By: Jason Woosey in Nice, France
In a classic, clichéd case of the venue matching the car, Maserati staged the world launch of its new Quattroporte in a beautiful location on the French Mediterranean coast. In truth, they could have staged its premiere in the wastelands of Siberia, or an industrial suburb of Gauteng for that matter, and it would not have detracted from this car's elegant physical presence.
I doubt I'm going to meet much resistance by stating that this is a very beautiful sedan. Compared to the understated designs of the A8, 7 Series and S-Class, the Quattroporte poses like it's the goddess among luxury sedans.
There's a far greater significance in mentioning those large Germans, because the new Quattroporte has grown significantly longer and wider to rival, if not surpass, these usual suspects that seem to top the shopping lists of business tycoons and government ministers.
I also suspect that members of the Mafia attended the customer clinics because the boot has grown by 30 percent, to 530 litres.
Sink into one of the rear seats and you'll quickly realise that this car was designed around those that enjoy being whisked around by a chauffer. Not only are the rear seats cosy and generously angled, but there is enough legroom to truly stretch out and sufficient headroom to cater for all but the tallest of our species.
Yet before we shout "home Jeeves", there's another side to this car that makes all the aforementioned limo-talk seem almost irrelevant.
IT LIVES UP TO ITS HERITAGE
Without launching into an entire history lesson, it's worth mentioning that the first generation model was the fastest sedan in the world back in 1963, with its top speed of 240km/h.
In 2012, the sixth-generation Quattroporte does more than just justice to its forebear with a supercar-like top end of 307km/h and a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of just 4.7 seconds.
These numbers apply to the flagship, 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 motor that's bolted together in Ferrari's Maranello factory. It's credited with 390kW at 6800rpm and 650Nm from 2000rpm, 200Nm more than its predecessor. Despite this, the direct injection engine is said to be 20 percent more efficient. A 301kW/550Nm 3-litre twin-turbo V6 will also be available, and it'll offer the option of all-wheel drive, but the launch focus was on the rear-wheel drive V8.
Unleashing the engine's potential on the launch route, consisting of wet, narrow and often congested roads, was not possible within the realm of preserving the car and everything around it, but on the few occasions that I got to mash the right pedal a bit, acceleration was truly explosive.
On the twisty sections of asphalt I was impressed by the nicely weighted steering system. It shines over the numbness that is the norm in this sector by providing a meaty and communicative sensation.
That last word applies to much of the driving experience, including the aural sensation. Thankfully engineers have not done much to damp out the sonorous whale of that twin-turbo V8, which permeates the cabin in a pleasant, but never over-bearing, fashion.
There is a glut of buttons to play with for those that want to alter the engine characteristics, exhaust note and adaptive suspension damping. Furthermore, for more prudent moments, they've included an I.C.E switch for Increased Control (in slippery conditions) and Efficiency.
I found the ride quality to be supple and compliant even with the firmer suspension setting dialled in. The Quattroporte is both a comfortable cruiser and something of a sports sedan.
It's not exactly nimble, given its substantial size, and it can be a little skittish in the sportier settings when the road is wet, but under the right conditions there is no faulting the levels of grip and stability provided by its 20-inch rims and sophisticated suspension (double wishbones up front and five-link rear axle). Let's not forget that engineers have achieved a 50:50 front to rear weight distribution.
The brand new, and lightweight, eight-speed transmission has five modes, including a manual function. The latter mode allows you to swop cogs via paddles behind the steering wheel, which don't move with the wheel. The function is not completely manual though, as it will still override your clumsiness if you try to run the engine into the limiter. Regardless which mode you have dialled in, the gearshifts are quick and smooth, yet apparent.
Despite what the rear legroom might suggest, then, the Quattroporte is a true driver's car and for this reason it doesn't offer driver aids like adaptive cruise control, lane change assist and so forth.
That's not to say that interior gadgets have been skimped on altogether. Sinking into the cabin you'll still find a touch-screen infotainment system with WiFi and the ability to speak to most modern smartphones. The Quattroporte has a reverse camera too and if you pay a little extra you can even enjoy a 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system.
Everything inside is rather intuitive and easy to use, but here form is just as important as function and it must be said that Maserati's interior stylists have crafted a gorgeous interior. The dashboard is beautifully designed and nothing short of top-quality materials have made it onto the dashboard and seats.
All of this, naturally, will not come cheap, yet (without actually divulging any digits) Maserati has hinted that pricing will be a pleasant surprise.
If this holds true then the German establishment has real cause for concern.
The sixth-generation Quattroporte is a true limo with a sports sedan alter ego and despite a few electronic glitches on the launch vehicles (which may or may not be due to their early production status) it is an achingly desirable car.