Maserati Quattroporte: Curves and Kick
The woman behind the cash register turned to look out the window and paused, her hands frozen halfway through counting my change. In the sand-and-dirt parking lot out front, the wide, shark-like nose of the blue Maserati had caught her eye, grinning out from behind the bulk of a weathered pickup truck.
“That’s pretty,” she said. “Is it yours?”
Ah, that it were. The Maserati Quattroporte graciously loaned to me by Maserati North America got looks everywhere it went, but on the remote shores of the all-but-abandoned Salton Sea in Southern California’s Colorado Desert, you would have thought a flying saucer had touched down. Actually, the locals are likely more accustomed to seeing flying saucers. Here or anywhere else a relatively rare Italian sedan turns heads, and in the case of the Quattroporte it’s no wonder. The QP has the body of a classic Italian starlet and the power of 400 horses under the hood. Big, beautiful, lush and quick, each of this elegant automatic’s 4,387 pounds exists to either make the car more comfortable or to make it go faster. On the desert roads around the Salton Sea, this meant for some very good times.
Sizing it Up
When the car rolled off the delivery truck at my Palm Springs hotel, I was immediately taken by its size. All around it’s a hair smaller than a 1957 Chevrolet, though definitely not as tall at 56.6 inches. This gives the large car an elegantly imposing low and wide stance.
Design is perfectly Italian, that is to say that style was as important as performance to the build team. The four doors (“Quattroporte” means “four doors” in Italian) are an effortless part of the body, blending into the sides with a grace unknown to your grandfather’s sedan. The smooth, tight lines of the rear belie the 15.6 cubic feet of trunk space (enough for two sets of clubs and weekend luggage) while the wide-mouth grill on the front does the opposite for the power plant, dropping a not-so-subtle hint at the large Ferrari-engineered V8 simmering behind it.
The interior is as impressive, with beautiful leather covering all seating surfaces, a wide dash, clear instrumentation and wood trim befitting a top sedan. The steering wheel was a nice surprise, feeling as if it had been taken from a sports car, as were luxury appointments like a console that cools beverages, rear heated seats and numerous possible seating adjustments.
In terms of trim, the 2008 QP is offered with a choice of base, Sport GT(S) and Executive GT. Accordingly, while the base trim offers the same engine and basic appointments as the other two, the Sport trim kicks things up a bit for performance fans and the Executive trim focuses on luxury. Ten external colors, nine internal colors and five types of wood trim are all available, including Mahogany, Rosewood, Walnut, Black Piano and Tanganyika.
Electronics options include a rear-seat entertainment system, which features an LCD screen and DVD player/TV. Additionally, proximity warning alarms and such are available to help with parking in tight spaces, though the constant bells and bings got a bit much for this writer. An absolutely fine BOSE stereo with a CD changer is standard as is a navigation system, but I wouldn’t count on the latter to get you across the street. Keep a map in the glove box.
When you get to performance, the big story with the QP is the transmission. The modern iteration of the car appeared in 2004 with DuoSelect, Maserati’s take on a paddle–shift automated–clutch manual transmission. While effective at high speeds, it was known to be a bit rough around town. Over the past few years the company greatly improved DuoSelect’s performance with software changes and mechanical tweaks. And last year they finally answered consumer demand and added a proper automatic to the lineup, which still offers a manual mode. Completely appropriate for a car in this class, it’s a fantastic treat that the automatic transmission is also exceptional: superb acceleration with butter-smooth gear changes in standard drive mode, authoritative crisp upshifts in “sport” mode, and instant response from the paddles or gear shift in “manual” mode. One of the best automatic transmissions I’ve driven.
So How Does it Drive
All the nicest appointments in the world are just tinsel if the car won’t drive, but that’s not a concern for QP owners. Pulling out of Palm Springs on Hwy 111 was a treat. The advertised 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds seemed about right, but aside from a slight push back in your seat you wouldn’t know you’re moving. In standard mode I wouldn’t describe the ride as “plush,” because that implies a syrupy kind of mush in terms of handling. Rather, the Skyhook suspension offers an oddly gliding feeling that sits right on the line between firm and float. I never felt like I wasn’t in touch with the road and the QP’s handling, but the bumps did manage to disappear nicely. Get out of the country club parking lot and push the “sport” button on the dash and things get serious. The car’s computer reorganizes everything around performance driving, and it’s noticeable in the stiffer suspension setting and more aggressive shifting. Sport GT S buyers will notice their version opts for more conventional stiffer-rate dampers and springs over the Skyhook ride. This will lower their QP approximately 10mm and further firm things up in terms of handling.
In any trim, the car is a rush at speed, in touch with the road and perfectly responsive. If 0-60 is fun, 80-to-120 is an absolute riot. The engine is thrilling, growling deep and low the more gas you give it, constantly pulling for more power with a response through the pedal that suggests it will never run out. Official numbers have the top speed near 165, and I don’t doubt it. With the pedal closer to the floor, the 23.8-gallon tank likely isn’t losing fuel at the 14-19mpg rate it usually does, but what fun! And this is rather the point of owning a Maserati: For all of its luxury and sensuous styling, the QP is a racehorse at heart.
Galloping by the shores of the Salton Sea in the Quattroporte, the desert trees and rocks an absolute blur, I feel closer to Italy and to the design team at Pininfarina than to the world of Southern California. When I stop for coffee or pull in for gas, I know all eyes will be on the car. But for now, anyone who blinks will miss it — and what a shame for them.