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Maserati is pushing its financial fortunes to a higher level thanks, in part, to a bigger engine.
Profits have alluded the company for about 15 years and its financial history includes five bankruptcies.
Now, after starting out in Bologna in 1913 headed by four brothers and then being owned variously by Citroen, de Tomasa and Ferrari, the company is a fully-owned division of Fiat.
Getting back on track is attributed to Fiat demands for a leaner Maserati.
This year it will make only four models based on two cars, though it adds a third car late next year.
It fits two engines - a 4.2 and the new 4.7-litre V8s - and two gearboxes - a ZF six-speed auto and a “robotised” six-speed semi-auto.
The GranSport has been dropped and the vastly superior GranTurismo takes its place. Now the Quattroporte (literally, four door) gets upgraded after five years on the market.
The new Quattroporte offers two models - the continuation of the 4.2-litre V8 with the ZF gearbox - and a high performance 4.7-litre V8 that will be called the “S” and that takes the engine from the GranTurismo.
The Quattroporte S goes on sale for about $320,000 in October.
Styling changes are led by a vertical-slat grille that looks more purposeful and aggressive than the tea-strainer design of the current version. This grille is based on that fitted to the first Pininfarina-designed Maserati, the A6 GCS of 1953.
The touch of Pininfarina is pertinent given that one-time Maserati owner, Ferrari, refused to allow Maserati access to this designer. The Quattroporte was the first Maserati by Pininfarina since the A6.
The latest Quattroporte adds a new bootline with bolder lights that use LED technology (there are 64 LEDs across the back and 20 across the front as indicators), bigger wheels starting at 19-inch as standard and remodelled side skirts. Even the cabin is fresher and boasts a more ergonomic centre console.
The equipment level is exhaustive though the company will let you choose from thousands of leather, wood and colour combinations.
Which is all very nice but it's not what we're here for. The stand out feature is the 4.7-litre V8 that has been borrowed from the two-door coupe, the GranTurismo S.
Maserati has retuned - some say, detuned - the engine for 317kW and 490Nm of torque.
The GranTurismo S gets 323kW and 490Nm.
For the saloon, the 4.7 has been modified to flatten out its low to mid-range torque delivery that polishes out any low-speed weakness and gearbox abruptness.
It is enough to push the Quattroporte to 100km/h from rest in 5.4 seconds which is commendable for any coupe and startling for a sedan that weighs 2-tonnes.
Unlike the GranTurismo S which has a new semi-auto transmission - one that's vastly improved over the first generation box - the saloon gets the same six-speed ZF automatic as the lesser 4.2-litre version.
That makes it quiet, smooth and more importantly to the well-heeled who will get behind the wheel, dead easy to drive.
But it doesn't make it very fuel efficient. The company claims the S model will average 15.7 litres/100km, up 1.0 l/100km on the 4.2, while CO2 emissions are 20 grams/km more at 365g/km.
Maserati's Australian importer Ateco plans to sell 220 cars this year with about 80 being Quattroportes. Of that, about 55 - or about 60 per cent - are forecast to be the 4.7-litre version.
The S model is expected to be about $320,000 while the 4.2-litre version will sit under $300,000.
Put a 317kW engine in a two-tonne saloon and you'd hope for reasonable performance.
But the Quattroporte surprises with a real lust for performance.
In a straight line it wil knock the socks off a lot of rivals. It will outrun the BMW 750L and Audi A8L to 100km/h and stay alongside the Mercedes-Benz S500. The only one in its class that will beat it is the Jaguar XJ8 - it weighs 280kg less - and then only by 0.1 seconds.
But where the Quattroporte really comes alive is through the bends.
When the road twists tighter and the camber goes offside and it starts to rain as the road narrows and becomes rutted, this big four-door comes into its own.
There is barely no understeer so the Quattroporte revels in being pushed hard and close into corners. The engine is set behind the front axle line so its responds instantly to incremental changes to the leather-wrapped steering wheel. There is also two suspension modes - standard and Sport - to suit driver and road conditions.
The brakes are stunning - diametric metals of steel discs with alloy centres that have been melded when liquid - in power and amazing in their fade-free characteristics. Repeated jabs and longer pressure periods through northern Italian mountains showed no fade.
What the colourful brochures fail to convey is the serenity in which it's all delivered.
There's the comfort of soft leather and the insulation that bares all noise except the muted throaty roar from the four exhaust pipes.
Maserati has greatly improved the dashboard by using a similar centre console of the GranTurismo.
But though it all looks wonderful, there are some annoyances.
Many of the push-button controls are hidden behind the spokes of the steering wheel. Personal storage space is good, though has room for improvement.
The boot is small and there's no room for a full-size spare. Some versions, in fact, get no spare at all.
But even in its home country, Maserati is looked upon in awe.
It will glide through a city and passers-by will still gawk. Cruise the country and people wave.
It may have been decades from dicing with Ferrari on the racetrack but Maserati proves it still carries a powerful allure.
|(base)||4.2L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$42,700 – 54,670||2008 Maserati Quattroporte 2008 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|Executive GT||4.2L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ||$47,100 – 59,510||2008 Maserati Quattroporte 2008 Executive GT Pricing and Specs|
|S||4.7L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO||$47,400 – 59,950||2008 Maserati Quattroporte 2008 S Pricing and Specs|
|Sport GT||4.2L, PULP, 6 SP SEQ||$45,500 – 57,530||2008 Maserati Quattroporte 2008 Sport GT Pricing and Specs|