Hasty & Superficial: Maserati Quattroporte GTS (2014)

A quick drive in Maserati’s ultimate saloon.

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Today I had the chance to experience a car I consider to be among the most disappointing of recent years – the successor to the flawed yet glorious Quattroporte V. Gone is the lithe elegance of Ken Okuyama’s styling, making way for considerably more competitive technology, as well as simply gargantuan proportions.

It really is an ungainly-looking barge, trying to marry its enormous size with some stylistic nods to its predecessor. The result I’d consider something akin to Jaguar’s unfortunate X350 XJ – an ill-advised pastiche, borne by the misconception that certain cues are independent of scale and proportions. If I want a giant Maserati, I’d personally go for Giugiaro’s Mk III version instead, in all its Passat-on-steroids glory.

But Quattroporte VI’s opulent dimensions also dominae the driving experience at first. I’ve never driven a saloon that feels as ill-placed on European roads (or parking lots), and this is taking Jaguar’s similarly vast X351 XJ into account. The first few (continental) kilometres I was completely preoccupied with grasping the car’s dimensions, its width being my prime concern once I’d left the parking lot behind. Not having looked up the numbers, I’d hazard a guess that this is the dimension in which the Maserati trumps the Jaguar most resonantly. How this car is supposed to cope with the narrow confines of your typical Italian village is beyond my imagination.

But thankfully, I deliberately chose wide streets for the remainder of my tour and could therefore focus on the Quattroporte’s strengths, which are there and present, believe it or not – mainly under the bonnet. Which is where this GTS version hides a mighty 530hp, 3.8 litre V8 biturbo power plant. The acceleration provided by this engine stands in almost comical contrast to the Quattroporte’s girth, as does its melodious engine note (if one decides to select the sport mode).

This really is a fine-sounding car in a fashion only the Italians seem to be able to create, which is all the more noteworthy in this day and age of synthetic pseudo engine soundtracks. Of course there’s some exhaust pipe trickery involved, and naturally its melody isn’t of the subdued kind, but it’s perfectly in keeping with what I expect from a Latin saloon with sporting pretensions.

The attentive reader might by now have caught my drift: the Quattroporte GTS’ engine is its secret weapon, the one area where the big Torinese can surprise and delight. And yet it also encapsulates the folly of modern prestige engineering: to me, it felt too powerful, too effortless. The main joy I was afforded by this kind of driving involved theatrics: raspy exhaust notes and downchange bangs.

The actual acceleration, riding on a wave of no less than 650Nm, felt somewhat surreal and disconnected, despite (or partially because of?) the excellent ZF eight speed auto box’s responses. It didn’t really feel much like driving, more like operating a machine. An impressive machine, but one I respect from afar, rather than admire with all my heart. Not exactly what one would associate with a racy Latin offering.

Despite hardly being an old man myself, I feel almost as though I’m increasingly removing myself from the joys of modern upper class motoring. The third generation Audi A8 I’ve driven on a regular basis is certainly closer to the Quattroporte VI in feel than my Jaguar XJ12, but the Maserati is actually moving one step further away from the mechanical kind of driving experience.

The Audi can actually occasionally be caught appearing somewhat strained when trying to cater to the driver’s needs, its 4.2 litre naturally aspirated V8 – weedy in comparison to the Maserati’s torque monster – feeling as though its power needs to be wrung out of it. The Audi needs to work in order to deliver, the Maserati just does, as if simply by the flick of a switch. It does so emitting a delectable melody, but that can’t quite hide the overwhelming capabilities of such a hyper engine.

I feel towards it in a similar fashion that could be compared to a vinyl enthusiast’s emotions towards a very competent remix of a great album on CD. I’m in awe, but I’m strangely left cold. But enough with the engine, overbearing though it is, even if the rest of the car can’t match it in terms of intrigue.

As a luxury saloon, the Quattroporte is a disappointment, bordering on failure. And that is not due to its rather harsh ride quality, which acts as an awkward reminder of the fact that this whale of a car is actually a sports saloon. The reason for this assessment can be found in its cabin. It may be spacious (obviously), its metal column shift paddles a nice touch (literally) and its Poltrona Frau leather deliciously soft, but that can’t distract from the very ordinary styling, careless detailing and occasionally dubious ergonomics (never before have I been as perplexed by a gear selector).

This Quattroporte really feels like a car designed with the best of intentions by people who, unfortunately, really don’t know much about luxury. And this is put into even starker contrast when compared with its immediate predecessor, a very flawed car that knew exactly how to conjure an impression of exclusivity. It wasn’t even perfect in terms of styling, but all the little inconsistencies in that case had an air of Sprezzatura about them, that very Italian kind of elegant sloppiness. The Quattroporte VI’s sloppiness, on the other hand, seems more like the result of ineptitude.

