Backseat branding is easy. Porsche? Sports cars. Ford? Sedans. Hummer? Assault rifles. Maserati? Who knows? The company likes to promote a philosophical connection to its distinguished racing heritage. But Maserati's competitive heyday ended on May the twelfth 1957, when the Marquis de Portago’s Ferrari somersaulted into the crowd at Guidizillo, triggering a vicious pan-European anti-motor sports backlash. Since then, Maserati has concentrated on making unreliable sports cars and sporting sedans. These days, the resurgent automaker builds Jaguars.
Someone should. Decades of over-breeding, in-breeding and cross-breeding have destroyed the British brand’s cachet. The dissolution of Jaguar’s identity has killed US sales, leaving an open space at the top of the luxury market for a prohibitively expensive, drop-dead gorgeous sedan with enough pace and grace to kick your cams all over the place. The Maserati Quattroporte Executive GT will rock you.
Ya think? While the Quattroporte displays all of the visual restraint BMW Designer Chris Bangle’s Bimmers have abandoned, the Maser’s sensuous sheetmetal serves-up a dazzling display of grandiloquent, Italianate style. In other words, the Quattroporte is an Italian babe in an Armani dress. If you prefer your motoring metaphors to swing the other way, the QP’s front end is the most alluring phallic symbol since Jaguar’s E-Type first set tongues wagging (so to speak). No blobular or Dame Edna headlights capping a featureless expanse of hood— just a pair of modest glass apertures sunk into perfectly-formed fender creases. Deliciouso!
That said, the portholes are a corny bit of showboating and the rear lights are insipid enough to inspire a “Bring Back the Boomerang Taillights” web site. But the way the QP’s rear flanks kink upwards to meet the scrumptious C-pillar makes up for, well, just about anything. As so it must; the QP’s athletic shape severely truncates trunk space. Uh-oh. Buyers at this price point ($115k) are less likely to pack light than The Metropolitan Opera’s traveling company, and the nose-heavy sedan gets indigestion just looking at a set of Louis Vuitton luggage.
Still, if you’re traveling ‘cross town to watch the fat lady sing, the QP Executive GT is the ultimate glass pumpkin. The Maserati’s cabin is so luxurious in scope, detail, materials and construction my eight-year-old step-daughter asked “Is this an old-fashioned car?” Indeed it is. Maserati’s craftsmen combine four lustrous hard woods, ten fragrant leathers and several satiny metals to create a shrine to old school luxury motoring. From the superbly tailored leather chairs (front and rear) to the sleek color-contrasting Alcantara headliner, the QP sees Audi’s minimalism and raises it an elegance.
Of course, there are cars of equal sumptuousness depreciating in climate controlled garages. The QP’s trump card: technological integration. Whereas the Continental GT is lousy with confusing, distasteful and undersized buttons (inherited from the VW Phaeton), the Quattroporte’s buttonology is a masterpiece of ergonomic simplicity. Four buttons flank the central screen, which sits above the radio controls, which lives just north of the climate controls. Even better, every button operates a single function. It’s not a perfect solution– the “enter” button for the radio and sat nav is isolated from the display screen– but you won’t find a less intellectually demanding luxury car at any price.
Yes, well, operating the Quattroporte’s paddle shift transmission is a bit of a bother. Even in sport mode (the smoothest option) the F1-style cog swapper fails to deliver crisp, clean changes. And that’s a shame. With near-as-dammit 400hp underfoot and all-areas access to plenty o’ torque, the QP’s V8 does the wafting and blasting luxury car thing con multo brio. The Quattroporte’s DuoSelect gearbox isn’t as annoying as the new M5’s SMG unit (nothing is). But paddle shifting is a needless affectation in a car whose luxury car bias is as obvious as the trident sitting in the middle of the analogue clock in the middle of the dash. [NB: An autobox is on the way.]
Maserati would like us to view the Quattroporte as a four door Italian sports car that just happens to tip the scales at 4250 lbs. While that’s “only” 111 lbs. heavier than a S550, the Merc’s blessed with Airmatic suspension. Maserati’s electronically controlled Skyhook system is about as appealing as the Australian glam rock band of the same name. Carve a corner on a smooth surface and the QP Exec GT will run with the big dogs: body lean in check, 19” tires death gripping the blacktop. Throw in a bump or three and it’s a pavement surfin’ safari. Even in a straight line in comfort mode, the QP’s ride is over-firm and crashy just like… the Jaguar XJ.
[Maserati provided the vehicle reviewed, taxes, insurance and a tank of gas.]