Just a handful of years go, all the money in the world gave you the choice of just one car. If you wanted a supercar with four doors on it, you could only opt for a certain German sedan. Which wasn't a proper supercar, more like a luxury sedan on steroids. All that ended when Maserati, the Italian supercar maker, decided to make the Quattroporte, again.
The first one was back in 1963, a time when Maserati was altogether more successful. The Quattroporte (four doors" in Italian) was launched as a grand tourer, and was designed specifically as a performance sedan capable of doing 200kmph.This Maserati boasted of a 4.1-litre V8 engine that produced 256PS, and had a claimed top speed of 230kmph.
The car in the pictures, though, is the current Quattroporte, the fifth generation of the car that was launched in 2004 and then comprehensively refreshed in 2009 - which is when the Quattroporte Sport GT S was launched. It is the car that led other manufacturers to think about four-door supercars. Maserati, now owned by Fiat Auto and which now shares its product development and engineeringwith Alfa Romeo (formerly with Ferrari), has recently announced their Indian innings, with the first showroom bearing the proud trident expected shortly.
In anticipation, I not only drove the MC Stradale you read about last month, but also this, the Sport GT S, the absolute top of the line in the Quattroporte line-up.
On my flight to China to drive the Maseratis, I happened to watch the Jason Statham starrer Hollywood flick, 'The Mechanic'. In the very first scene the movie has a drug lord whom Statham is supposed to kill being chauffeured in the current Maserati Quattroporte. One look and I knew that the car was Italian, just from the lines and the style. The car had instant appeal. There isn't anything extraordinary in the styling itself, but the flowing lines give it the sense of being a supercar that you carry you family in without a second thought.
But can its four-door format and overall styling escape what you might label the drudgery of the sedan? Its low stance, coupled with the sporty, aggressive front-end and the large wheels quickly demolish any sedan-ness and lend that car a sharper, swifter aura. The front grille boasts the Gran Turismo-derived inward curving black vertical slats with the three-pronged Maserati logo, which looks sublime coupled with the LED-lined headlights. The sides sport trademark Maserati slots, apart from which the sides are smooth and free of fussy-detail which give the car an unmissable elegant feel. The rear boasts a set of large LED tail lamps while more sporty character comes from the exhaust tips that adorn the edges of the bumper. The wide rear and chrome line above the rear license plate give the Quattroporte a stately feel, and its rear clearly hints at the car's luxurious appeal. Without doubt, the Quattroporte is the most gorgeous four-door car on the planet in my opinion. In comparison, rivals such as the Porsche Panamera, Jaguar XF, Audi A8 W12 and the Ferrari FF can only try to look svelte. The Panamera for instance doesn't really appeal as a Porsche. Same is the case with the FF. The Jaguar and the Audi on the other hand look like regular luxury sedans. I think what makes the Quattroporte special in comparison to these cars are its gorgeous dimensions - everything is just perfectly proportionate.
Step inside, and the first thing that comes to mind is the ease of ingress. Once inside, you will be forced to hold your breath. It's a well-made cabin that boasts exquisite hand-crafted luxury, cast in Italian leather and wood. The central console houses most of the controls for this feature-rich sports sedan, and the dash, cockpit and front armrest together make for a classy feel. The paddle-shift levers sit behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel as usual and feel great to the touch. The front seats are electrically adjustable to fourteen positions while the rear passengers also get spacious and comfortable seats. Both front and rear passengers have several options to adjust the seats to their liking. Optional comfort packs for both front and rear seats pamper you with heating, ventilation and massage functions.
As you would expect, the list of standard and optional features in the Quattroporte is virtually endless. In that list is a Bose multi-media system, a 7-inch LCD touch screen with sat-nav - the availability of which in India is still not clear, light sensors for the headlights, rain-sensing wipers, cruise-control, tyre-pressure monitors and parking sensors all-around amongst others. The massive 450-litre boot can gobble up your entire luggage, and if you're going to be anal about stuffing up the boot to capacity, Maserati will also sell you custom made luggage that fits the boot exactly. That apart, the boot also houses a puncture repair kit with a pump, and the optional space saving spare wheel.
