A quick drive in Maserati’s ultimate saloon.
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 are also dominating 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, that is). 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 Turinese 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.