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| First Drive | Modena, Italy | Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S |

Look at the Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S through your credit crunch glasses - they're the NHS-style ones, skew-whiff, with white tape holding one of the hinges together - and it will make absolutely no sense whatsoever. None. Consider its CO2 rating, its fuel economy and its price; they're almost embarrassing.

Then take those glasses off and just look at the pictures of the thing. I could stop this review here.

In the Metal

You already want one, don't you? Believe me; it doesn't matter whether you're an environmentalist or a car mentalist, a man or a woman - or even blind, for that matter - which we'll get to. Whoever you are, you will be powerless to resist the Quattroporte's charms.

But then, you probably already knew the Quattroporte was beautiful - it's been around as long as Facebook. And, just like Facebook, it's had a major cosmetic revamp recently, which everyone worried would damage the perfectly good original, but actually made it better. And it's also likely to attract you a load of spurious 'friends' if you spend enough time with it.

This Sport GT S version sits atop the now three-strong Quattroporte tree, and distinguishes itself visually by way of some 20-inch multi-spoke rims, a black grille and headlamp bezels, dual oval tailpipes, and on the inside, an Alcantara wheel rim and seats, 'titanex' dash inserts (carbon fibre lookalike), and a longer set of paddle shifters behind the wheel. And that's about it; subtlety is king, fortunately.

What you get for your Money

For a 90k car, ostensibly very little. Where a BMW 7 Series or a Mercedes-Benz S-Class is stuffed with technology, the Maserati is surprisingly basic. It doesn't really feel like a top-level luxury barge - but then that's not its remit. It does have the basic fripperies any self-respecting obese feline would expect - leather everywhere, electric seats, satellite navigation, an auto 'box and a profligate V8 block - but it comes across more like a big, well-appointed junior executive than the 'hyper sport sedan' Maserati calls it. (A category occupied by heavyweights such as the Mercedes S 63 AMG and the Audi S8.)

Driving it

This is what you actually get for your money. The fundamental difference between this and, for example, the new 7 Series is that, while the Bavarian barge is a fine driving machine, the Germans spent much of its launch waxing lyrical about its comfort and eco credentials. Maserati, on the other hand, had chief tester and former Ferrari F1 driver Ivan Capelli take us through a graph of the Sport GT S's fractionally superior cornering speeds compared to the standard S version, and how those speeds were possible.

Here's how: it loses the Skyhook adaptive damping of the Quattroporte S in favour of single rate passive dampers, the springs are stiffened by 20 percent, and they're lowered by 15mm at the front and 11mm at the back. Power is bumped up by 10bhp, the red line is raised by 100rpm to 7,200rpm and the gearbox management software is completely reprogrammed. In practice, it means upshifts come later in the rev range and there's an automatic throttle blip now during downshifts - lovely when you slam the brakes on. In manual mode, the box won't change up or down automatically anymore either.

And there's a new twist in the tailpipe: a Sport mode. Press the 'sport' button on the dash and a valve opens in the tailpipe that effectively allows the gas straight through. It's this that liberates the extra 10bhp, but it also unleashes a noise never before heard from a luxury four-door saloon. This really is one of the great V8 yowls; it starts deep and burbly, but squeeze the throttle and it rapidly pitches itself at the other end of the aural spectrum. It actually doesn't sound legal, especially from a four-door saloon. Let's just say, press Sport once and you'll never press it again to turn it off. (Unless you've got a headache, possibly, in which case you might want to tone the melee down a bit.)

And with those two dominating things at the front of the Sport GT S experience - its looks and its noise - the subtleties of its steering, ride and handling become less significant. Fortunately they're great. Obviously the ride is firm, but get it on a motorway and the damping exposes itself as well placed between comfortable and communicative. On more twisty asphalt the Maser is prone to bump-steering a little bit on its massive low profile twenties, and the steering is too light - as accurate as it is - but you'll never feel like it isn't telling you what the wheels are doing. The back end is prone to stepping out on the throttle, too, though the feedback you get through your hands and backside give you enough confidence to bring it back in line quickly and smoothly. For a two-tonne barge, that it feels so nimble and controllable is quite remarkable.

Worth Noting

The pre-facelift Quattroporte Sport GT S, which this car replaces, took 30 percent of the car's total sales during 2007-2008. And while Maserati bosses waxed lyrical about the company's rude health - it posted a 17 percent sales increase in 2008 over 2007, and went into trading profit for the first time too - it also remained realistic about its sales forecast this year, with one boss remarking that the global economic situation "is what it is". However, another boss told us that the dawn of the supersaloon - the Aston Martin Rapide et al - will actually help the Quattroporte by giving it some proper rivals; a true frame of reference. That may be true, but for the time being the big Maserati looks more relevant to nascent markets like China (where the company enjoyed a massive 86 percent growth spurt last year - selling 349 cars, up from 214) than it does here. This uncertainty may explain why the changes that turned the Quattroporte S into the Sport GT S, as effective as they are, could be deemed less than wholesale.

Summary

The Maserati Quattroporte is truly a car you can fall in love with. Sure, it's widely flawed - the quality is patchy in places, there's not enough headroom, it seems small inside for a massive car, the turning circle is wider than the Colosseum, and the button cluster for the satnav looks like it was lifted from a Peugeot. Yet, it changes velocity like a sports saloon half its size, thumps you in the chest harder than an angry Zinedine Zidane and sounds like God's hand blender. And just look at it.

Mark Nichol - 9 Feb 2009



  www.maserati.co.uk    - Maserati road tests
- Maserati news
- Quattroporte images

2009 Maserati Quattroporte specifications:
Price: 89,860 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 5.1 seconds
Top speed: 177mph
Combined economy: 18.0mpg
Emissions: 365g/km
Kerb weight: 1990kg

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.



2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 Maserati Quattroporte GT S. Image by Maserati.
 






 

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