THRASHING a respectably powerful new saloon car over the Alps en route to the Geneva Motor Show last Monday afternoon, I let the car's four-wheel-drive system keep me safe in the final snow flurries of the winter while I pondered a sudden urge to tackle the same sort of journey in summer weather in a saloon car with a bit more power.
Something with a lot more power, in fact. Something like the Maserati Quattroporte, which with 400bhp from its 4.2-litre V8 engine is not only one of the most powerful saloons on the market but, thanks to its delicate hand-drawn lines, certainly one of the prettiest.
Conventional thinking would be that it might be better to take the two-door, two-seater coup for this sort of journey, but I like the more stable stance of the longer car and, if you are getting an extra two doors and two seats for nothing, why not buy the saloon anyway?
The test car was the Quattroporte Automatic Executive GT, which features a new six-speed, fully automatic transmission. This can be operated in sequential neo-manual mode should you be on track or a particularly good mountain road, but with 400bhp and loads of lowdown pulling power, fully automatic works best most of the time.
The worst bit of this car is probably when you first open the door and slide into the driver's seat, which seems to be set at the sort of angle you might expect to encounter in an antenatal clinic. Fortunately this is for entry and egress only, and as soon as you put the key in, it glides into your chosen preset driving position.
The engine churns more than you expect these days, but barks into life with a blip of the throttle, which had me trembling at the thought of cold oil and expensive components but is, apparently, perfectly normal.
I couldn't overcome my years of experience, however, and made sure that the Ferrari-designed and built V8 engine was up to a good working temperature before I made serious demands of it.
In spite of the fact that, unlike in the flappy paddle car in which the gearbox is mounted at the back, the automatic transmission is up front with the engine, there is still a marginal rear weight bias, which was always in my mind when I was driving.
And you have to drive this car, because at heart, and in spite of all the obvious sophistication, it's a bit of a hooligan. You can get fast four-seaters from Jaguar and Bentley and any of the German car makers but none of them produce such a blatant ned of a saloon
Even when just tootling around, that big V8 plays like the soundtrack to a road movie and sometimes I could almost imagine the upholstery in finest Burberry check.
Press the Sport button on the dashboard and it gets worse. The engine note lowers itself an octave and turns the volume up by several decibels. The suspension stiffens, the gear-change time is cut by a third and the intervention level on the electronic stability system is switched to emergency only. Basically, in Sport mode the car coils itself for serious action. Hit the accelerator and it happens, loudly and, at first, almost too quickly for absolute control.
And where you most want it to happen, I decided on Monday afternoon on the roads high above Lausanne, is on one of those quarter-mile drags between hairpins while ascending a seriously jaggy mountain.
Even with an automatic box and all the weight of a saloon to lug around, it positively explodes off the line, getting to 60mph in 5.3 seconds and onto a claimed 167mph which, of course, is irrelevant unless you nip into Germany.
I expected the automatic to be super smooth in its power delivery but there's a slight hiccup in there which, with the amount of power available, means that I never quite trusted the car all the way.
Strangely enough, that actually adds to the driving experience, to the extent that even when trundling along in the morning commute I found myself smiling.
Yet when it gets out of shape, it is relatively easy and instinctive to bring it all back. The best way to drive it, as with most sporting cars, is at just under the limits, which I suspect most owners would not want to experience anyway.
The test car cost 86,002 (are they serious about the 2?) but came with a lot of the nice options – Alcantara headlining, for instance, that you'd probably want in a car of this class, though you can buy the standard Quattroporte for 77,102 if you don't mind changing gears manually.
Though you can spend a fortune customising the car to make it unique, standard kit is pretty comprehensive, including leather, air-conditioning, wood trim, built-in satnav and a high-quality Bose sound system, though thanks to that engine it remained mostly silent during my time with the car.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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