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The Maserati Quattroporte has character, balance and a wonderful engine, but its ride and gearbox mean it’s ultimately flawed.

The Frua-styled 260bhp quad-cam V8 Maserati Quattroporte 1 was 1963’s fastest four-door. With a heavy Bertone body and 190bhp V6, its 1975 successor attracted just five buyers in two years.

A year on and the Quattroporte 3 revived V8 power and rear drive. With a new name – Royale – the ItalDesign-penned car soldiered on until 1987. There followed a seven-year wait for the Quattroporte 4 designed by Gandini, whose turbocharged V6 and V8 engines kept it alive until 2001.

The current Quattroporte received a subtle facelift in 2008

So hopes were high when the Quattroporte 5 was launched in 2004 as a rival to the likes of the Mercedes-AMG E63 and Mercedes-AMG S 63, Jaguar XJR and the breathtaking BMW M5.

To truly take them on, however, the Quattroporte needs to combine sports car handling and limousine luxury, while retaining the unique character of Maserati.

The range now comprises four variants: the standard 4.2-litre Quattroporte, the 4.7-litre S, the Sport GT and Sport GTS – the latter is the most powerful saloon the company has ever built.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Maserati Quattroporte rear end

Traditionally, the four-door Maserati hasn’t been a beautiful car. The original Maserati Quattroporte was fair, the second dull and the third resembled a bloated Hyundai Stellar. At least the fourth-generation car was striking, in a square-edged way.

It has taken Pininfarina to deliver a truly attractive Quattroporte with this model, though.

The Quattroporte is the most stylish car in the class

There is no bold styling theme – instead, lithe, flowing lines cleverly mask its considerable 5052mm length and incorporate cues from Maseratis past – noticeably a thick, Quattroporte 1-echoing rear pillar and Audi A6-style square wing vents and jutting nose.

Maserati has ploughed over £140 million into development of the Quattroporte and its M139 platform.

The steel monocoque is conventional, only the bonnet and bootlid being made of weight-saving aluminium, but the tiny front overhang and long area aft of the front wheels subtly betray the effort that has been made in optimising the car’s mechanical balance.

If the goal was to create the world’s most elegant luxury four-door, Maserati has succeeded, and despite its age, the most recent facelift has brought a more modern look with LED headlights and a new grille, which is now convex, rather than concave.

INTERIOR

Maserati Quattroporte interior

The Maserati Quattroporte might have a disappointing ride for those looking for comfort, but the cabin will certainly please them. There’s huge space in the front and rear, and a finish that’s exudes a restrained opulence – the Maserati’s Italianate character is more individual than the sober approach of the Germans.

There’s bags of legroom in the rear, and not only does each outer seat adjust for height, but they move fore and aft as well, altering the angle of the backrest at the same time. Just don’t expect room to carry five passengers for any distance.

Like it's sports cars, Maserati's Quattroporte lacks interior space

Up front, the seats are comfortable, although the steering wheel could do with a little more adjustment. Behind the slender three-spoke wheel are simple and clear instruments in an elegant binnacle flanked by a huge number of buttons. The shear amount of switchgear is bewildering at first, but each operates one feature, so it’s surprisingly intuitive.

Standard equipment is extensive, and includes effective climate control, which can be adjusted separately to suit the needs of driver, front passenger and rear passengers.

Audio is brought to you via a combination of a Marelli multimedia system, which includes a music server and sat-nav, and a Bose surround-sound system.

You’ll need to pack carefully, however, because the car’s neat tail styling and a sizeable 90-litre fuel tank result in a boot of only 450 litres – 30 less than a BMW 3 Series saloon.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Maserati Quattroporte V8 engine

There’s lengthy starter whine before the Quattroporte fires with a yelp and settles to a subdued rumble. Select manual gearchanges, switch off the Maserati stability control and select Sport mode to engage the transmission’s most aggressive shift operation.

Floor the throttle, and there’s a split-second delay as the revs rise before the huge saloon lunges forwards.

There's a wonderful noise from the 4.2-litre V8

Short gearing means a lot of changes, which is fine when driving hard, the robotised manual gearbox giving 150-millisecond changes in Sport setting. As long as you’re happy to swap ratios yourself, the DuoSelect system works well, too. 

It’s in Drive that it trips up. There’s a perceptible nodding from the occupants as each automated shift occurs. Press on and this becomes a real pain, with a long wait as the software decides which gear to provide.

