MAINST REAM FLAIR

Larger and less dis­tinc­tive yet amaz­ingly en­ter­tain­ing, Maserati has taken the mid­dle road with the new Qu­at­tro­porte. Is it a bet­ter car over­all? wheels’ Sony Thomas finds out

Friday - - Wanted -

The Maserati Qu­at­tro­porte, like a lot of sporty four­doors, has been a para­dox, an in­con­sis­tency on wheels. It had the soul of a sport­scar, but one trapped in a body from which it seem­ingly couldn’t wait to be ripped away. As stir­ring and ca­pa­ble as it was, the pre­vi­ous model was more bipo­lar than a fine blend of two vivid per­son­al­i­ties, hav­ing been de­fi­cient on the prac­ti­cal­ity front.

The Tri­dent ap­par­ently wants to change all that with the 2013 ver­sion that’s been launched here. No won­der, then, words like space, prac­ti­cal­ity and fuel econ­omy fea­ture promi­nently in the press kit for the car, which is now com­pet­ing di­rectly with best-sell­ers like the MercedesBenz S-Class, the BMW7 Se­ries, Audi A8 and the Jaguar XJ.

For Maserati, this is the first step in its am­bi­tious ex­pan­sion plan to bump up sales to no fewer than 50,000 cars in a year by 2015 from around 6,000 now. Is this the right step? If you go by sheer num­bers, it proves to be a cred­i­ble ri­val to the ma­jor play­ers in the seg­ment. At 5,262mm long, 1,948mm wide, 1,481mm tall and with a wheel­base of 3,171mm, the Qu­at­tro­porte is now as big as the long-wheel­base vari­ants of other lux­ury flag­ships.

How­ever, the Qu­at­tro­porte hides its bulk pretty well. The in-house de­sign isn’t as dra­matic as the Pin­in­fa­rina-styled pre­cur­sor. But that’s not a bad thing. A crisp crease run­ning from front fender to the tail­light lends a solid char­ac­ter to the car, while the sleek new head­lights and grille with ver­ti­cal bars give it a qui­etly at­trac­tive coun­te­nance. The

only part that doesn’t look fit for a Maserati is the rear, which ap­pears more Ger­man than Ital­ian.

The big­gest change in the cabin is the sub­stan­tial in­crease in over­all space, but you won’t miss the un­char­ac­ter­is­tic sub­tlety and re­straint. The in­te­rior isn’t as dis­tinct in de­sign or crafts­man­ship as be­fore, with sim­plic­ity seem­ingly the mantra.

Pas­sen­gers, es­pe­cially those in the rear, will ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­tra leg and shoul­der-room freed up by the longer wheel­base and wider body. The new model can be specced from a choice of two in­te­rior con­fig­u­ra­tions – a reg­u­lar five-seat and more lux­u­ri­ous four-seat lay­out for those who would pre­fer to be chauf­feur-driven.

The rear seats are su­per com­fort­able, but it beats me why any­one would ever want to sit there, as un­der the Qu­at­tro­porte’s sin­u­ously grace­ful lines lives a Fer­raribuilt 3.8-litre V8 with twin-scroll turbo that’s good for 530bhp and a stag­ger­ing 710Nm of torque. Mated to an eight-speed ZF au­to­matic gear­box, this mill helps the car despatch the 0-100kph sprint in just 4.7 sec­onds be­fore top­ping out at 307kph – the fastest Maserati four-door ever.

The new V8 is splen­did and turbo lag is vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent. Whereas the old 4.7-litre V8 had to be wrung out close to its 7,200rpm red­line to ex­tract its juice, the twin-turbo’s thrust is in­stant with plenty of torque on tap re­gard­less of where the rev nee­dle is. How­ever, the in­fer­nal snarl of the nor­mally as­pi­rated V8 in the pre­vi­ous ver­sion has been traded for a more muf­fled growl.

For a car this size, the Qu­at­tro­porte is sur­pris­ingly en­gag­ing

and fun to drive, with an im­pres­sively com­mu­nica­tive steer­ing. Thanks to the limo’s per­fect 50:50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion and the Sky­hook sus­pen­sion sys­tem, the car is amaz­ingly poised around cor­ners. Flick­ing it to Sport mode fur­ther firms up the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing, while mak­ing the trans­mis­sion and engine re­mark­ably more re­spon­sive.

It also keeps the ex­haust valves wide open through­out the rev range, how­ever, the ex­haust note is still not as in­tense as be­fore. Leave it in Nor­mal mode and the Qu­at­tro­porte is as com­fort­able and lux­u­ri­ous a cruiser as any of its ma­jor ri­vals. Good-look­ing, spa­cious and serv­ing up a more ful­fill­ing drive, the Qu­at­tro­porte has no per­son­al­ity cri­sis any more. It deftly blends its two sep­a­rate char­ac­ters to make a big­ger, lighter, faster and a more well-rounded lux­ury limo that’s bet­ter equipped to take on the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar. And with a 410bhp V6 ver­sion of­fer­ing both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive op­tions ex­pected later this year, this new model has the po­ten­tial to add sig­nif­i­cant num­bers to Maserati’s 2015 dream.

Thanks to per­fect 50:50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion, it’s bril­liant around cor­ners

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