Driven, Written: Maserati Quattroporte V (2008)

A flawed masterpiece is still a work of art, as our German correspondent discovers in Maserati’s most comely of four-door models.

Sometimes, one can win the lottery without ever having to enter. As on the occasion of our recent trip to Antwerp, when we weren’t at the mercy of the Rental Car Lottery, but had, thanks to a generous friend, a confirmed reservation for the front seats of a car I’d always admired – the Maserati Quattroporte V, also known as Tipo M139 in marque parlance.

First unveiled in 2003, the Quattroporte V re-established the model at the luxurious end of the performance car market, after its immediate predecessor had gone for a more unusual/contrived positioning. As originally developed by Ferrari, Tipo M139 was initially available only with the kind of sequential gearbox Modenese engineers were besotted with in those days. The inherent clunkiness and appalling lack of refinement of this set-up did little for the sales prospect of a model that was otherwise deemed spot-on for its brand and intended market.

The example we sampled during our 1400 kilometre trip across western Europe was, thankfully, a later Sport GT model, which means it was equipped with a more mundane, yet far more serviceable ZF torque-converter six-speed auto. The Ferrari-based V8 engine’s output remained unchanged though, at 400 hp.

To get the most obvious points out of the way quickly, I feel compelled to mention that I didn’t tire of the Quattroporte’s looks during the week we spent with it. Whether returning to the car from an Autobahn pit stop or approaching it in a car park, its beauty remained striking – particularly when more modern (or rather: current) interpretations of automotive luxury were within view. Obviously, the Maserati is more butch in its appearance than a classic Jaguar XJ, but still exhibits a redolent kind of poised grace. It’s therefore a car I obviously enjoyed being associated with, quite unlike many of the rental cars we’d been using over the past year.

It’s also a car I enjoyed spending time in, as its Poltrona Frau leather, despite being well-worn, still betrayed its exceptional quality, through its touch, feel and scent. The wood also appeared as though it came courtesy of an Italian artisan, rather than Faurecia or Johnson Controls. So flaws and all, the Quattroporte V still felt like a proper luxury item, rather than mundanity covered in gold foil.

Speaking of flaws, there were many. More than I’d anticipated, in fact. The rain sensor would only trigger the wipers in most cumbersome a fashion – which was fine, since at maximum speed, the right-hand side wiper would inevitably knock against the lower cladding. The automated lights were only barely more predictable. Similarly, the air-con would alternate between rather-too-warm and definitely-too-cold settings on a random basis. The glovebox appeared to be suffering from material fatigue. There was a rattle inside the b-post, right next to my left ear.

On top of these (long-term?) quality issues, there were more than a few inherent shortcomings that became apparent when driving the Maserati for some time. Like the Blaupunkt sat-nav system, which the car’s owner bluntly described as ‘Scheiße’, and was diplomatically rated as being poor, back in the day. From today’s perspective, it’s laughably awful.

In terms of NVH, the Quattroporte also fell well short, owing to more road noise than expected (and occasional wind noise as well, possibly a function of its Lancia Thesis-sourced wing mirrors) and, above all, plenty of engine and transmission vibrations being emanated though the body. To add insult to injury, the Maserati also felt far from potent at regular revs – below 3000 RPM, one could come to the conclusion that its power output is only half the claimed figure.

Next to the stylistically equally accomplished Audi A8 of similar vintage (but decidedly different flair), the Quattroporte V appears hopelessly inept, certainly on the basis of hard facts. The Audi is far better built, more advanced and (when equipped with the 4.2 V8 petrol engine) even feels more powerful than the Italian thoroughbred, despite being some 50 hp short of it, at least at non-Autobahn speeds.

Humans being human though, facts aren’t all that matters. The Maserati V8’s glorious engine note, for example, wouldn’t be included in any comparison chart, but entertains every time it’s audible. The pedigree of the interior’s touchpoints also acts as constant reminder that one is driving a bespoke device, rather than a mass market product. The steering feel betrays the Quattroporte’s performance car roots and adds significantly to the impression of  driving a car much smaller than its more than five metres of length would suggest. Not to mention the way in which that V8 sings above 3000 RPM.

With seemingly half of Germany’s Autobahn network currently comprising of roadworks – and in mostly awful weather, I didn’t even remotely get to test the Maserati’s limits. Nor was I tempted, given it’s not my car and that I had to pay for the petrol myself.

So I mostly ambled through Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium at 130 kph (or significantly less), consuming about 12.5 litres of Super 95 every 100 kilometres, in a car that would rattle and shake at low speeds, and whose oil temperature at such speeds would sink to 70° C, rather than the optimum 90°. I obviously wasn’t using this car, or rather – its engine, the way it was intended, as its cumbersome demeanour at these speeds very much suggested; sometimes accompanied by the clunk of the wiper hitting the lower plastic cladding, always feeling either a bit too cold or a bit too warm. And yet I loved every minute of it.

