Most people view a car as a mode of transportation. Enthusiasts see in the automobile something more: a stirring creation, a masterful feat of engineering, a triumph of design. For those in the former category, a Lexus or Mercedes would be the logical choice for a sports-luxury saloon. For those of us in the latter, we look for that indefinable X-factor that arouses passion and stirs the soul. That's why we here at Autoblog love the Maserati Quattroporte that so gracefully thumbs its nose at the more sensible offerings from Germany and Japan.

Unfortunately for automakers, remaining at the fringe just isn't enough these days. Certainly not for a major automotive conglomerate like Fiat, Maserati's parent company. Naturally, they'd like to see their cars emerge from the periphery and show real sales success. And they figure the one major factor holding back luxury sedan buyers from going for their Quattroporte is the transmission. The DuoSelect manumatic gearbox (called the Cambiocorsa in the two-door Coupe/Spyder/GranSport range, itself a derivation of sister-company Ferrari's F1 transmission) may offer better control than the typical automatic found in the competition's offerings, but although it's improved greatly, reviewers almost invariably lament its jerky shifts, especially on automatic mode. And that just doesn't fly with luxury sedan buyers, passionate or not.

Maserati has now released its long-awaited answer with the Quattroporte Automatic, eschewing the DuoSelect gearbox for a new six-speed unit from the transmission gurus at ZF. Unfortunately, a fully automatic gearbox means a torque converter, and that's sad news for the Quattroporte's Italian V8. The change in transmission also moves a bit more weight up front, changing the front-rear weight distribution to 49/51, as compared with the slightly more favorable 47/53 on the DuoSelect version. We'll just have to wait for full tests to see what kind of penalty that places on its performance, but we'll get a closer look at the Quattroporte Automatic next month as it makes its debut at the Detroit show to coincide with its release in January.

Interesting that with their M5, BMW just made a manual available to accompany its manu-matic, while one of its rivals, Maserati, has gone the other way.

Follow the jump for a couple more images.

[Source: Maserati]