk is hardly large enough to fit a weekend’s supply of the wife/girlfriend/mistress' Manolo Blahniks, never mind a full wardrobe.

While the QP’s gauges, HVAC and switchgear are mostly understandable, the controls and toy count seems a generation or so behind the competition. Drivers are Bluetoothless, I-Pod deficient, satellite radio bereft and keyless ignition deprived. At least there isn’t an iDrive, COMAND or MMI to make your life unnecessarily complex.

Even though the QP is nearly 200 inches long, it drives like a vehicle half its size. Its 4.2-liter V8 deploys 400 horsepower and 339 lb. ft. of torque against 4400 pounds of imported metal with considerable success. Any normally aspirated luxury sedan that can sprint from zero to sixty in 5.6 seconds is praiseworthy– although the nine mpg I induced is not.

While the QP’s acceleration is bracing, the aural stimulation emanating from the engine bay is positively hallucinogenic. Even when driving the QP like a stoner, the F-1 soundtrack says Warp 3. The headers are heady stuff indeed; the exhaust note alone is worth the price of admission.

Once you’ve punched your ticket, there are no more dynamic regrets. The new automatic transmission has completely transformed the Maserati Quattroporte. There's no more Addams family effect (i.e, Lurch is gone). You can now play the QP’s deeply sonorous powerplant like a symphony conductor, transitioning between sotto voce and multo forte with seamless satisfaction. The QP wafts and blasts with equal aplomb.

Yes, well, our Executive GT tester’s handling was a mixed bag. The sedan turned in enthusiastically and felt as balanced as the 49-51 weight distribution implied. But the spring rates were too soft. The steering delivered excellent chassis feedback and the cornering attitude was Kansas flat. But there was too much bobble and float to inspire confidence. There is certainly enough compliance in the suspension to argue for the Sport GT’s larger wheels.

Even so, the QP can now make a compelling case against the Mercedes S550, BMW 750 or Audi A8. One problem: the Maserati’s $140k-ish price pits it against the equally spirited Audi S8, BMW Alpina B7 and Mercedes S600. Among this rarefied company, the QP seems inadequate; the gizmo count is low, the reliability [still] slightly worrying and the Buick portholes dubious.

To make matters worse, the QP’s epic depreciation makes leasing an unattractive option, despite Maserati's valiant effort to prop up residuals. But if you can afford to set such “mundane” matters aside (or simply add the Maserati to your stable and call it buono), the QP is an ideal choice for luxury sedan drivers seeking a more charismatic– and enigmatic– choice.


By Robert Farago

Backseat branding is easy. Porsche? Sports cars. Ford? Sedans. Hummer? Assault rifles. Maserati? Who knows? The company likes to promote a philosophical connection to its distinguished racing heritage. But Maserati's competitive heyday ended on May the twelfth 1957, when the Marquis de Portago’s Ferrari somersaulted into the crowd at Guidizillo, triggering a vicious pan-European anti-motor sports backlash. Since then, Maserati has concentrated on making unreliable sports cars and sporting sedans. These days, the resurgent automaker builds Jaguars.

Someone should. Decades of over-breeding, in-breeding and cross-breeding have destroyed the British brand’s cachet. The dissolution of Jaguar’s identity has killed US sales, leaving an open space at the top of the luxury market for a prohibitively expensive, drop-dead gorgeous sedan with enough pace and grace to kick your cams all over the place. The Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT will rock you.

Ya think? While the Quattroporte displays all of the visual restraint BMW Designer Chris Bangle’s Bimmers have abandoned, the Maser’s sensuous sheetmetal serves-up a dazzling display of grandiloquent, Italianate style. In other words, the Quattroporte is an Italian babe in an Armani dress. If you prefer your motoring metaphors to swing the other way, the QP’s front end is the most alluring phallic symbol since Jaguar’s E-Type first set tongues wagging (so to speak). No blobular or Dame Edna headlights capping a featureless expanse of hood— just a pair of modest glass apertures sunk into perfectly-formed fender creases. Deliciouso!

