Part lux­ury sedan, part race car

Maserati’s 2015 Qu­at­tro­porte GTS of­fers large mea­sures of com­fort and speed.

Los Angeles Times - - HIGHWAY 1 - By Charles Flem­ing charles.flem­ing@latimes.com

Maserati, one of Ital­ian auto rac­ing ’s most sto­ried brands, cel­e­brated its cen­ten­nial last year. The Bologna com­pany founded by broth­ers Al­fieri, Bindo, Carlo, Et­tore and Ernesto is now owned by the mas­sive Fiat Chrysler con­glom­er­ate, along with its Ital­ian broth­ers Alfa Romeo and Fer­rari.

That makes Maserati an in-be­tween mar­que, far more glam­orous than the most ex­alted Fiat or Chrysler but well short of Fer­rari.

Maserati’s 2015 Qu­at­tro­porte GTS rides the mid­dle in other ways too — not as luxe as the high­est end Mercedes, nor no­tably more ca­pa­ble than a less-ex­pen­sive BMW or Audi.

Even in its styling, this full-sized sport sedan is dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish. With its sub­tle badg­ing, gen­tly rounded con­tours and muted gri­gio, nero and bronzo color schemes — there is no bright paint op­tion — the Qu­at­tro­porte might be mis­taken for al­most any Euro­pean or Ja­panese lux­ury car.

But this four-door, four­pas­sen­ger sedan still of­fers large mea­sures of com­fort and speed. The 3.8-liter, twin tur­bocharged V-8 en­gine — de­signed and built by Fer­rari in Marinello, but tucked into its hous­ing at the new state-of-the-art Maserati fa­cil­ity in Grugliasco — makes 523 horse­power and 524 pound-feet of torque.

It will drive the GTS from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 sec­onds on its way to a top speed of 191 mph. A fluid eight-speed trans­mis­sion switches seam­lessly from au­to­matic to man­ual with a pair of in­tu­itive pad­dle shifters.

Around town, the car is smooth and quiet as a bank vault. The in­te­rior is min­i­mal­ist and mas­cu­line, more like a Mi­lano man cave than the driver’s com­part­ment in a sports car, and the rear pas­sen­ger area is like a suite at the Ritz Carl­ton. The seats are elec­tron­i­cally ad­justable, and ven­ti­lated, and face two 10-inch en­ter­tain- ment screens. There ought to be iced com­part­ments to chill the cham­pagne and caviar.

The model I drove in­cluded a $5,700 “Lux­ury Pack­age,” fea­tur­ing four­zone cli­mate con­trol, ven­ti­lated leather seats, cus­tom brake calipers and a suede­like Al­can­tara head­liner, and a $5,200 Bow­ers & Wilkins stereo sys­tem.

On a high-speed road like the An­ge­les Crest High­way, the Qu­at­tro­porte puts the S on that GT, and turns from grand tour­ing car to sports car. Ag­ile and ag­gres­sive, with its sport en­gine and sus­pen­sion but­tons il­lu­mi­nated, it carves canyons like a knife shav­ing a Parma ham.

All that power doesn’t make much noise. The Qu­at­tro­porte’s in­te­rior sound­damp­en­ing ma­te­ri­als are so ef­fec­tive, and the sound sys­tem is so lush, that I had to mute the Mon­to­vani and lower the win­dows to even hear the de­light­ful mu­sic com­ing from the GTS’ sig­na­ture trape­zoidal ex­haust pipes.

It also isn’t very ef­fi­cient. The Qu­at­tro­porte gets a com­bined fuel econ­omy rat­ing of 16 miles per gallon, and comes with a $1,300 gas guz­zler tax.

The car stops as well as it starts — al­most too well. The hy­per­sen­si­tive Brembo brak­ing sys­tem is ef­fec­tive in ne­go­ti­at­ing fast rollers on the Crest, but an­noy­ing in stop-and-go traf­fic.

And at a time when most in-dash in­for­ma­tion and en­ter­tain­ment screens look like some­thing out of “The Ma­trix,” the GTS’ sys­tem looks like some­thing out of a Toy­ota Ma­trix — fine for an econ­omy car, but quite out of place in a $150,000 au­to­mo­bile.

For a lot of po­ten­tial buy­ers, the price point may be the whole point: The Qu­at­tro­porte is com­pet­ing for con­sumer at­ten­tion with some com­pelling au­to­mo­biles, par­tic­u­larly those made by Mercedes, BMW and Audi. If per­for­mance mated with lux­ury are the main re­quire­ments, who’s not go­ing to buy Ger­man?

Maserati, since be­ing folded into the Fiat Chrysler fam­ily, has ap­par­ently been told to main­stream its prod­uct line. To that end, the com­pany two years ago de­buted the Ghi­bli, Maserati’s first mod­ern “af­ford­able” ve­hi­cle. Start­ing at un­der $70,000, the Ghi­bli was meant to com­pete with the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Se­ries ve­hi­cles, and to cre­ate higher vol­ume sales for this his­tor­i­cally niche brand.

That has worked. Ac­cord­ing to the auto data com­pany TrueCar, Maserati sold 2,046 Ghi­b­lis in the U.S. in the first quar­ter of 2015, out of a to­tal of 3,234 ve­hi­cles sold in to­tal. Dur­ing the same pe­riod, the com­pany sold only 660 Qu­at­tro­portes.

For the Qu­at­tro­porte, which costs more than twice as much as the en­try-level Ghi­bli, will po­ten­tial buy­ers view this Ital­ian stal­lion as just a bar­gain-base­ment Fer­rari? Or, just as bad, as the al­most-best Fiat Chrysler prod­uct money can buy?

Maserati has been a re­spected auto brand for more than a cen­tury. And Fiat Chrysler has deep pock­ets.

For now, test driv­ers should slip into one of the most com­fort­able in­te­ri­ors on the mar­ket, roll down the win­dows, turn off the Sir­ius XM and take in the ex­haust­pipe aria of a fine Ital­ian mo­tor.

Myung J. Chun Los An­ge­les Times

ON A HIGH-SPEED ROAD like the An­ge­les Crest High­way, the Maserati Qu­at­tro­porte GTS puts the S on that GT, and turns from grand tour­ing car to sports car.

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