Maserati Quattroporte

Price and power pruned, brio survives intact

STEPHEN CORBY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

SOMETIMES a single drive can change your mind. I’m not alone in thinking of Maserati as the plainer, quieter and less clever sister of sex-bomb Ferrari.

In the past, I’ve found Masers to be more about sound than fury, with a kind of inherent softness that seemed out of kilter with the thumping heart they share with the Prancing Horse.

Having not driven the new, twinturbo V6 Quattroporte until the launch of this, its cheapest, lowest powered and most frugal variant, I was shocked at what a great driver’s car it now is.

This entry-level Quattroporte makes 243kW and 500Nm from a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that somehow claims a fuel figure of just 9.1L/100km, and is aimed at younger and more womanly clients. According to the company’s Australian CEO, Glen Sealey, these ladies are “not so demanding in terms of performance”, but are after the exclusivity and Italian design flair the brand offers.

Access is more affordable than ever, with this new starter model priced at $215,000, a good $25,000 cheaper than the Quattroporte S that used to open the range.

The detuned, fuel-miserly engine, which actually provides an ample amount of grunt, huffing out maximum torque just off idle to 4500rpm, and then happily screaming to 6500rpm, is the main change to the car, which looks exactly the same.

Inside the spacious, classy cabin, however, you can now option seats made of a specially developed super silk from suit maker Ermenegildo Zegna, at a cost spanning $11,000 to $22,000.

Cleverly, they’ve also changed the operation of the gear selector, to make it incredibly infuriating.

“It needs a delicate touch, like an Italian woman,” we are advised.

What it really likes, though, is to be driven, and it is hugely rewarding, in ways you don’t expect from a big, plush luxury Grand Tourer like this, with its double-glazed windows (which sadly reduce the noise from an already too-restrained exhaust note) and lashings of legroom.

Its pointy, Ferrari-like steering, clever ‘Skyhook’ magnetic-damper suspension and fabulous feedback through the well-cushioned seat of your pants mean it invigorates not only in long sweepers, but in cutand- thrust 35-45km/h corners too.

Yes, there is some bodyroll, but it’s not excessive, and you do slide a bit sideways on the flat seat bottom, but it just adds to the fun.

The Quattroporte is the perfect balance of effortlessness when you’re crawling through traffic, and involvement when you’re out in the country.

No doubt the even more powerful versions are better still, but the new range entry point is one hell of a cut-price offering.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Maserati Quattroporte 2979cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v, twin-turbo 243kW @ 4750rpm 500Nm @ 1750rpm-4500rpm 8-speed automatic 1900kg 5.6sec (claimed) 9.1L/100km $215,000 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Sound is too muted for an Italian; claimed 9.1L/100km is laughable Involvement; steering; ride and handling balance; effortless torque

Life of the base player

MASERATI’S new base car is all about getting new customers into its showrooms, but it won’t be a big seller. More expensive variants dominate Maserati sales; nearly 40 percent of Quattroporte owners opt for the $331,000 GTS version. Sales have risen from just 50 cars a year in 2005 to more than 500 in Australia and NZ today, and the company aims to double that figure again, thanks to the growth afforded by forthcoming Ghibli and Levante SUV models due next year.