There is no reasonable way of making a case for the Maserati Quattroporte V. The aforementioned Audi A8 is the better car every regard – except the choice of natural interior materials, steering feel and mostly, ride comfort. The Quattroporte’s turbocharged successor feels infinitely more potent at regular speeds. But the former is a clinical Bauhaus style bungalow to Tipo M139’s impressive, yet cosy Tuscan renaissance villa, whereas the latter, for all its improvements in everyday usability, simply feels like a Chrysler dressed up in posh hides.

Alas it’s difficult to make a case for listening to feelings over facts in today’s day and age, but spending a week with the Maserati Quattroporte V leaves this driver/scribe with no other choice.

All images courtesy of the author.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

39 thoughts on “Driven, Written: Maserati Quattroporte V (2008)”

  1. Thanks for this report, Christopher! This Quattroporte is a car I always fancied, and I envy you for having had the opportunity to drive it. Even if it would probably have been some sort of disillusion for me as well, I’d still like to do it. Maybe one could even be lucky and discover an example with less rattle and a better working heating. Coming from Citroën world, I know of how different quality a car of the same type can sometimes be. And it also sounds familiar how, despite living with numerous flaws, and losing every objective comparison, you still don’t want to drive anything else.

    1. I was surprised by the basic nature of some of the car’s flaws, but far from disillusioned. I’d own that car in a heartbeat, if I had the means – though my partner might disagree, as she (despite being a theoretical Maserati aficionado) couldn’t come to terms with many of those shortcomings.

    2. Could it be that some of the HVAC sensors didn’t work properly?
      The way you describe the heater doesn’t sound as if it were working correctly.
      Regarding the sat nav one should not forget that there are fifteen years of development of IT systems between it and current equipment.

    3. It was clearly an electronic issue, rather than a mechanical one.

      Regarding the sat-nav/infotainment, I’d like to point yet again in the direction of that Audi A8 of similar vintage, whose MMI system felt a decade ahead of the Maserati’s, even in 2008.

  2. My thanks also, Christopher. Cars like this have hugely enriched the automotive landscape, but are a fast dying breed, thanks to consolidation in the industry and the urgent need to respond to environmental concerns. A friend of mine with a predilection for automotive underdogs has recently traded in a current generation Quattroporte VI for a DB11 coupé, taking a huge hit on the former. While nothing as handsome or well resolved as your Quattroporte V, it still had great charm and character. Whether those qualities were worth over £15k a year in depreciation is a moot point.

  3. Have you driven a Lancia Thesis? I get the feeling the Thesis in its big-engined version would offer a lot of what this car does with fewer annoying quirks but all of the warmth.

    1. I haven’t, unfortunately.

      Apologies for stating the obvious, but the Quattroporte is a far more attractive car than the Lancia. The Thesis is charismatic, and certain details are genuinely appealing, but in its entirety, I’m not nearly as attracted by its appearance as I am by the Maserati’s, I’m afraid. I see the Lancia’s appeal, but I’m too much of a classicist myself to take one over the Quattroporte.

  4. I’ve been watching a 3.0d VI for at least 4 months. 77k and only asking 18-19k. I dislike the carbon dash and dark leather but otherwise v droolworthy.

  5. The guy who services my C6 (Robert at BL Autos – they are expert at sorting all things Citroen, especially the oleopneumatic cars all the way back to early DS’s; Robert is the expert on C6s), bought himself a Quattroporte like the one in the article. He’s barely driven it because so much has had to be sorted. Parts are ridiculously expensive, even brake-pads being a multiple of the cost of those on the C6. It seems many C6 owners fancy the Maserati as a replacement for their apparently expensive-to-fix Citroens, only to find that the maintenance costs are even more eye-watering.

    Maybe there is a given affliction that attracts some of us to emotionally engaging cars which are also ruinously expensive to keep and run?

  6. This week Maserati has announced the end for the Gran Turismo and Cabrio, but assure us that a new GT or sports car is in development.

    Unfortunately, last week Alfa Romeo revealed that its sports car development was dead, with the 4C canned and the forthcoming coupe cancelled. Uh oh. Not sounding so good for Maserati’s prospects, is it?

    The Gran Turismo, like this Quattroporte, is a charismatic but flawed car. Mr Tavares, the new boss at FCA, is unlikely to approve of such romantic nonsense.

    1. “Mr Tavares, the new boss at FCA, is unlikely to approve of such romantic nonsense.”
      OK, that means that Maserati will either cease to exist or continue as a Diesel/SUV brand (which is essentially the same). Thanks a lot!

