ONCE EVERY BIT AS glamorous, exclusive and racy as its former rival and near-neighbour Ferrari, the Modenese marque of Maserati is currently in the throes of a major repositioning instigated by its parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). Whereas Ferrari, which has long been recognised as the jewel in the Fiat portfolio, is maintaining its exclusivity by capping production at around 7,000 cars a year, Maserati is following an opposing trajectory: it not only raised output to a record 15,400 units in 2013, but has also been tasked with reaching annual sales of 50,000 vehicles by the end of next December.
While achieving such a massive jump in numbers in so short a time frame seems ambitious to say the least, the objective clearly illustrates where the Italian company is headed in the marketplace. No longer facing off against such bespoken brands as Aston Martin or Bentley, it’s now aimed at the prestige echelons of volume manufacturers – in other words, at big, fast luxo-barges such as the Mercedes-Benz S600, Audi’s A8 W12 and S8, BMW’s 750 and 760, Porsche’s Panamera Turbo, and the Jaguar XJ Supersport and XJR. And with Maserati’s burgeoning arsenal of models now augmented by the latest version of the Quattroporte flagship, which was launched almost two years ago and is now in full production at the former Bertone factory outside of Turin, the trident logo could just have the firepower to pull it off.
Only the Italians could make something as mundane as “four doors” sound as deliciously sexy as Quattroporte, so it’s fortunate that the latest iteration of a nameplate that first saw the light of day in the early 1960s as a special edition designed for the Aga Khan – a telling indication of the company’s erstwhile cachet – looks as good as it does. Maserati may be slipping out of the ranks of the automobile industry’s authentic aristocrats, yet this 5.2-metre-long behemoth is as distinguished and graceful as any thoroughbred. Bigger in almost every respect than the four-door it replaced, the current car – which, depending on how you count it, is either the sixth or seventh generation – is muscular yet beautifully proportioned, svelte and restrained, and save for the window surrounds and the signature trio of vents that adorns each forward flank, it’s refreshingly devoid of overornamentation. While the range-topping GTS V8 comes with standard 19-inch alloys that fill the wheel arches effectively enough, the ultimate bling must surely be our test car’s 21-inch Titano rims, which cost a small fortune and look especially fetching when paired with bright-red brake callipers.
At 1.9 tonnes the GTS is hardly a lightweight, though extensive use of aluminium throughout the chassis and body means it’s shed 100kg compared with its predecessor. In the best tradition of most Maseratis – though not the previous model, which had a rearwards bias – the car’s mass is evenly distributed between front and rear, promising neutral balance and handling that’s as sporting as can be expected for a machine as big and as heavy as this. Suspension is equally pukkah, with double wishbones at the front, multilink at the rear and Sport Skyhook electronic active dampers to smooth out the tarmac.
Maserati-designed and Ferraribuilt, the GTS’s 3.8-litre twinturbocharged, direct-injection V8 was the first production unit with a blower to emerge from the Maranello engine plant in years; since then it’s been joined by a similar-capacity motor for the California T, while a forcedinduction 458 is also inbound in the next few months. Like the Cali’s, the Quattroporte’s lump is extraordinarily punchy, producing a stonking 523bhp and a mighty 710Nm of torque, 95 percent of the latter being available from just 1,600rpm. As with the entry-level Ferrari, too, turbo lag has been tuned out of the equation almost entirely, with thrust instantly available whenever the pedal is depressed.
Power is transmitted through the rear wheels via a new-to-Maserati eight-speed autobox sourced from ZF, which when shifted manually will hustle you through the gears and up to 100km/h in just 4.7 seconds, then on to the claimed maximum speed of 307km/h. This, not so incidentally, elevates it among the ranks of the fastest production Maseratis ever, as well as the quickest four-doors on the road. Pressing the console-mounted Sport button not only tightens up the power-train responses and the damping, but also produces the kind of aural entertainment you expect from a sporting Italian, as baffles in the exhaust open up to emit a pleasantly delinquent roar, with loud reports equally enlivening the downshifts. Rarely has more than five metres and almost two tonnes sounded so much fun.
It’s from the inside that the car’s extra size really shows – and especially so when you’re sitting in the back. If it’s to have any chance of stealing sales from the German luxury expresses, the ability for captains of industry to stretch the legs while being whisked from office to airport is a must, and here the four-aperture Maserati doesn’t disappoint. Like the exterior, the test car’s cabin is stylish yet tasteful, the big, comfortable chairs, console and door panels covered in richly pungent jet-black Poltrona Frau hides, with polished-wood door inserts and dash facings providing a discreet contrast.
A further touch of class is added by the elegant analogue instruments and a delicate oval clock that sits above the unusually large infotainment screen; the latter works well and logically, though the graphics (and rumour has it that the units come straight from FCA’s US arm, Chrysler) do seem a little crude in these otherwise patrician surroundings. Prominent by their absence, however, are the numerous driver aids now considered de rigueur on even mid-range Audis, BMWs and Mercs; whether you need such devices as lane and parking assist, or even head-up display, is a moot point, but if they do figure on your list of essentials you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Maserati may have relinquished its credentials as Italy’s ultimate performance car to Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani, but any vehicle bearing such a storied name clearly needs to deliver dynamically. The Quattroporte steps up to the bar in almost every respect – and especially so given its unfeasibly vast proportions. It feels absolutely as fast as the figures suggest, and it handles and turns far more sharply than a car this big ought to, the latter doubtless thanks to its old-school hydraulic steering. Torque is prodigious from way down in the rev range, meaning there’s little need for aggressive shifting with the aluminium paddles, which though mounted on the column rather than the wheel are long enough for this not to matter. If there is a discernible shortcoming it concerns the ride, which is unusually firm for car of this class and pretensions.
Ultimately, however, that may not matter, for if the Quattroporte fits your idea of a luxury express, the chances are that as often as not you’ll be giving James the day off and doing the driving duties yourself. For big, luxurious and – it must be said – corporate though it now is, this latest version of Maserati’s four-door offers much to inspire. Not only does it possess abundant character that places it well apart from the competition, but also it’s fast, it’s beautiful, it sounds great and it involves the driver as few other cars in this segment can. On those grounds alone it’s an eminently worthy contender.