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sportscarpros Baby You Can Drive My Car

What we drive, where we drive, why we drive and other observations
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John Dinkel foremost on the 2007 Maserati Quattroporte

Maseratis have long been famous/praised for their ability to go around corners, but only recently has Maserati turned the corner.

For 2007 only the 4-door sedan Quattroporte models in base, Sport GT and Executive GT trim levels will be sold in the U.S.  Essentially this is a recognition by Maserati that the rather long-in-the-tooth Coupe and Grand Sport models have been successful in bringing the Maserati name and heritage back to America, but they never reached the level of quality and refinement that buyers take as a given these days in the $100,000-plus Grand Touring sports luxury segment.

And while Maserati sales have grown at a record pace in America these past few years—accounting for 45 percent of Maserati’s worldwide sales in 2006—Maserati recognizes that its future and its financial success in North America lie with its more modern Quattroporte models, which were introduced here in 2005.  The Quattroporte is about the same overall length as the Lexus LS 460 or BMW 750i, but its taut eye-catching Pininfarina curves result in a tighter but sportier seating package than is found in the Lexus or Bimmer.

The Maser’s sporting heritage also is evident in its serious attention to all things performance.  It’s high-compression Ferrari-engineered 4.2-liter V-8 produces 400 bhp @ 7250 rpm and sings a lovely Italian aria as it is revved to redline. Featuring four overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing, this highly tuned V8 also produces an impressive 339 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm, 75 percent of which is available at just 2500 rpm.

Automatically for the people…
The big news for 2007 is the introduction of a fully automatic gearbox as an alternative to the Formula 1-inspired DuoSelect transmission that consists of a 6- speed electro-hydraulically shifted manual gearbox that can also be used like a normal automatic when during around town in stop-and-go driving.  The new 6- speed automatic is a collaboration between Maserati and ZF, resulting in an exceptionally flexible, responsive and smoother automatic transmission that allows gears changes as high as 7200 rpm, the highest in the class.  This endows the Quattroporte Automatic with serious performance capabilities: 0-100 km (62 mph) in just 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 167 mph.  With 10-percent better highway fuel economy to (right) boot, but still in the gas guzzler category.

DuoSelect models have slightly more aggressive engine tuning resulting in a top speed of 171 mph and more instantaneous throttle response.

The Quattroporte’s underpinnings are equally impressive, featuring front and rear double wishbones with arms and hubs in forged aluminum to reduce unsprung weight, together with a sophisticated damping system, a Brembo braking system with a ventilated disc at each corner and electronic speed-sensitive steering.   The Quattroporte’s weight balance also plays a role in the handling equation: The engine is located behind the centerline of the front wheels, resulting in a race car- like 49 percent of the weight over the front wheels and 51 percent resting on the rears with the conventional automatic.  For DuoSelect models with their rear- mounted gearbox and differential, the weight distribution is 47/53 for even better traction and acceleration.

Ministry of the Interior
If there’s one area in which the Quattroporte wins hands down compared to any previous Maserati, it would be the elegance, refinement and quality of the interior. There’s not a stitch out of place or a rattle to be heard.  In fact, Maserati designers were thoughtful enough to eliminate stitches where they don’t belong:  on the rims of the steering wheel where the thumbs naturally want to rest.  Bellissimo!

The Quattroporte’s woods and leathers are of the highest quality.  And in the best tailor-made Italian tradition, the customer can design the car to meet his or her tastes, choosing from 10 exterior colors, nine internal colors and five types of wood trim.

And as a “driver” I certainly appreciate Maserati’s approach to instrumentation and controls.  They are all laid out in a simple logical fashion.  None of this iDrive or Command system, thank you very much.  Leave that to the Germans.  And I have to believe confusing over-complicated controls, along with the Maser’s overall sportiness, is the major reason that Mercedes S-class owners defect from their M-Bs to the Quattroporte in higher numbers than the owners of any other sports/luxury sedan.

Okay, already, so what’s it like to drive?  Nice, very nice.  The all-way power seats are superbly comfortable and supportive and along with a steering wheel electrically adjustable for reach and rake, the Quattroporte is for an easy fit for almost any size driver.  Well maybe Shaq O’Neill would be an exception.

The O.C.
It’s slow going on the PCH through Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Dana Point.  Traffic. Lots of traffic.  But the Quattroporte is serenely quiet and composed. If it’s a sports sedan, it’s hiding behind its luxury trappings at the moment.  This is a good time to fiddle with the new automatic transmission.  It’s got three modes of operation:  Stick the lever in D and go or slide the lever down and to the left into its manual slot, which provides manual control of up and downshifts by moving the lever fore (downshifting) and aft (upshifting).  Paddles attached to the steering column are the third mode.  Right now D is the preferred modus operandi and the electronics seamlessly move the trans up and down through its six gears as the traffic ebbs and flows.

I note, too, that I can easily adjust the HVAC system, audio system and other controls without aid from a screen menu, a voice activated thingamajig or an 800- page owner’s manual.  I am driving in the lap of luxury and enjoying it.

This all changes as I change directions from south to east and head up California Highway 74, also known as Ortega Highway. Take my word for it: Ortega is a sports car road.  An unforgiving sports car road.  It’s 35 miles of elevation changes and tight twisties from sea level in San Juan Capistrano up to around 2500 ft in the mountains and then back down to sea level again at Lake Elsinore. If you’ve driven it, you know what I mean.

It’s not often you find a vehicle with such well defined and refined manners under two such very different driving conditions, but the Quattroporte’s schizophrenic personality means it’s as much at home on Ortega as it was cruising down Coast Highway.  It feels like it was designed for roads like this.  And, indeed, it was.  Its designers certainly understood Maserati’s racing heritage, and my mind conjures up images of the Mille Miglia and the Targa Florio as we traverse one demanding Ortega turn after another.  This is a solid car with instinctive steering, flat, fluid cornering and powerful brakes. The power is marvelous and accompanied by a wonderful melodious roar as the engine effortlessly soars to redline.  This is Grand Touring at its finest.

Too soon it’s time to turn back.  And the Maser happily assumes its cosseting as I trundle on back to Newport on the PCH.

Issues?  I have two.  Throttle effort is high, especially in city driving.  And the thickness of the C-pillars causes me to use extra caution when changing lanes to the right.

Maserati says that 2007 is also the year the company turns the financial corner. Italian red looks great on the exterior of a Quattroporte but not on a financial statement.

The various Quattroporte models will continue to be priced at just over $100,000 for the base model up to around $120,000 for the Executive GT and the Sport GT. The automatic transmission is a $1200 option.

Maserati has a strong and successful racing history and 2006 was no exception. The Maserati MC12 sports car took the team and drivers championships in the FIA GT Championship and also won the GT1 class in the Italian Gran Turismo championship.

In early March the Maserati family will increase by one with the introduction of the GranTurismo at the Geneva Auto Show.  This 2-door, 2+2 coupe will be fitted with the automatic gearbox and a more powerful V8 engine, delivering 405 bhp.  And it will make its in North American debut at the New York Auto Show in April.

Place your bets ladies and gentlemen…
If I were a betting man I’d tell you that the Gran Turismo is the basis for a new Maserati racing car that could compete at Le Mans and in the ALMS here in the States.  Wanna bet?

                                                                                                            John Dinkel
                                                                                                              May 2007

Maserati Quattroporte Automatica
Maserati GranTurismo
Maserati GranTurismo
Maserati GranTurismo
Maserati GranTurismo