The front/mid-mounted engine in the standard Quattroporte is the same 4244cc V8 that powers the Coupé and Spyder, but with revised camshafts and modified mapping to boost low-end torque. With twin cams for each bank and 32 variably timed valves, the dry-sump unit produces 400bhp at 7000rpm and 339lb ft of torque at 4500rpm. Those numbers are outgunned by many of the Maserati’s rivals.

That’s where the Maserati Quattroporte S steps in. With its 430bhp 4.7-litre V8 motor, it delivers a handy extra amount of power across the rev range from 2300rpm, peaking at the same 7000rpm sweet spot. There’s an improvement in torque delivery, too, with 361lb ft of twist. The Quattroporte GTS might only increase power by 10bhp, but there's more to it than that.

The power is up because the exhaust has an active valve that, if you press a button on the dash, sends gases out without damping a great deal of their sound.

RIDE & HANDLING

Maserati Quattroporte cornering

The Maserati Quattroporte demonstrates an appetite for corners that its size would never lead you to expect. Exceptional body control plays a big part, its adaptive dampers sensing body movements and reacting in an instant to all but eliminate roll, pitch and dive, and provide nimble turn-in.

The chassis is exceptionally neutral and manages to hold off hints of over- and understeer. Body roll is well restrained. The steering impresses because it is so easy to accurately place this big, wide car on the road.

This is a saloon that drives like a sports car

There’s a price to pay for this good handling, however, and that’s how the Quattroporte rides. Broken Tarmac unsettles the car, and at speed this feeling never really goes away. Town roads can be downright uncomfortable.

On the standard Quattroporte, suspension is a coil spring and double wishbones set-up, controlled by Maserati’s Skyhook electronic adaptive dampers. A button on the dash switches between normal and Sport modes, adjusting the aggression of the damping and gearshift speeds, as well as the degree of intervention from the stability control. S and GTS models do without the Skyhook system, and use fixed-rate shocks and stiffer springs that give a firmer ride still.

To further improve weight distribution, drive heads to the back wheels through a rear-mounted six-speed transaxle. The transmission offers fully automatic gearchanges or clutchless sequential manual operation via paddles mounted either side of the steering column.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Maserati Quattroporte 2004-2013

Lined up alongside cars offering a similar combination of space, pace and prestige, such as the Alpina B7, Audi A8 W12, Jaguar XJ Supersport or Mercedes-Benz S500, the Maserati Quattroporte is a bargain, even if the smaller BMW M5 and Jaguar XFR make it seem expensive.

It won’t be cheap to run, occupying the highest bands for insurance and company car tax.

We experienced a number of electrical niggles on test

Although Maserati claims the Quattroportes will cover between 17.8 to 19.2mpg on the combined cycle, our 4.2-litre test car returned an average of 14.1mpg, giving a range of just 279 miles.

The list price does include a three-year ‘peace of mind’ service-inclusive package with roadside assistance. A good thing, too: the numerous electrical glitches our test car suffered made us fear for its long-term reliability.

Chief of these was the gearbox refusing to engage gears on four separate occasions until the ignition was turned off and on again.

VERDICT

3.5 star Maserati Quattroporte

We wanted the Maserati to be a five-star car. All of the elements were in place: stunning looks, incredible chassis balance and a truly inspirational engine. But the Quattroporte isn’t that car, and it’s more than just a few tweaks away from those elusive extra stars.

Because although we have little doubt that this is the finest saloon Maserati has ever made, our concerns centre on some fairly fundamental facets of its make-up – namely the occasionally slow-witted gearbox, fidgety ride and questionable reliability.

Our heart says five stars, our head says otherwise

Few cars manage to be so beguiling, yet completely exasperating at the same time. If you’re in the right mood and on the right road, the sensations picked up by your ears, backside and fingertips give a tingle you’ll get from no other saloon in this class, although the BMW M5 is perhaps the better steer.

But this is a car that has a narrow focus. It’s too unrefined and restless for 95 percent of driving conditions, be it a long motorway drive in the rain or a daily city commute.

A saloon like this needs to be good enough to use every day, all year round but, as it stands, the Quattroporte is going to be hard work for all but the most committed Maserati enthusiast.

Maserati Quattroporte 2004-2013 First drives