Autos: Roman Style

  • Paul Dean

The fresh mood of Maserati is punctuated by a sport button, high and to the left on the wooden, flowing center consoles of the marque’s two top-of-the-line models. Touch it while motoring in the 2009 GranTurismo S two-door and the shift points move higher and wilder, and an exhaust bypass opens with a blaaaaaaat of ultrasonic noises guaranteed to scrub soot from tunnel walls.

Now press the identical button in the 2009 Quattroporte S four-door. The suspension adapts and the shift points change, but no baffles rumble and no new din unloads—just the continuing, deep purr of an all-coddling sedan. The two cars share the same Ferrari-sourced V-8, with horsepower in the low 400s. Both have top speeds of roughly 180 mph. Yet the Quattroporte’s moves are nobler, deliberately subdued by Maserati to appeal to an older, more reserved clientele in its 40s that might be considering an Audi A8, a BMW 7 Series, a Jaguar XJ8, or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

With this more powerful, better-decorated Quattroporte S, Maserati—long considered the Cinderella builder of Italian sports cars (with Ferrari playing the ugly stepsister)—moves into position to compete with the world’s most serious sedans. "The purpose was not to change the DNA of the car, but to have a more prominent car," says Nunzia Fusco, head of engineering and design for the Quattroporte lineup. "We achieved that by making a longer front and bigger rear bumpers, and by adding a stronger grille with vertical bars. And, of course, the new 4.7-liter engine from the GranTurismo S."

That engine, it should be noted, produces 425 hp (retuned from 433 hp in the new GTS, but bored up from the 400 hp of last year’s 4.2-liter Quattroporte) and a zero-to-60-mph figure a skosh over 5 seconds. "We also wanted to give more emphasis to comfort," Fusco adds, "so we sacrificed power for smoothness, compromising the sporting side for luxury."

In other words, luxury in the "picnic tables, sun blinds, fan-cooled and massaging rear seats, fitted luggage, and Bose surround sound" sense of the word. The rear is roomy enough that even with front seats shifted fully back, passengers will suffer no bruised ribs from those picnic tables.

Paddles and a stick control the 6-speed ZF automatic transmission, so shift choices range from sporting to lightly snoozing. The navigator and media center are understandable most of the time. And the cabin shows enough Italian leather and optional piano-lacquered wood to line the Villa Borghese suite at Rome’s Splendide Royal.

The interior of the Quattroporte S offers levels of quality, elegance, and sophistication that approach Bentley’s—and help justify this model’s $130,000 price tag. The Pininfarina exterior is equally impressive, a guarantee that the car will not look outdated an hour after leaving the showroom floor.

Sadly, our drive time was limited to roads clogged by Tuscany’s infamous first-of-August vacation exodus. Maybe this was a good thing. While loafing along, suffering the frustrations of broken runs between poky Fiat Multiplas and Pandas, the Quattroporte S provided peace in a frenzied environment—an important measure of any luxury car. In that respect, the Quattroporte S is a womb.

There were occasional opportunities for abbreviated sprints and passing maneuvers that proved that this car is also quick on its toes, masterfully balanced, responsive, and secure. Above all, the Quattroporte S offers exclusivity. For no one but Maserati sells a sport sedan that is full-size, decorous, nicely powered, entertaining—and tailored in Italy.

Maserati, www.maserati.com

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