22 thoughts on “Hasty & Superficial: Maserati Quattroporte GTS (2014)”

  1. Thank you for that Kris. A revealing, if depressing, read. Maserati seem to be shooting themselves in the foot with their ambition. The Quattroporte V was a very clever updating of the on-off model, matching and arguably beating the attraction of the original. Purchasers forgave all the flaws in order to get hold of that shape, so all Maserati had to do was some updating to the styling and some larger changes to the driving experience. Yet they seem to have done the opposite. Or is it that a flawed driving experience is now considered by FCA as being part of Maserati’s USP? Since The Ghibli seems to be getting the same reception, it would seem so. Some of this reverts to the comments below on Eoin’s ‘A Question of Form’ thread. Individuals, not groups and certainly not marketing-led groups are the people needed to guide projects like this. Motoring history is full of people such as William Lyons, Andre Lefebvre, Zora Arkus-Duntov and Richard Parry-Jones who leave a big and irreplaceable gap in their particular field when they are gone. Hindsight is beginning to suggest that Fiat just got lucky with the Quattroporte V, and really did not understand what made it attractive.

  2. Maserati’s recent past can be defined by its very lack of definition. Fiat’s ownership of the marque has maintained this ill-defined trait, so the fact that the new Quattroporte is such a pig’s ear is entirely consistent with this inconsistent theme. Fiat’s problem has always been an inability or unwillingness to countenance centres of power within their satellite divisions. What is abundantly clear is that Maserati now lacks both the leadership and the engineering depth to mix with the big boys.

    To return to the theme of my previous post, the current ‘porte is exactly what you get when you abandon the Carrozzeire and appoint a design team fresh from creating the latest bloated Fiat 500 brand extension. Maserati is supposed to be FCA’s ‘hero’ brand, and as such, requires a bit more than this slapdash approach to product development. Technocrats do not provide an environment conducive to inspired work. At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, if this is the best that can be achieved at the pinnacle of the FCA ziggurat, the FCA goose is well and truly cooked.

  3. Oddly enough, the maestro’s alleged reticence over the Medici’s styling didn’t stop him from sending it over to Browns Lane to accompany his initial (and unsuccessful) XJ40 proposal. There are photos of it sporting hastily added ‘leapers’ lined up against Bertone, Pininfarina’s and Jaguar’s own styling efforts for Lord Stokes and John Barber to critique during 1974. The occupants of Jaguar’s experimental shop dubbed it ‘The Gunship’. I guess he felt it was worth a try, although if he was so unhappy with the proportions, why pitch it to anyone – let alone a company with Jaguar’s styling heritage? More coincidentally still, Giugiaro’s second attempt at XJ40 was basically Quattroporte III. It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that he really wasn’t taking the brief all that seriously.

    But Sean is correct – Medici II looks distinctly Delta-esque. Scaled down, the styling would have made for a credible Beta replacement – and allowed for some styling cohesiveness while they were at it. More missed opportunities…

  4. Well, always the businessman, and assuming that Jaguar provided the leapers, paid for the shipping and treated him to a pub lunch and a B&B, Giugiaro probably reckoned correctly that he’d come out of it better off than Bertone.

  5. Jaguar and Giugiaro were never exactly a match made in heaven, as stressed by the Kensington concept more than a decade later (though I do have a bit of a soft spot for the Lexus GS it helped “inspire”).

    After my drive, I looked at some Quattroporte VI reviews, including Big Georg Kacher’s at That Website Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned. He actually seems to be very fond of the car, including, somewhat shockingly, its styling, which I find rather astonishing, given his rather scathing opinion on Jaguar’s X351 (which is more in keeping with the Austrian Sequoia’s usual stance towards non-German offerings).
    I won’t bother with hyperlinking, but Georg’s aesthetic sensibilities are bordering on the bizarre in this instance.

    Days after having driven it, I’m still strangely perplexed how little I’m lusting after the by far most powerful car I’ve ever driven. In the wake of my X351 test drive some years ago, I actually found it quite appealing for theoretical everyday, long distance use, even though I’d never ever exchange my XJ for one. The Maserati, on the other hand, only endeared itself with its engine note, which I can enjoy from afar just as well.
    It’s just plainy not good enough.

  6. I can Fiat is getting ready to do to Maserati what it previously did to Lancia and Alfa Romeo. In a recent issue of a popular monthly motoring magazine there was an image of the Ghibli interior.Fussy about sums it up. There are vehicles on sale for a fifth of the price with more considered dashboards. Money is not the problem at Maserati as numerous examples of their earlier cars show. What is absent is taste and discernment. The busy shapes of the centre console looked as if someone was trying too hard to justify the price.

    1. My first encounter with Maserati à la Marchionne was the abysmal interior of a poverty spec Ghibli saloon, which was shockingly poor, not just in terms of styling, but, above all, in terms of perceived quality of materials. It’s not a cheap reference to FCA’s US branch when I claim that it felt like some American wannabe luxury car (the kind Cadillac churned out until about 15 years ago – current Cadillacs are far classier cars than the Maserati saloons).
      Last weekend, I also had the chance to revisit the Ghibli saloon, this time specced to the brim with that rather lovely Poltrona Frau leather and wood that didn’t look like it had been taken off the kitchen cabinet door of a 1970’s Winnebago. The styling, unfortunately, was still the same. As a result, I’d actually prefer the facelifted XF’s cabin, which gives the appearance of being a few classes above the Maserati’s, although I actually consider the XF’s interior the weakest of the current Jaguar range.