That said, the portholes are a corny bit of showboating and the rear lights are insipid enough to inspire a “Bring Back the Boomerang Taillights” web site. But the way the QP’s rear flanks kink upwards to meet the scrumptious C-pillar makes up for, well, just about anything. As so it must; the QP’s athletic shape severely truncates trunk space. Uh-oh. Buyers at this price point ($115k) are less likely to pack light than The Metropolitan Opera’s traveling company, and the nose-heavy sedan gets indigestion just looking at a set of Louis Vuitton luggage.

Still, if you’re traveling ‘cross town to watch the fat lady sing, the QP Executive GT is the ultimate glass pumpkin. The Maserati’s cabin is so luxurious in scope, detail, materials and construction my eight-year-old step-daughter asked “Is this an old-fashioned car?” Indeed it is. Maserati’s craftsmen combine four lustrous hard woods, ten fragrant leathers and several satiny metals to create a shrine to old school luxury motoring. From the superbly tailored leather chairs (front and rear) to the sleek color-contrasting Alcantara headliner, the QP sees Audi’s minimalism and raises it an elegance.

Of course, there are cars of equal sumptuousness depreciating in climate controlled garages. The QP’s trump card: technological integration. Whereas the Continental GT is lousy with confusing, distasteful and undersized buttons (inherited from the VW Phaeton), the Quattroporte’s buttonology is a masterpiece of ergonomic simplicity. Four buttons flank the central screen, which sits above the radio controls, which lives just north of the climate controls. Even better, every button operates a single function. It’s not a perfect solution– the “enter” button for the radio and sat nav is isolated from the display screen– but you won’t find a less intellectually demanding luxury car at any price.

Yes, well, operating the Quattroporte’s paddle shift transmission is a bit of a bother. Even in sport mode (the smoothest option) the F1-style cog swapper fails to deliver crisp, clean changes. And that’s a shame. With near-as-dammit 400hp underfoot and all-areas access to plenty o’ torque, the QP’s V8 does the wafting and blasting luxury car thing con multo brio. The Quattroporte’s DuoSelect gearbox isn’t as annoying as the new M5’s SMG unit (nothing is). But paddle shifting is a needless affectation in a car whose luxury car bias is as obvious as the trident sitting in the middle of the analogue clock in the middle of the dash. [NB: An autobox is on the way.

Maserati would like us to view the Quattroporte as a four door Italian sports car that just happens to tip the scales at 4250 lbs. While that’s “only” 111 lbs. heavier than a S550, the Merc’s blessed with Airmatic suspension. Maserati’s electronically controlled Skyhook system is about as appealing as the Australian glam rock band of the same name. Carve a corner on a smooth surface and the QP Exec GT will run with the big dogs: body lean in check, 19” tires death gripping the blacktop. Throw in a bump or three and it’s a pavement surfin’ safari. Even in a straight line in comfort mode, the QP’s ride is over-firm and crashy just like… the Jaguar XJ.

It’s true: the Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT is the best Jaguar Jaguar never built. The concept may not embody Maserati’s branding philosophy, but to paraphrase John Lennon, sales are what happen when you’re making other plans.


By Jay Shoemaker

Thanks to modern speed enforcement, the idea of leaping large continents in a hugely fast, spectacularly comfortable car has become something of a quaint notion. And yet, upscale manufacturers still compete to build the ultimate GT (Gran Turismo). Reflecting the concept’s European origins, the short list of candidates for this honor all originate on the other side of the pond: the Mercedes CL63, Bentley Continental GT, Aston Martin DB9, BMW 650, Jaguar XKR and the Maserati GT. Having owned or reviewed all but the new Maserati, I decided to see if the mad Italian has what it takes to trump its continental cousins.

