Not to brag, but I recently had the unforgettable experience of getting up close and personal with four voluptuous Italian lovelies. Each was a frisky extrovert forever on the prowl for opportunities to cavort.

Lest my wife think the wrong kind of la dolce vita is afoot here, I'm referring to a marvelous Maserati, two fabulous Ferraris and a luscious Lamborghini.

Since I've always been a kiss-and-tell kind of guy when it comes to automotive dalliances, let me fill you in on how these ultra-passionate Italians behaved in my presence. I'm still smiling, by the way.

Maserati Quattroporte

The Maserati Quattroporte is the most elegant and understated of the four Italian exotics I drove. Of course, 'understated' is relative when the comparison vehicles happen to be Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

The only sedan in the quartet, Maserati's flagship came with a $124,810 sticker and easily the most sumptuous interior, featuring black leather set off by exquisite mahogany on the center console, steering wheel and gearshift selector.

As a general rule, cars with wood on their steering wheels tend to be more attuned to luxury than performance. That's not the case here, as the Quattroporte's 400-horsepower V8 is always ready to brawl, in concert with a smooth-shifting, six-speed automatic transmission.

Mash the loud pedal and the big Maserati quickly gets nasty, emitting an engine note that sounds as though the vehicle is ready for a spin around the Formula One racetrack in Monza, Italy.

Even though it's decked out in sleek Pinanfarina sheet metal, the Quattroporte is basically cruising for a bruising. Still, such behavior seems a tad unseemly -- kind of like forcing an athletic individual decked out in a spiffy Armani to go run wind sprints.

Of the four sexy Italians tested here, the Maserati is best suited to handling everyday driving duties. You don't have to be a contortionist to enter and exit the car, and the cabin is comfortable and luxurious.

As to why the CD changer is goofily situated down in the driver's footwell, directly next to the Quattroporte's steering column, only Maserati can answer that question.

Ferrari F430

For those who don't understand what this car is about, Ferrari has thoughtfully placed a small badge on the F430's dashboard. It reads: "Ferrari, 28 Formula One World Titles." Starting to get the picture now?

The Ferrari F430 is not about boring stuff like utility or practicality. Basically, it's a high-performance conveyance for bringing your Grand Prix fantasies to life every time you run to the cleaners or head out for milk and Cheerios.

To enter the F430, lower yourself limbo-style until your butt nearly touches the ground, then twist like a pretzel to maneuver around the steering wheel. After all, F1 jockeys don't sit bolt upright -- they're nearly supine while whizzing around in their gasoline-powered rockets.

If you felt a twinge in your back from merely reading the aforementioned ingress technique, this probably ain't the chariot for you. Ditto if you find the thought of a raucous, 490-horsepower V8 residing inches behind your head unsettling.

Push the starter button and the engine snaps to life with an attitudinal bark, eager to kick some Porsche or Aston Martin arse. Your mission is to find it. Otherwise, may as well buy a Toyota Corolla that costs 16 times less than your $260,000 F430.

Thanks to razor-sharp steering and throttle responses, the Ferrari F430 is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. Although I have to profess to not being fond of the paddle-shifting transmission controls mounted on the steering wheel.

Since I'm not Michael Schumacher, and have no delusions about driving like him, can I have an old-fashioned stick shift and clutch pedal, please?

Ferrari 612 Scaglietti

The Ferrari 612 Scaglietti is by far the prettiest of our four Italian exotics. Factor in a 5.7-liter, 540-horsepower V12 engine, and I was practically salivating at the prospect of getting some wheel time.

Ferrari's luxury car, and the only model in the Ferrari lineup capable of seating four people, the $275,000 Scaglietti fell far short of expectations. It's the only member of the quartet I had no qualms about walking away from when my test session ended.

For one thing, the Scaglietti lacked a manual transmission, but had a paddle-shifting one like the Ferrari F430. I opted to put the Scaglietti's transmission in 'drive' and let it shift like a conventional automatic.

That turned out to be a mistake, because every time the throttle was opened up, there seemed to be about an hour's delay before the message to get cracking reached the engine bay. OK, maybe it wasn't an hour, but you could practically count 'one 1,000, two 1,000' before the massive V12 got into the swing of things.

I was told that's because the 612 Scaglietti lacked a torque converter, since its tranny is configured like a true manual transmission. As if that weren't irritating enough, a most un-Ferrari-like "Clunk!" reverberated through the Scaglietti's suspension system every time it encountered a road irregularity.

In fairness, the 612 had 7,000 miles on its odometer, and had just been turned into a Miami auto dealership as a trade-in. No telling what indignities the owner had visited upon the beautiful Ferrari.

Whatever had transpired, the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti left me cold, which was surprising and disappointing.

By the way, the rear seats are so small that they're only suitable for small children or full-grown people you want revenge on.

Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

Imagine a machine-gun fire string of concussive upshifts, deftly channeling 520 horsepower from a roaring V10 engine that seems hell-bent on cracking the sound barrier. Your convertible top is down, allowing you to hear a high-octane maelstrom in your wake, as a warm South Florida breeze rustles your hair.

Like a bobble-head doll, your noggin rocks back with every lightning-quick shift of the transmission. "Pow, pow, pow!" Naturally while all this is going on, a maniacal grin is plastered across your face.

Welcome to the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, the wild child of our Italian foursome, a veritable four-wheeled Britney Spears on amphetamines. Costing $237,000, the Spyder was apparently built with two primary objectives in mind: Obliterating speed limits and bellowing a mega-decibel siren song that turns every head within a 30-mile radius.

Which is why Lamborghini buyers gravitate to the marque in the first place, says Steven Lewis, of Miami-based Prestige Imports. Lamborghini aficionados make their Ferrari counterparts look downright dowdy by comparison, he observes.

"Most Lamborghini owners are entrepreneurs with topsy-turvy lifestyles who aren't particularly stable financially," Lewis says. "Ferrari claims to have a two- or three-year waiting list of solid orders for their cars. Lamborghini probably has a two- or three-week list.

"With Lamborghini, if you take an order today and the car comes in one year, the customer's probably broke, divorced or dead!" Lewis laughs.

Having driven a Gallardo Spyder, I can unequivocally state that Lamborghini pilots definitely know how to have big fun. Not even the paddle-shifting transmission (do any drivers of newer Italian exotics know how to operate a conventional stick?) can spoil things here.

Be prepared to be startled when you get behind the wheel of a Gallardo Spyder. It's not widely known that Audi owns Lamborghini, so it's a shock to see dials and controls that look as if they were filched from an Audi A4.

However, once you get rolling, I seriously doubt you'll care.



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