First Drive: Maserati Quattroporte S in Europe

Maserati Quattropore S – Click above for high-res image gallery

Let's be honest: cars can be a mode of transportation, but you're not reading Walkoblog or Cycleblog, now are you? At the heart of matters, what we're really pursuing here is that unbridled enthusiasm we had for cars as children. With every comparison of engine output and Nurburgring lap times, we're reaching back to the schoolyard, childishly debating the superiority of one sportscar over another. And all these galleries of high resolution images we bring you are just our updated version of hanging posters of Ferraris and Lamborghinis on the walls of our childhood bedrooms. How disappointed our younger selves would be, however, at what we end up driving when we finally have the means: ho-hum family sedans, bloated SUVs and wobly mini-vans. If only someone made an exotic sedan – not a compromise between the two, but a genuine exotic with four doors. That's exactly what Maserati did in 2003 with the revival of the Quattroporte, with a little help from sister-brand Ferrari.

With the Quattroporte, Maserati has proven itself capable of satisfying both our inner child and the one sitting in the back. A tough act to follow, then, because a sequel is seldom as exciting the original. But after 15,000 units delivered, the Quattroporte was treated to a mid-cycle refresh, sharpening up its already luscious styling, throwing in a host of new features and, most tantalizingly, dropping a bigger, more powerful engine into the mix. With such promise in store, we headed out to Austria to see what the boys from Modena had cooked up... and to seek out that boyhood grin once again.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Noah Joseph / Weblogs, Inc.

First things first, let's set the record straight: while the new Quattroporte isn't entirely new, it's far from a fresh coat of paint (although new color options are also available). For 2009, the only true exotic sedan on the market has been treated to an extensive array of updates. The exterior has been thoroughly revised, from the front bumper to the rear, incorporating new LED headlights and taillamps and a host of stylistic alterations in between, all of which make the Quattroporte even more dazzling than the outgoing model.

The interior has likewise been substantially revised, including a new infotainment console developed by Bose specifically for Maserati. The unit incorporates the sound system (with iPod integration, a 40GB hard disk, XM satellite radio and an optical drive capable of playing just about anything you could fit in there), plus a surprisingly user-friendly sat-nav unit. It took us a while to figure out how to navigate the system, controlled by just two knobs and a few buttons, but once we did found it far more intuitive than the increasingly frustrating systems on other luxury sedans. The new seats offer plenty of support in the twisty bits, while being supple enough to offer comfort for long cruises, and the updated ergonomics were easy to navigate. The new features seemlessly blend the latest technologies with sumptuous craftsmanship in a cabin that proved both supportive for aggressive driving and comfortable for touring in the grandest of style.

All in all the stylistic updates do a good job of keeping the Quattroporte out in front of the competition – especially with competitors (albeit more expensive) from Porsche and Aston Martin looming on the horizon – but fortunately Maserati had another treat in store for us. While the 4.2-liter V8 engine that served the outgoing model so well carries on largely unchanged, it's now got company. And what esteemed company it is. Having enlarged its Ferrari-developed V8 to 4.7 liters for use in the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, Maserati then shoehorned the 425-hp unit into the GranTurismo S for debut in Geneva last March. Recognizing a delicious opportunity when it sees one, the boys from Modena then did the same with its refreshed four-door counterpart, giving birth to the Quattroporte S. In addition to the bigger, more powerful engine, the Quattroporte S also gets bigger brakes (14.2" dual-cast aluminum/iron dics with six-pot calipers up front versus the base model's 13 inches and four pistons), bigger wheels (19" standard with the 20" rims from the GranTurismo S also available, as compared to the standard model's 18" wheels) along with Maserati's Skyhood electronically-controlled suspension instead of the standard single damping unit.

With the delectable promise of an even more powerful engine boosted out of a supercar housed in even sharper styling, we headed for the the mountain roads and Autobahns around picturesque Salzburg, Austria, to sample Maserati's latest. You might recognize Salzburg as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but not since the composer's passing has the city heard such splendid music as the note emitted from the pipe organs of the Quattroporte S. The bigger displacement of the 4.7 translates to a more deep-throated burble than the high-pitched wail of the 4.2. Pulling up at a traffic light in town, the crowd's attention was drawn to the Quattroporte's updated lines, but the real smiles – those childish grins of unbridled enthusiasm – really came out when we popped it into neutral and revved it around the dial towards the 7,500 rpm redline. Yeah, we're that guy. Heads turned and lips muttered the name "Maserati" with simultaneous reverence and excitement.

Navigating through city streets, the Quattroporte proved as docile as any family sedan. Disengaging the "sport" button – which for spirited driving makes a noticeable difference in the active suspension's adjustments – reveals a vehicle that, as much as the ease-of-use of modern supercars has improved in recent years, makes no compromises in everyday drivability in return for its superlative performance. But what we really sought was that deserted, twisting mountain road to see how far the Quattroporte S could be pushed.

After what seemed like an eternity of searching, we finally came upon our playground: a narrow two lane road snaking up the mountain, passing through a quiet village in the middle and ending at the entrance to a national park. The constant turns, camber changes, dips and swells demanded our constant attention, as any great driving road (and great driving automobile) should, but what came across most clearly was how easy the Quattroporte S is to drive fast. It accelerates up the sharpest inclines with tenacity, scrubs off speed with authority and tackles a seemingly endless barrage of direction changes with aplomb, barely breaking a sweat or – heaven forbid – wrinkling its sharply tailored suit. Once we got to the top, we gave the engine a bit of a break and let the natural forces of gravity tap in. No rest for the suspension and brakes, though, as we turned around and headed back down again. Daunted as we were by the proximity of centuries-old stone walls on one side and sharp cliffs dropping down the other, we still gave the Maser a good nine tenths, but the car didn't feel like it had to muster more than half its might to dispatch our serpentine mountain pass with the determination of an Olympic athlete.

On our way back to base camp, we let the Maserati stretch its legs on the autobahn, passing over the porous German border sporadically along the way. While posted limits kept us in check for part of the way, once the limits dropped, so did our right foot, with that Porsche in our rear-view mirror getting smaller by the second. The Quattrorte S ate up the miles as easily as it did the mountain roads. Even as our speeds approached the ludicrous, the Maserati never seemed to be nearing its limits, as hard as we tried under permitting conditions. The rev-happy engine could thankfully still be heard under acceleration, but while coasting or braking we barely had to raise our voices despite the sheer volume of crisp mountain air through which the Maser's slippery surface cut. All the while the car tracked steadily and reassuringly, telling us like an eager marine that it was ready for more and awaiting our command. Hard to say no.

As our time behind the wheel drew to a close, we reluctantly headed back into town to hand back the keys. The Maserati press agent who greeted us upon our return spoke no English, and ourselves no Italian, but our trembling hands broke through the language barrier without the need for translation. So did the childish grin on our faces. Looks like the Quattroporte's rejuvenation had the same effect on its driver after all.

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Photos Copyright ©2008 Noah Joseph / Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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