    2. Simon, I think Maserati had a real choice 10 years ago – continue to drive upmarket (trading on that Ferrari association) or chase volume. They chose the latter.

      Hard to believe that this storied manufacturer was selling a rebodied Ferrari Enzo as a track day toy for the ultra wealthy not so long ago. It was a marque, it is now a ‘premium brand’.

      Given Aston Martin’s recent troubles, it is hard to say that the true luxury market is any easier, but that link with Ferrari is unique. With a little imagination, Maserati could become something really special.

    3. Tavares tends to be misrepresented by the press – his public image resembles that of a Ghosn v2.0, which he is not. Unlike most turnaround specialists/red ink artists, Tavares has a fundamental understanding of the product, including engineering and design. As such, he isn’t just about cutting costs, but a combination of ruthless efficiency and offering a genuinely attractive product.

      Which obviously isn’t to say that he’ll keep Maserati alive for sentimental reasons. But if he sees a market for the brand, he’ll nurture it – far more capably than his direct predecessors as custodians, if I may say so. The fact that the Alpine A110 was very much his baby, for which he’d fought for more than a decade, speaks volumes in that context.

    4. Jacomo,

      Maserati’s and Jaguar’s downmarket ambitions are among the worst corporate decisions in recent memory, in my opinion. Neither was ever going to give BMW & Audi any sleepless nights, so chasing volume to such an extent was always fraught with pitfalls.

      Both are boutique brands who should be far more interested in earning enough per car than through fleet sales et al. In Maserati’s case, di Montezemolo had even paved the way for creating a genuine Italian Bentley fighter – for here was a brand that possesses similar cachet and could’ve asked for the same kind of money, if only they’d ever gotten a handle on fundamental quality.
      The electronic gizmos that have become so essential to the ‘premium’ market are far less important in the luxury sector, so FCA’s shortcomings in that area wouldn’t have been as significant as they turned out to be when trying to lure Audi A6 and BMW 5 series drivers out of their German business expresses.

    5. “The electronic gizmos that have become so essential to the ‘premium’ market are far less important in the luxury sector,…”

      Christopher, maybe at some point in the future you could expand on this, because it is a nuance that I don’t really understand. (basically i just hate all the electronic crap and don’t understand it, or its appeal).

      Also, where is the dividing line between premium and luxury ?

    6. I suggest you go to your nearest Audi/BMW/Mercedes dealership and sit inside an A8/7 series/S-class for a moment. Then you go to a used car dealer who happens to have a Quattroporte V in stock and do the same. Touch and smell the leather, look at the stitching and wood. The differences should become apparent immediately.

    7. The new Ferrari Roma (revealed last night) looks like a Maserati to me. Not a super sports car but a pretty GT.

      In fact, if it had a more charming, warmer cabin, it would be glorious. But of course Ferrari knows what it is doing – the Prancing Horse is worth more than any Trident.

    8. Ferrari and Maserati are completely separate entities since the former went public – so I doubt this was a case of a late-in-the-day badge swap, as (allegedly) happened with the Ferrari California.

      That being said, the Roma is unusual in that it looks more like an amalgamation of Jaguar F-type and Mazda concept car design cues than the rather overwrought concoctions that have become the Modenes norm.

    9. Christopher, I agree.

      However, conceptually the Roma looks like it is occupying the space that Maserati has deserted.

      It’s a pretty cautious and unoriginal new model from Ferrari, but it does look very well executed. With a dark tan Poltrona Frau interior, and dare I say it a little wood, it would be delightful.

    10. Oh absolutely. It’s the only Ferrari I’d even consider driving (on an hilariously theoretical level, of course).

  7. Here’s the Roma, for those who haven’t seen it yet:

    It’s a bit new generation Aston Martin and reminds me particularly of that special DB10 one-off for a recent James Bond 007 film:

    1. While acknowledging the references as mentioned above, my very first thought upon seeing the photographs in yesterday’s Automotive News was that it was a version of the Piech Automotive concept shown earlier this year at Geneva. And while it’s something of a relief to see Ferrari edging towards a calmer, more classicist aesthetic, Roma appears a little too derivative for its own good, in my estimation.

    2. Thank you Daniel, you are fabulous at illustrating your posts on here (and I am very poor)!

      I see similarities to both DB10 and the Piech concept… if only Aston Martin had stopped there, and not delivered the DB11 and Vantage. Both are, to my eyes, overwrought… using a favourite word of DtW.

    3. Thank you for your kind words, Ja. I’ve worked out why the new Ferrari is called Roma: they simply fished James Bond’s DB10 out of the Tiber, polished it up et, viola!

