PROOF that the world would sound better if we all spoke Italian can be found in the badge on the beautifully-sculpted boot lid of the Maserati Quattroporte. In English, the name translates as nothing more exotic than “four doors”, but let the syllables slip from your tongue in your huskiest Tuscan voice – kwa-troe-POAR-tay – and you’ll be living la dolce vita before your significant other has time to ask why you’ve started speaking a bit funny.
The world would certainly look better if we could all afford to drive this most visually arresting of Italian saloons. The fifth-generation Quattroporte of 2003 married big car luxury and practicality with supercar looks and performance and consequently sold like no Maserati before it. Quattroporte version six builds on that formula, retaining many of its forebear’s charms but adding new powerplants and running gear to the mix. It’s scheduled to find its way to Britain’s roads by June and, if you have the means to squirrel away £110,000 between now and next summer, here’s the excuse you’ve been looking for.
Scotsman Motoring road-tested a brand new Quattroporte V8 last Friday. You may have heard the snarl from its exhausts, even though we were prowling around the south of France. Yes, the new car still makes the Maserati sound but, under the bonnet, it’s all change. Gone is the 4.7-litre engine of old, replaced by a Ferrari-built 3.8-litre V8 that calls on two turbochargers to help it generate 523bhp. Top speed is 191mph, making this, Maserati claims, the fastest production saloon car that money can buy. Expect a 410bhp 3-litre V6 to be the better seller, undercutting the V8 by about £30,000 and promising better fuel economy.
If the smaller engine is Michael Ball, then the V8 is Pavarotti in his pomp. The cut in capacity and the fitment of two turbos don’t seem to have robbed the Maserati of its singing voice. Head to the nearest tunnel, lower the double-glazed windows then let rip and you’ll be rewarded with an almighty bellow. Wind it up – really wind it up – and the turbos let go of excess boost with a cheeky burst of high-pitched hisses, like the rally cars that sometimes come this way during the Monte Carlo rally.
Jolly good fun, but a bit loutish for something so elegant. Therein lies the Quattroporte’s charm. From the side, the classic Quattroporte proportions – long bonnet, short tail, cabin set towards the back – are retained, but the scale is increased. At 17ft 3ins from nose to tail, the new car is 8 inches longer than its predecessor. That will please passengers in the back, who will enjoy an extra 4 inches of legroom. The 530-litre boot looks big enough to host an opera.
The growth spurt qualifies the Quattroporte as a Mercedes S-Class-rivalling limousine – surely the prettiest limousine in existence – but out-of-work chauffeurs shouldn’t get their hopes up, because only a lunatic would pay someone to relieve them of the pleasure of driving it.
From the boulevards of Antibes to the meandering roads that climb inland from the Cote d’Azur, and which aren’t as smooth as the South of France Marketing Association might have you believe, the Quattroporte offers a magic carpet ride. New all-independent suspension (double wishbones at the front, five-link at the back, if you’re into that sort of thing) lets you waft around all day (if you’re into that sort of thing), but where the Maserati comes alive is on the bends. To throw it into a tight hairpin is to forget you’re at the helm of a big car. It’s precise and grippy for something weighing two tons and the sweetly-weighted steering goads the driver into seeking even tighter lines. Liberal use of the throttle is a must. Power is sent to the rear via an eight-speed auto transmission with paddle shifters for those moments when you want to hold on to the revs for a bit longer. Only buses and bin lorries coming in the opposite direction in the side streets of Nice remind you that you’re driving a wider-than-average car.
Hooning about in such a potent rear-wheel-drive machine is all very well on the warm, dry roads beside the Mediterranean, I hear you grumble, but what about the cold, wet roads of Scotland? Mixed news: there is a four-wheel-drive version, but it won’t be coming to the UK, stymied by the cost of re-engineering it for right-hand-drive markets. Ach, you’ve been looking for an excuse to emigrate for years.
The new Quattroporte is the largest car Maserati design chief Lorenzo Ramaciotti has developed in his 40-year career. Size, though, was not his chief concern when he set about putting pen to paper. “The predecessor has been so strong, that it’s a difficult job to design a successor,” he says. “You don’t expect a new car from an Italian manufacturer to be a marginal redesign. You expect something fresh and new.”
All the same, the strongest elements of the “old” Quattroporte – the low grille, small headlamps and curving bonnet – feature in the new one. Ramacioitti candidly describes the back of the old car as “its weakest element”, so the new one gets a makeover which takes its cue from the tail of the Granturismo coupe. If he’s not happy now, he never will be.
Inside, a clean dashboard greets the driver, who sits low in a cossetting leather seat. Ramaciotti says: “There are not many buttons. We tried to hide the technology, rather than have it ‘in your face’.”
Finally, for in-car entertainment, Maserati has commissioned a 15-speaker, 1,280-watt system from UK audio specialist Bowers & Wilkins. Yes, the world sounds better in Italian, but even the Italians appreciate a British accent.
CAR Maserati Quattroporte V8
PRICE £110,000 (estimate)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 191 mph; 0-60mph 4.9secs
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 23.9 mpg
co2 EMISSIONS 274g/km