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Johannesburg - Maserati puts a sportier spin on the large luxury car market with its Quattroporte, the sixth generation of which recently went on sale in South Africa.
Pitched against executives such ss the Audi A8, Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Porsche Panamera, the big four-door sedan presents high-end luxury with a dash of Italian-flavoured machismo.
The Quattroporte - which means “four doors” if your Italian’s a bit rusty - also introduces two new turbocharged petrol engines to the Maserati/Ferrari family. It’s momentous for a company that has long resisted the turbo trend in favour of more vocally charismatic normally-aspirated engines.
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Powering the Quattroporte S model (R1 977 000) is a three-litre turbopetrol V6 packing outputs of 305kW and 550Nm, while the flagship Quattroporte GTS (R2 244 000) gets a 3.8-litre V8 with 390kW and 710Nm - the same unit that powers the new Ferrari California. There’s also a three-litre turbodiesel with outputs of 202kW and 606Nm, carrying a pricetag of R1 593 000.
I knew they’d be fast, and they are, but I was very keen to hear what these new engines sounded like when I took the two petrol Quattroportes for a test drive last week. Turbocharging is notorious for muting exhaust sound, and for brands that place charisma on a pedestal, as Maserati does, a hearty holler is an important part of the marque’s appeal.
At the same time the Quattroporte is a large luxury limousine, not a boy-racer sportscar, so the holler can’t be too hairy-chested. A fine balance is called for and I think Maserati got it spot-on with the sound of the V6 Quattroporte, less so with the V8 version.
It was the V6 that stirred my senses more with its more evocative sound. It was silky smoothness underlaid by a hoarse baritone, and punctuated by a sporty “burp” between gearshifts.
In contrast the V8 version was all S-Class style silkiness, as if the engine was running on Amarula Cream instead of petrol. It was out of synch with the very brandy-and-coke acceleration, which Maserati’s spec sheet claims as 0-100km/h in just 4.7 seconds.
We aren’t able to independently verify these figures - Ferrari and Maserati controversially don’t allow journalists to do this - but it felt like a sub-five-second time by the rapid rate the speedo needle swept northwards.
Mashing the pedal to the floor brings on a cushioned explosion of violence wrapped in cotton-wool as you’re pressed into your leather seat in velvety silence. Thanks to double-laminated acoustic glass, this muted mania continues as the car sweeps towards its 307km/h top speed, although upsetting the silent reverie was a touch of wind noise around the driver’s window.
The better-sounding V6 version is no slouch itself and has a claimed 5.1 second sprint to 100 and 284km/h top speed.
Apart from the engines the two cars are mechanically identical, and get their power to the rear wheels via ZF’s ultra slick eight-speed auto transmission.
The Quattroporte’s a big car but with the help of aluminium in its construction its weight has been kept below two tons (1900kg in V8 form and 1860kg for the V6). Combined with a 50:50 weight distribution and race-bred double-wishbone front suspension with a multi-link rear, the big sedan hides its mass pretty well and doesn’t feel clumsy or overweight.
Helping the big car through fast corners is a limited-slip differential, and a Skyhook adaptive damping system that can be adjusted to hard or soft. A Sport button quickens gearshift responses and opens the exhaust valves for a raunchier noise, while the hydraulic steering’s quick and light for such a large limo.
The mega Maserati offers vast legroom for executives on the go, who perch in plush leather seats in a cabin of leather- and wood-bedecked opulence.
The Italian limo is highly-specced without going overboard like the Germans, who are in a flat-out gadget war. So you won’t find things like night vision or a head-up display or a car that essentially drives itself.
But you will find life-easing luxuries such as electrically height- and reach-adjustable steering, electrically-adjustable and heated front seats, active cruise control, six airbags, a rear view camera, high-end sound system, and a touchscreen media interface with navigation.
It’s all wrapped by a distinctively styled body with more dramatic flair than the usual grey-shoes image of this segment. The Maserati Quattroporte is the flamboyant playboy of the luxury-car league, wearing running shoes with its tuxedo.