Maserati's sexy new automatic sedan
Fortune's Sue Callaway test drives the Quattroporte Automatic: an iconic four-door sedan with sex appeal.
(Fortune Magazine) -- For most successful people in corporate America, the average day is like a German or Japanese sedan: hard-charging, constant and complex. Competent? Yes. Thrilling? More like the perfect shade of gray.
The people at Maserati set out to change the sedan's rep three years ago with the Quattroporte. And they just might have succeeded, were it not for the decision to build that original model with a paddle-shift gearbox (Maserati figured that if such a transmission is enticing in a Ferrari, why not put it in a sedan? Because an overly involving gear-shifting system that has a herky-jerky automatic mode doesn't suit a full-sized four-door, that's why.)
Now - finally! - Maserati has added a true automatic to the Quattroporte but kept plenty of Ferrari DNA: The Prancing Horse builds the V-8, paints the bodies, and shares many suppliers (leather, brakes and so on).
I had fallen for the Quattroporte's lines from afar: Sophia Loren sex appeal, knee-weakening proportions, exotic details and an hourglass shape that belies its interior roominess. But how could a car bigger and cheaper than a Ferrari possibly deliver a similar kind of over-the-top thrill and hedonism? And had Maserati truly solved its transmission transgression?
After one week and more than 1,000 miles in a Bordeaux Pontevecchio (metallic maroon) version, I can tell you that the Maserati delivered. I drove from Los Angeles to Phoenix and back in two days, and here's what happened.
First I noticed that the car, a respectable 4,247 pounds, felt nearly as light and playful as a two-seater. While I was revving her up and slaloming through traffic, an unmistakably operatic growl reached my ears - a symphony of V-8 and exhaust notes only Italian engineers could compose (go to emotionmeetsbusiness.com to hear it).
The steering was direct, the suspension (in sport mode as opposed to normal or snow) was taut but not bone-breaking, the throttle response immediate, the braking - as proficient as a Ferrari Enzo - firm without any fade.
And then there were the tactile highlights: a Poltrona Frau leather-wrapped two-tone dash, dramatically widow's-peaked in the center. Supportive seats that also heat, cool and massage at your discretion. A mahogany steering wheel fitted so perfectly with leather inserts for my hands that it felt like built-in driving gloves.
Between you and me, the whole package provoked some rather adolescent behavior: doing doughnuts in an empty parking lot (its 49-front/51-rear weight distribution is best in class); gloating at admiring strangers; taking the long road home to log a few more smile-inducing miles.
I wasn't even overly bothered by the Quattroporte's quirks: buttons on the instrument panel whose purpose was inscrutable. Two different ways to release the parking brake. A small trunk. Maserati must figure out a better navigation system (I'm still waiting for the perfect one from any manufacturer) and retrofit for Bluetooth and iPods (hurry up and get Ferrari's new integrated Bose system, please).
Overall, Maserati's quality has improved substantially in the past few years. Is it at Lexus level? No, but I can only report that I had no problems on my watch. Most Quattroporte buyers are former Mercedes S-Class owners, so confidence in the brand is growing.
What it really comes down to is that the Quattroporte is full of passion, performance and personality. Is it for you? That depends: Do you pine for another decent day at work - or a Bellini at sunset in Venice?
From the July 9, 2007 issue