Since its introduction in 2004, the fifth gen Maserati Quattroporte has been a sedan poised on the brink of greatness. Its fatal flaw: a clunky automated manual transmission ill-suited to the model’s luxury mission. Unlike some propeller-badged Germans we could name, Maserati’s Italian parent heeded the catcalls directed at its high tech gearbox. FIAT sourced a ZF six speed fully automatic transmission to cure the problem, subito. So, are we there yet?
Posts By: Jay Shoemaker
I currently own a four-cylinder Honda Civic Hybrid, a BMW 335 coupe with an in-line twin-turbo six, a V8 Mercedes E63 and a V10 VW Touareg. Clearly, I need a car equipped with a V12. The effects of owning five vehicles with engines in the 4-6-8-10-12 sequence could unlock the secrets of the universe, or at least reveal the meaning of the Fibonacci Numbers. On the other hand, this could be another telltale sign that I have more money than sense. Regardless, I’m on the prowl.
A few years ago, I found myself comfortably ensconced in the back seat of a German taxicab. I was luxuriating in what I thought was leather (it was MB Tex, the convincing faux hide) when the driver cranked-up the engine. Smoke and stench poured from the Mercedes’ diesel engine. I scoffed– until the driver blew straight through 180kph on the autobahn to Munich. Even from the passenger seat, the torque was more intoxicating than the exhaust wafting in through the window. I was hooked.
Fifteen years ago, I lived in the Colorado Mountains. Naturally, I owned a Jeep. For someone who was constantly fording streams and driving through blizzards, the vehicle made perfect sense. Now that I’m living in California, I buy vehicles which make the most of the balmly weather and the pleasing plethora of paved surfaces. And yet my current employment has an agricultural element; there are times when I need a vehicle to traverse rocky trails and unpaved lanes. Workers who see me approaching to bum a ride in their truck have started to pretend they only speak Spanish. So I’ve been shopping for an SUV. I began with one of the brands I know best: BMW.
OK, I admit it: I’ve consumed way too much AMG Kool Aid. I own multiple sets of the Mercedes tuner’s black license plate frames and key rings, an AMG logo-shirt, a cashmere V-neck sweater, half a dozen hats, a pair of driving shoes, a winter coat and a limited edition AMG watch. I would have more of their stuff, but recently I was introduced to a gentleman from Italy who spied the AMG logo on the back of my car and pronounced it, “Eye-Em-Gay,” and that sort of cooled me off. And then I drove the E63 AMG.
I recently completed a Munich to Paris road trip in a BMW 335. When I returned to the US, I was retrospectively struck by the lack of high profile vehicles (pickup and SUV’s, not celebrity Ferraris or Leclerc battle tanks) on French and German roads. I suppose when gas costs nearly seven bucks a gallon, fuel efficiency is all. Personally, I don’t care for SUV’s; the few I have owned have taught me that being tall and overweight is no more fun for a vehicle than it is for a former supermodel. So when my Mercedes dealer suggested I have a look at the new ML63, I scoffed. And then went along for the ride.
During my soujourn on the other side of the pond, I was delighted to score an early drive in the new CL550. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was somewhat blunted by the French Mercedes salesman’s incessant questioning. He kept interrupting my concentration to ask me how to adjust his seat massage system. Then, thanks to his oafish fiddling with the car's COMAND navigation system, I was distracted by a computerized frenchwoman ordering me to make a U-turn s’il possible. I contemplated pulling over sur le grand-rue to garrote both of my companions, but I couldn’t find a Parisian parking space of sufficient enormity to berth the German dreadnought. Tant pis pour moi.
I arrived at the Paris Mondial de L’Automobile too late for the press days. Big mistake. My first attempt to gain entry to the second largest auto show in the world fell on a weekend. I could barely squeeze through the entry gates, let alone get up-close-and-personal with the more attractive models. So I retreated into the Metro, vowing a working week return. Monday morning proved a bit more relaxed, although by midday the crush returned. Luckily, there were a few machines worth the scrum.
Chris Bangle’s architecture is still a shock to the system. I still cringe whenever one of the BMW designer’s “flame surfaced” 7 Series hoves into view. I still shake my head when I catch a glimpse of a 5 Series’ mascara headlights. I still avert my eyes when any of his models drive past, for fear of glimpsing the rightfully reviled “Bangle butt.” So I was flabbergasted when I encountered the new 335i coupe in the metal. From its balanced proportions to its elegantly cut creases and demure posterior, it’s a stylishly conservative yet sporty design. Was Mr. Bangle on vacation when The Board of Directors approved this machine?
Why do manufacturers of high end cars think I’m an idiot? Their automobiles tell me when their tires need air, when the coolant is low and when it’s time for an oil change. They [still] remind me to buckle-up, close my door and take my key. They warn me of approaching objects (front and rear). Yes, I know: this dumbing-down suits the majority of wealthy car buyers, who’d rather read a treatise on Keynesian economics than check their oil. Still, you’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Sun visor stickers are my personal line in the sand.
The Mercedes CLK 63 AMG Cabriolet is like a woman with large, perfectly shaped breasts. No matter how much you try to talk about her other qualities, your attention keeps returning to one thing: the engine’s enormous peak output. The CLK holsters AMG’s first purpose-built powerplant, a normally aspirated mill good for 475 horsepower (507 in its less restricted sibilings). As usual, it’s assembled in Affalterbach by one satanic mechanic, whose name is stamped on a plate affixed to the engine block. In another nod to heritage, the “63” represents the engine’s displacement rounded up from 6.2-liters; homage to the legendary 300 SEL 6.3 produced by Mercedes-Benz from 1968-1972. That’s some heavy heritage.
There is no way to overstate the appeal of the new Volkswagen Eos’ folding hardtop. I sat inside the car for ten minutes, opening and closing the lid, marveling at the mechanism’s precision and design. What kind of mind can develop something that folds and unfolds with such infinite grace? If you like to visit high speed factories spitting out hundreds of widgets per minute, filling them with liquids and shrink wrapping them in three swift motions, then you will never tire of lowering and raising the Eos’ five-piece hardtop. As for the rest of Vee Dub’s CSC (coupe-sunroof-convertible), it’s danger, boredom ahead.
Small changes can have a major impact. Remember Jennifer Grey, the female lead in the film “Dirty Dancing?” Her fine proboscis lent her an air of distinction. Then she had reductive rhinoplasty and dropped out of sight. Although Audi's Auto Union-inspired snout seems to be going for the reverse effect, Mercedes is wise to the law of incremental effect. In the case of the CLS550, small changes have transformed a wannabe into a gotta have.
The Mercedes E550 is like one of those gently aging character actors that everyone recognizes but no one can name. I guess the fact that Mercedes put over a million of E-Class sedans on the road in the past four years may have a little something to do with it. Either that or the brand’s reacting to Bimmer’s Bangling and their own S-Class blingery by maintaining the E’s arch conservatism. While understandable, I’m not so sure that the mid-sized Merc's generic good looks and mild-mannered charisma are such a good thing…