Aesthetically, the Maser has their measure. It’s the Jessica Alba of GTs. From any angle, the Italian coupe offers seemingly endless, perfectly shaped curves; all exactly where they should be. From its 60’ F1-style curvilinear maw, to the subtle swell of the front wheel arches, to the gracious sweep of its rear air spoiler, the GT tells the world that Maserati’s roots rock.

The coupe’s wheelbase accounts for much of the design’s success; only the epic Mercedes CL eclipses the Maserati’s 116" length. At 192" from nose to tail, the NBA proportions help make that delicious body look longer and lower than it really is.

Despite its size and girth, the GT’s trunk is puny; hard luck for hard case schleppers. To make matters worse, there is no spare. Since the trunk is opened via an electrically actuated lock, the battery’s location in the Maser's micro-compartment seems ill-advised. The side doors offer a choice of mechanical or electrical opening— which makes their operation feel less than bank vault-like during normal operation.

Maserati has dressed their deeply sybaritic cockpit with a myriad of highest-quality, owner-selected leathers, trim, stitching and wood finishes. It’s elegant, fragrant and sumptuous. On the downside, the seat is strangely unyielding, lacking all but the Jaguar’s range of adjustments. And the headliner is an effrontery in this class, bereft of the Quattroporte’s faux suede option. Even so, only the Bentley Continental GT’s interior can match the Maserati GT’s cabin for sheer indulgence.

A DVD-based navigation system dominates the Maser’s modern dash. Unlike the German competition, the Maserati GT lacks a complicated electronic interface– as there aren’t enough toys requiring mass manipulation. Unforgivably— at least for a GT– there’s no satellite radio, iPod-compatibility or Bluetooth connectivity. That said, the coupe's built-in 30-gigabyte hard drive jukebox and Bose-designed sound system is excellent. Sunroof fans should also look elsewhere (Mercedes is the only GT group member to offer a sliding sunroof).

No push button start contrivances here. Just insert the key, turn and experience the fabulous snarl of a Ferrari-built, 405hp V8. The noise competes with the exterior beauty as the vehicle’s best feature. Sadly, revving the engine at standstill is about as good as it gets.

The previous Maserati coupe must have been judged too sporting for its audience; most of the performance and road feel has been engineered out. With the six-speed automatic transmission left in normal mode, the ride and shift quality is decidedly placid– which magnifies the heft of the helm. The GT’s two-plus tons of mass announce themselves in the corners, with lazy turn-in and relentless understeer. Brake feel is similarly muted and somewhat wooden. Despite the test vehicle’s 20” wheels, the car felt like it wanted to cruise the boulevards rather than bomb the Autobahn.

Pressing the sport button tightens the Maserati GT’s road feel, and the shifts become a little crisper. But there's no dynamic urgency built into this vehicle. Acceleration from naught to 60 takes a little more than five seconds, which is decidedly mid-pack for this category. The avoirdupois makes it feel slower.

I'm told that another 50 horsepower is on the way before the end of this year. It could not come too soon. Overall the GT’s driving experience feels dialed-back many notches from its full potential. At best, it’s a competent cruiser that encourages a relaxed demeanor– the antithesis of BMW’s 6-Series.

Aside from its outward beauty and glorious exhaust note, the Maserati holds one more trump card: its MSRP. The GT stickers at $117k, with most of its meager toys intact. The price undercuts the Mercedes, Aston and Bentley, and slightly exceeds the BMW and Jaguar. Just don’t expect an aggressive lease program; the residuals are dreadful.

The ultimate problem with the drop-dead sexy Maserati GT is endemic to its category: the GT Coupe has lost its original raison d’etre. Since the Maserati lives to look and sound good, perhaps that’s all that’s necessary to compete in a segment of declining relevance. As most wealthy pistonheads already have a plenty fast four-door, perhaps something a little smaller, lighter and less refined would serve their needs better. Audi R8 anyone?