x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Maserati's future looks bright with its Quattroporte

The latest Quattroporte might be two cylinders down, but Maserati has made sure it still delivers a direct hit.

The Maserati Quattroporte V6.

Photo courtesy Maserati
The Maserati Quattroporte V6. Photo courtesy Maserati

Sergio Marchionne is a big fan of KISS, by all accounts, not the rock group but the management term "Keep It Simple, Stupid".

To demonstrate this, the Fiat boss - who has a well-known preference for classical symphonies over flamboyant rock bands - has taken great big bunches of Zen and woven them in all their enlightened simplicity into his blueprint for Fiat Group's premium car portfolio.

As the launch of the V6 Maserati Quattorporte - at Fiat's Balocco test track between Milan and Turin - gathered pace, the pulses of the press were slowly coming to rest. Indeed, the drive came the day after the breathless announcement in Maranello by Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari's chairman, that outlined surprise plans for the Scuderia and a bright dawn for Maserati.

Under the steady rain and steel skies of Balocco, as we prepared to slide into the soft leather interior of the Quattroporte's newly elongated, explosive sports limo, the motoring press was still digesting the news that Ferrari would cap its production - which had hitherto been sliding upwards each year from under 3,500 cars in 1993 to 7,318 last year-at a flat 7,000 units.

At the same time, Maranello would send 30 engines per day to Maserati's new Grugliasco factory near Turin - with the potential to grow to more than 50 once the demand is found - as the Modena marque contemplates ramping up its production from the 6000 units of late to a mind-boggling 50,000 units annually by 2015.

The Maserati-designed, Ferrari-produced V6 and V8 engines will be used to power the latest Quattroportes and the anticipated smaller Ghibli E-segment entry. There is also speculation that the upcoming Levante SUV will take a six-cylinder too.

Ferrari will focus on power and speed while Maserati's mission is to take tied-in luxury to the masses. At the same time, Alfa Romeo, the third of Fiat's premium sports lines, aims to treble sales to more than 300,000 by 2016, while Lancia is expected to make the tortured - yet oh so beautiful - trip to the scrapyard of past glories.

To say Maserati is now finally coming of age means no disrespect to the long history of this remarkable brand with all its quirks and majesties. Until the decision was made to expand its production to something comparable with Porsche, Maserati was a heartbreakingly beautiful anomaly that was forever looking over its shoulder.

Indeed, it is remarkable that cars do still carry the trident badge given the decades of stagnation under Citroën, De Tomaso and Fiat before Ferrari threw Maserati a lifeline in 1999.

But survived it has, to the point of thriving, although economies of scale dictate a brand of Maserati's make-up will only generate real money if produced on a much wider scale. As the mass-market luxury foil to Ferrari's capped exotica, it is now poised to gain a real identity beyond the legend.

By keeping it simple, Marchionne has rationalised Maserati, defended Ferrari from its European slump, championed Alfa Romeo and killed Lancia - all noble gestures that have been desperately needed for years.

With Maserati's coming of age, the Quattroporte will serve as a pivotal member of a new, extended line-up. It starts off with a distinct advantage: it is already well loved with the previous model generation. It was launched in 2004, delivering a Ferrari-inspired block, dashing good looks and an eminently reasonable price tag to a German-dominated segment in need of something different.

While the 3.8-litre, eight-cylinder GTS version follows on comfortably from the fifth generation Quattroporte's 4.2- and 4.7-litre versions, a 3.0-litre V6 is a whole new prospect for this 5.2 metre, two tonne behemoth.

Until recently, it would have been hard to credit putting a V6 unit into a vehicle of this size and in this class. But things are moving fast in engine technology, and the V6 now does much more than power mid-range SUVs, mid-market saloons and assorted pocket rockets.

It's among the fastest V6 saloons in the world, as Paolo Martinelli, Michael Schumacher's former chief engineer and the man who oversees Maserati's engine production, likes to say.