    2. Maserati interiors are so difficult to get right. I once drove well out of my way to North London to look, seriously, at a QP IV. I know some don’t like Giugiaro’s efforts there, but I’ve always liked the outside, plus the idea of the V8. The inside was in fine condition with nice, soft cream leather (although I wondered how clean I could keep it). However it had a truly horrible shiny riveted wood steering wheel and the ‘signature’ Maserati clock. The presence of these two items meant that I didn’t bother asking for the salesman to move a couple of cars st that I could test drive it. Maybe I could have prised the clock off the dashboard and replaced it with something classier from Argos, but the airbag wheel would have been very difficult to deal with (furry pink cover?). I hoped that Maserati had sorted themselves out in this department.

    3. Kris. Quite right. My typo and since, in the Giugiaro/Gandini/Blur/Oasis/United/City/Snails/Oysters playground game, I’ve grown more in favour of Gandini in my old age, I’m glad you pointed that out. Although you might say that I’d have done him more favours if I had stood uncorrected!

      Giugiaro’s III dash looks a suitable mixture of louche and important, unlike this :

      Maserati Quattroporte 3.2i V8 Evoluzione (1998)

    4. Oh dear. That’s quite a bit more unpleasant than I remembered it, yet still more charming than the current Maserati saloons’ cockpits.

      Isn’t it curious how the De Tomaso years left such a long-lasting legacy when it came to Maserati’s interiors? All that clock business is, after all, considered a core component of the Maserati “DNA”, despite all that uneasiness associated with Alejandro’s reign in nearly every other regard.

      Another anecdote coming to mind is in connection with yet another Maserati comeback car, the 3200 GT. That was the first Maserati to be guided by Luca di Montezemolo (the second and last being Quattroporte V), and an interview he lamented the complications resulting from its interior being designed by people “who usually do Lancias”, and how he had to demand constant tinkering before reaching an agreeable design. I doubt Lorenzo Ramaciotti was equally persistent during the genesis of Quattroporte VI/Ghibli saloon.

    5. LdM : What’s this the dashboard isn’t finished
      Person Who Usually Does Lancias : But Duca, what do you mean?
      LdM : I mean where is the classical timepiece?
      PWUDL : Principe, do you mean the clock that’s shaped like a ….
      LdM : Watch it!
      PWUDL : Cavaliere, we wouldn’t normally put something like that on one of our dashboards at Lancia. It’s rather … how can I put it?
      LdM : Tasteless?
      PWUDL : Visconte, it’s not for me to say but surely …
      LdM : Look, it’s part of the brand’s rich heritage. It stretches right back to …
      PWUDL : De Tomaso Cardinale?
      LdM : OK, but the punters expect it. Just put it in. It’s brand continuity.
      PWUDL : Would you like a bunch of exposed screw heads and rust around the door bottoms whilst your at it Eminence?
      LdM : Look I said watch it. How would you like to end your career designing rides for Ferrari World?
      PWUDL : Oh, Holiness, that is so funny. Ferrari World! Such wit.

  7. Super thread. Where did you get the insight on the Lancia designers? I am learning a lot here.
    I feel as if there is secret vault of knowledge I have not stumbled upon and bits of it keep washing up in Sean, Kubrick and Eoin´s comments.
    The Gandini QP interior is killed by that horrible steering wheel. It seems to have come from an Opel Corsa or a Nissan Something.
    The difficulty with a Maserati interior is gauging the opulence. As it stands you can get very nice interiors in some pretty affordable cars. Adding expense thereafter does little to add quality and increases the risk of failures of taste. Think of a good hamburger: 200 g of meat and some garnish and that´s as good as it gets. But if you want to charge $45.00 for a hamburger the chances are that tripling the size of the patty and adding slivers of foie gras and blobs of caviar is going to result in something more gross than luxurious. The Maserati interiors tend to be in that line of thinking. Caviar? Good, some of that. Foie gras? Good, lots of that. More minced beef. Maybe some gold leaf encrusting the bun? Great. We´re set.

    1. If I’m not mistaken, Luca di Montezemolo’s comment stems from a piece in the long since discontinued German magazine, AutoForum. It was about Maserati’s resurgence under Ferrari management, heralded by the then new 3200 GT.
      It was a lengthy text that left an impression on my younger self’s memory for some obscure reason.

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    1. He had a good list of credits to his name, didn´t he. But Wikipedia only cites two projects at Lancia: a contribution to the Lybra (partial) and the Y. He also did the 164 and GTV. SInce about 1999 he has not been at Fiat Group but has been a consultant. I don´t think that list is exhaustive.

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