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The all-new Maserati Quattroporte really does reflect the Italian car maker's determined effort to challenge Germany's luxury marques.
The second generation of the modern Quattroporte (the sixth generation Maserati large sedan overall) launched in Europe earlier this year ahead of its planned Australian introduction in September.
The new Maserati Quattroporte has grown in size – it’s now 166mm longer, 63mm wider and 43mm taller than its immediate predecessor – ostensibly to leave room in the line-up for the forthcoming, mid-sized Ghibli sedan.
While the previous-generation rival for the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7 Series was a taut, flowing design – etched by Pininfarina, no less – the new sedan seems to have moved towards the mainstream.
Of course, in terms of the way it drives this will matter little, particularly considering a crucial aspect of the new car’s specifications – its kerb weight – has been reduced by some 100kg.
Globally, the latest Quattroporte is available with a choice of two different engines and two different drive configurations. The engine line-up comprises a 390kW/650Nm 3.8-litre V8 and a 301kW/550Nm 3.0-litre V6 – both twin-turbocharged petrol engines, and both assembled by corporate cousin Ferrari in its Maranello factory. The V8 is a rear-wheel-drive sedan; the V6 comes in either rear- or (left-hand-drive-only) all-wheel-drive configurations.
We’ve gathered many first impressions of cars over the years, but we were yet to experience one with all four wheels off the ground within the first 500 metres of a test. This was not of our doing; we were merely in the passenger seat learning the layout of one particular test track from Alex Fiorio, a former WRC driver for the factory Lancia team.
On this track, there is a quick straight section followed by an S-turn in the middle of a big compression; Fiorio approached this turn without lifting and the Maserati hurtled through mid-air before landing, settling and continuing on its way.
The composure showed by the Quattroporte during this acrobatic manoeuvre was wildly impressive; we expected something on the car would bend or break, but it was content to be driven in this fashion all afternoon long.
But there is more to this grand touring saloon than just that; on the track’s fast corners, the all-wheel-drive system produced prodigious road-holding and a tendency to perform tail-happy slides at the limit. Impressive.
The AWD system maintains a 35:65 front-to-rear torque bias and is aided by a mechanical rear differential and a torque-vectoring brake system at the front wheels that has clearly been honed to a very fine point, though being LHD-only it is irrelevant for local buyers.
If there’s a weak link in the handling set-up it’s the steering, which suffers from weighting that’s too unpredictable depending on vehicle speed. The steering wheel is also overly big, but these criticisms matter little when set against the strength of the overall package.
Out on the open road, the Maserati Quattroporte performs as one would expect an executive sedan to perform. The engine note is sufficiently seductive and for good reason; although our test car is two cylinders down on the top-of-the-line model, it’s also one of the fastest V6 sedans in the world.
Rocketing along the autostrada at over 160km/h is a comfortable, effortless experience and there is never the sense that two cylinders are missing in action.
The eight-speed automatic transmission from ZF is a common design among luxury brands these days, but in this case it has been calibrated for quicker shifts – 40 per cent quicker than other applications, according to Maserati.
Inside, the Quattroporte is a reflection of the car as a whole. It’s the unexpected choice and, more pointedly, the non-Germanic choice. The interior has all the latest technology, but it’s ensconced in a uniquely crafted cabin that echoes cars of the past.
There are a few metallic touches here, for example, and no faux carbonfibre or TFT read-outs; it’s mainly soft-touch materials, earthy tones and analogue gauges.
Behind that massive steering wheel are two very prominent paddleshifters, and to the centre is a screen to house the navigation system. Take these two elements away and the Quattroporte could have been from a past era. It is very traditional.
Of course, it makes sense that a luxury Italian automobile should possess plenty of style. But what is so surprising about the Maserati Quattroporte is the quality of the engineering, and how engaging the car is to drive.
We expected a fairly soft sedan, one that couldn’t come close to the best the Germans had to offer – we were wrong.