The new V6's 410hp output might be 113hp less than the 523 the new V8 supplies, but the 556Nm of torque it delivers over a wide beam from 1,750 to 5,000rpm is a whole 96Nm more than the 4.7-litre V8 of the previous generation. This is excellent progress, and will take the new, rear-wheel drive model to 285kph. It will also give you high air through a devilish left-hand compression on Fiat's test track.

While it is rarely a good idea to show off a saloon car on a racetrack - can you imagine anything as silly as a Peugeot 407 on Dubai Autodrome? We've been there - the big Maserati was extraordinary on Balocco, dancing through the circuit in a blaze of Latin rage.

For a car that is half a size bigger than its fifth-generation predecessor, the six-cylinder was unflappable in terms of handling. And as the driver, you are now so much more connected than before.

Only morons and snobs should write this off as "just another underpowered V6". It's a Ferrari-driven Maserati, and that is a pretty bullish combination.

In spite of its stretch limo length - and the tight bends and sporting troughs of the track - the chassis shows all the rigidity needed for a real sports saloon to strut.

While the "Sport" button has always been a blast on any Maserati, it is especially good fun on the V6 when on poking it you feel all manner of things tighten up; it also makes gear shifts faster by 40 per cent and adds even further depth to the marque's signature exhaust boom.

If there are any complaints, they come with the eight-speed ZF transmission, which can become a little too involved, as is so often the case with that many cogs. There's a regular danger it will shift down on you while you are enjoying the paddles, which are now attached to the column and not the steering wheel.

But rather than think Big Brother is watching you, the Quattroporte does allow you the leeway to have some fun even when the traction control is engaged. It will kick in only once it thinks you've felt the thrill of the drift and quite some time later than its Germanic counterparts.

Few comfy leather armchairs are as well-packed and supported as the V6's driving seat, but despite this cosseting, the Maserati never gives the pretence that you are in a lardy limo. It keeps you thoroughly engaged, through your bottom, your right foot and your hands, in a way the previous edition of the Quattroporte failed to accommodate entirely.

The cabin is also a much nicer place to be, with some really elegant features on the fascia added to the blend and even a wink - though little more than that - towards ergonomics. Trouble is, you still find yourself changing the windscreen wipers up a gear, so close is the stalk to the paddles. But the use of Chrysler's 8.4-inch Uconnect digital hub is an excellent addition as it is one of the best displays around.

While the engine note belies the fact the Quattroporte is a luxury car, there is no mistaking this for those sitting in the rear, where there is a prairie's worth of leg room and an astonishingly good view of the road. Aft of there, there is more than enough room to swing a golf bag or two.

Maserati doesn't do ugly cars, but neither has it recreated perfection this time. That's always going to be the trouble for the designers when they are looking to upgrade something as proportionately perfect as the fifth generation model.

While the signature incinerator of a radiator grille remains, with the trident at its centre, the headlamps have been given the super-skinny treatment and peel further back up the wing than before.

At the same time, the rear shape has departed towards the more corporate look of a GranTurismo, and when viewed from the front or rear three-quarters these elements invoke thoughts of an Infiniti or something less Italian than one would normally expect from the designers of Modena.

But looking square on at the front, flank and rear, things look good, strong and wholeheartedly Quattroporte. This might suggest a design work in progress, with Maserati waiting, as so often happens, for next year's facelift to make the requisite tweaks.

But on the whole, the tinkering the designers and engineers have applied to the "designed from the ground up" sixth edition smacks of great success, starting with the addition of the V6 engine. Even though nobody would think of a smaller engine as a natural solution on a car of such weight, proportions and pedigree, it works beautifully and will no doubt have many customers having difficulty deciding which model they prefer.

Sergio Marchionne was not complicated in his orders to Maserati: sell lots of units, give the customers options and make these options compelling.

In return, Modena has manufactured a roaring, lively car that lives up to the Maserati nameplate, lowered the price tag and made the Quattroporte attractive to a new market.

This is playing into the hands of what people want. It's just about keeping things simple.

The Maserati Quattroporte S will be available in the Middle East in August. Price is still to be arranged.

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