Maserati will launch a new sub-Quattroporte four-door saloon in 2012, pitched as a competitor to the BMW M5, the Mercedes E63 AMG and the Jaguar XFR.
Caught here in testing for the first time, the long-rumoured sports saloon will be the fourth model in the Maserati range, joining the Granturismo sports car, the Grancabrio open-top GT and the Quattroporte large sports saloon.
Despite looking similar to the Quattroporte at first glance, the mule's identity is given away by its shorter wheelbase, smaller front brakes and ill-fitting windscreen. The mule also sports just one exhaust pipe on each side at the rear, instead of the brace that appear out of the bumper on each side of its bigger brother.
Details of its powertrains and platform are still unknown, but insiders have previously indicated it would be spun off the Alfa Romeo 166 replacement's platform and this is still believed to be the case. It is also expected to make use of downsized V6 and V8 engines, as well as an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, all also expected to feature in the new Quattroporte in 2012.
The car is being designed in-house by Fiat Centro Stile under the leadership of Fiat's ex-Pininfarina design chief Lorenzo Ramaciotti, although Maserati insiders say that this does not signal the end of Maserati's relationship with the design house.
Maserati is still determining where it will build this model - there is not enough capacity at the company's Modena factory - but Bertone's Turin factory is a front-runner.
The car has previously been described by Maserati as "offering a new product package with specific contents in order to exploit Maserati DNA". The only other detail confirmed was that it would be priced at less than 55,000 euros (£47,800).