      Seriously, the Roma doesn’t bring much that is new to the party, but at least it is pleasantly restrained and free from ornamentation. Here’s the Piech Automotive concept Eóin mentioned:

      Something of a homage to the E-Type, don’t you think?

    4. Ja is Jacomo who presses enter too hastily!

      The Piech concept is nice enough although the motor show photos looked better – this desert shot shows the details are fairly generic and unexciting.

      How did Ferrari resist the temptation to slap some large ‘Scuderia shields’ on those front wings?! Maybe one for the options list – there’s profit in that.

    5. The other thing to get excited about the Roma is the use of a chrome arc framing the side windows.

      When did a Ferrari last use chrome detailing?

    6. While it’s undoubtedly ambitious to give a car a name that reads amoR backwards, I find it a strange coincidence that, when viewed from the back, the styling manages to achieve an instant enamoRation and fully justify the catch on first sighting.
      Scarce of shutlines and opulent of swell, it offers an instant, concept-car level of observer gratification, that probably healthily exceeds its (assumed) pricetag.
      While I’d agree that it is somewhat derivative, the measure and care with which certain ‘hommage’ elements are incorporated, do a great job of preventing any loss of individuality.

      The harmony with which the fullness of its curves justify its decisively wrought, sculpturally melodious surfaces, is reminiscent of the glorious Zagato Astons.
      It’s thus somewhat shocking to see that the “commercial” level of bodywork pressing tools / CAD has obviously advanced so much lately, that a “mere entry-level exotic car” offers most of the bodywork art that was, until not that long ago, reserved for hand-built masterpieces by true masters of the art.

      The similarity with the JB-cinematographic DB10 is mostly visible in the shape of the headlights and the outline of the DLO. The other elements are unique, except maybe the roofline slope at the rear, which has a rather strong whiff of AMG GT about it, streaks of which can be identified in the (scandalously appealing)
      rear end, observed from dead behind.

      If it proves to be as neat a car technically, as the promise of its appearance suggests (pushing the “expectations buttons”), then Scuderia’s commercial operations are probably in for some serious market share growth.

      And that’s even before you add the way its dry-sumped musical instrument will, hopefully, sound.

    7. Haha, Jacomo! I assumed “Ja” was the nom de plume of a returning commenter, whom I hadn’t noticed before. Had I known it was you, I wouldn’t have been so polite!

    8. Late to the party. The drinks are gone and the ashtrays are overflowing with popcorn and beer lids.
      The Roma is much better than anything Ferrari have shown since the 456. It´s pleasant to be able to say that it all looks pleasing and that the only thing I am unsure about is the silhouette of the headlamp at the point where the grille and bonnet meet. All of Ferrari´s output in the last two decades has been such that I could not even bother to want look at them. There was nothing to grasp.

    1. Constantinos: sorry, I did not see your post. I would not say “in love” but certainly warmly inclined. I reserve my autmotive love for Astra Fs, Trevis, CXs and 604s. Love is a funny thing, eh?

  8. The leather might be amazing and the wood equally so but every time I’ve been in one of these I could not look past the Fiat Punto gear scattered about, from the awful plastic window switches to the stalks. Every single one feeling hollow and cheap. Nah. But then I never started the engine. 🙂 And that is where many an Italian brute wins a prospective owner over. I can see the charm for sure. But I would never ever want to own one, having so many cheap Punto touch points inside.

    1. Great. We’ll never end up in a bidding war for one then.

    2. 🙂 Oh I’m sure there will be many other we will bid for together. Like a nice Mercedes 560 SEC?

    3. For this reason, I am wary about sharing my dream car list online.

      It’s highly doubtful I have any influence at all about such matters, but if discussing my hankering for a Mercedes R129 in public did in any way push up the price, it would be an act of self-defeating folly.


    4. Great choice, Jacomo: the R129 is the last great SL. It’s also an amazingly tough and durable car. My brother-in-law retired to southern Spain, taking his with him. It survived years on minimal and haphazard maintenance until a flood in an underground car park caused by torrential rain finally killed it, which was a tragedy.

    5. I’m told told the 500 SEC’s refinement is superior, but yes, I’d be tempted by any C126.

      The same goes for an early R129. I’ve been trying to source one to take pictures of for my website, but there’s very few ‘tidy’ ones (by my very own definition) around – such as this one:

    6. As regards the 126, my understanding was that the 380 unit was the one to go for. Almost as quick, sweeter running and more efficient. But frankly a C126 with any of the available engines would probably be worth falling out over…

  9. I am not a Ferrari fan, so I’m not particularly overinformed, but I have the impression that the times of cheap Fiat-sourced switches and handles were over more or less with the 308/328, thirty to forty years ago.

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