Under the hood is a 4.7-litre V8 borrowed from the Gran Turismo and made by Ferrari. This is Maserati's most powerful sedan and therefore boasts of a peak power output of 444PS at 7000rpm, while peak torque produced is 490Nm at 4750rpm - both figures being identical to the Gran Turismo. At idle, the engine emits a low hum, but rev it and the ferocious roar from the V8 fills your ear drums. In Sport mode, the valves in the exhaust open up to free some more decibels and the V8 howl in this mode makes for a hair-raising experience.
This monster of an engine is mated to a ZF six-speed automatic transmission. You can choose to slot the car in automatic and let the car choose the best possible gear for you depending on your throttle input. Or you can choose to shift via the paddle shifters as you send the tacho needle hurtling towards the redline - the only thing I did!
The most memorable experience while driving the Quattroporte Sport GT S was its ultra-smooth transition - from being a mildly purring cat to a ferocious beast hunting down its prey. When you set off with a light foot, the car obeys all your commands with a quiet, considered manner, lacking in any and all manner of aggression. Give it no warning and floor the pedal and watch the transition. It goes from purring tabby to Cheetah mid-flight without pause. And at this point, the V8 motor ensures you get all the attention you can with its glorious sound track. So much so that it tempts you into shifting a gear down and letting the engine rev higher for the roar. But this is not a supercar that jolts you into your seat with ferocity. It's hugely powerful but also gentle. It propels you sweetly from one time zone to another without any interruption in the smoothness of the proceedings.
The nature of the engine's smooth performance is matched rather well by the design of the ride quality and handling package.
The Sport GT S weighs a not-inconsiderable 1880kg dry, which is easy to forget when you note how agile it is around corners. Suspension set-up is firm to aid handling as well, yet the ride quality is not uncomfortable. But this was a world-class race track that I was driving on - which unfortunately is a whole world better than Indian roads. Hence, the real test of the Quattroporte's suspension would be right here in India. The Sport GT S trades the Quattroporte S' Skyhook suspension for single-setting racing style suspension, which is stiffer at both ends - 30 per cent at the front and 10 per cent at the rear. Brakes are 360mm Brembo units, and were quick to help me slow down to a crawl without any fuss.
The feel of the car, the experience of being inside the Quattroporte cabin, the power delivery from the V8 and the excellent handling surely make for a more emotional experience than the German sedans. Maserati are bringing down their entire range to India, and have priced the Quattroporte Sport GT S at Rs 1.43 crores. It will be pitted against the likes of the Jaguar XJ Super Sport, the Porsche Panamera V12 7 series, AMG S-Class and the Ferrari FF, not to forget the Audi A8 W12. The Panamera range starts from Rs 1.04 crore going upto Rs 2.07 crore (ex-showroom Delhi) for the 505PS Turbo.
The Ferrari FF is a lot more costlier than the Sport GT S, retailing at Rs 3.42 crore and is a lot more powerful as well with its V12 motor churning out a massive 660PS. The German sedan - the Audi A8 W12 on the other hand has a power output of 500PS, and retails at Rs 1.26 crore.
It used to be that the Italian cars had soul and personality, but came with failing electricals, shoddy detail-work and that was the trade-off you made. But while you can teach the Italians to pay attention to detail, its much harder to teach the Germans to put soul into their cars. And that's what makes the Maserati so special. It's an elegant car with an exquisite cabin, a lovely rumbly V8 and polished handling that belies its ability to carry four people in comfort - not to forget the 1880kg weight. And that
really is its real appeal over its alarmingly accomplished luxury sedan competition - because mere engineering does not give you that sense of occasion. That true luxury needs something else. And the Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S is just that. Something else.