Maserati Quattroporte S - Nothing quite like it

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The world would be a poorer place without evocative cars such as this, writes Richard Bosselman. Photos supplied

Fiery hot performance is all part of the persona of Maserati: this 100-year-old brand still celebrates being one of the ''original'' greats when Formula One's modern era began in the 1950s and it still uses track tricks to tweak the luxury passenger cars on which it now focuses.

Rest assured, then, that even the ''entry'' version of the firm's largest car, the lean and long Quattroporte, is still a blisteringly fast beast even though it runs with a ''mere'' 3.0-litre V6.

It is so hot-tempered, in fact, that the maker has determined to provide the same character-cooling effect meted the lookalike big-brother V8 GTS flagship edition. This is a button on the console marked ''Ice''. It has nothing to do with driving in sub-zero climes, but it does allow the car to chill out a little.

Ice in Mazza-speak stands for ''Increased control and efficiency'', a fuel-saving and city comfort setting that reduces the classy sport sedan's natural urge.

Switch it on and things change enough to suggest this is a car with a split personality.

In this mode, power, torque and throttle sensitivity are tempered enough to make it almost quiet and compliant. Deactivate Ice and add sport, the firm shock setting, pull the gear knob to manual and it is radically altered, not only for urge but also in acoustic value.

Call me a bad person, but once the launch route for this new model took us into hill country, the closest thing Maserati will ever come to an all-out ''eco'' setting was never given any consideration. This was a environment that cried out for fire, not Ice, and the car performed much better than you would expect from something so large, so heavy and, well, so ''mainstream''.

Yes, that is not a misplaced descriptive.

The S edition is the version that is expected to grab 70% of Quattroporte sales and, as a pitch against certain German elites, is also charged with joining the pending, smaller Ghibli sedan as a volume seller.

Sophistication is a selling point, although it has to be said the car does not come across as a complete equal to a high-end A6, 5-Series or E-Class in this regard, but so, too, are the assurances of style and soulfulness.

Maserati plays cleverly to this by kitting the V6 virtually identically in look and princely luxury to the $64,000-dearer GTS; you can really only pick the six-pot from the eight by the look of the exhausts: round versus trapezoidal.

And in feel? Well, that is the interesting thing. Despite having 89kW and 160Nm less than the flagship's big-lunged 3.8-litre V8, the six-cylinder is hardly any less big-hearted. It does its Ferrari engineering alliance proud by delivering enough snap and surge to show it, too, treads that fine line between sensibility and insanity.

The change is in the soundtrack. The GTS' angry V8 shout is deep-throated and basso, whereas the V6's song is sharper and peakier. Listening to that epic exhaust tune while watching colleagues charging up and down a hill for the camera was spellbinding.

For a machine that is 5.2m in length and weighs 1860kg, it really does dance well. The computerised traction control is very good at making quick drivers fast as it calculates the power feed to the wheels. The steering precision, and bang-on Brembo brakes also help make this a car that often does not feel as big as it is. Hand-shifting the gears is fun, regardless that the shifters do not move with the steering wheel.

There is heavy reliance on stone-chucking, superfat Pirelli performance tyres and the stiffness of its suspension. The suspension electronics are adjusted pre-delivery depending on the choice of wheel size.

Standard are 20-inch wheels, but 19 and 21s are options. The latter look great, but I would be wary.

Potentially the reason why I could not agree with the driver of the second car in our group, who kept talking up the superb ride, was surely simply down to wheel size: His was on 20s, ours one inch up. It seemed to be the reason why the car I drove felt serene only on smooth surfaces; on less resolved tarmac it degraded to the point where on occasion it felt quite literally that it was going to pieces.

Rediscovering the Ice button did not really provide any more positive effect, though there was at least one saving grace; improved fuel burn. All that fun in the hills had come at one obvious cost, a sobering average consumption of 20 litres per 100km was double the official claim.

It has to be said that the Maserati does not come across as an equal to a high-end A6, 5-Series or E-Class. You will not, for example, find much evidence of the latest top-end driver assistance and accident avoidance gizmos. And while the Quattroporte is certainly treated to best-quality cabin materials, the actual build quality is a bit different, too.

Then there is the component-sharing with the Fiat family's United States branch, Chrysler. Is that a 300C steering wheel? One in our group said it was. I thought not. But the admittedly swank-looking touch screen, hmm. Chrysler curiosities also transfer across, like an interior light that stumped for staying resolutely on (until, that is, we were shown a discreet, low-set master control that I had knee-bumped on).

Yet, for all its foibles, there is nothing else quite like it and the world would be a poorer place without evocative cars such as this.

Maserati Quattroporte S - Nothing quite like it
At a Glance

MASERATI QUATTROPORTE S

Price: $194,900

Engine: 2979cc twin-turbocharged V6 petrol, maximum power 301kW@5500rpm, maximum torque 550Nm@1750-5000rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Brakes and stability systems: Disc/disc, ABS, ASR, BAS, EBD, ESC

Wheels, tyres: 245/45 ZR19 front, 245/40 ZR19 rear

Fuel and economy: 10.4 litres per 100km on Australian Design Rules cycle, capacity 80 litres

Dimensions: Length 5262mm, width 1948mm, height 1481mm