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Driven: Maserati Quattroporte GTS & GranTurismo MC Stradale

21 January 2015 15:11 No comments

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Mail from Maserati. “We would like to invite you on Sunday January 18th to have a glass and a bite in an enjoyable Italian atmosphere. You can also admire the Ghibli, Quattroporte and GranTurismo in all their aspects and test drive them if you like.”
There was never going to be a ‘no’ to that, was there?

So come January 18th, the weather gods had apparently decided Belgium was in desperate need for fresh rain water. Loads of it. Still, this wasn’t going to hold us back. Until snow started falling. It luckily melted as soon as it hit the ground, but these aren’t exactly the conditions one would opt for to drive a Maserati. Only a snow storm would have stopped us from going though, so we persevered. On the way there we funnily enough encountered a gentleman who thought it perfect weather to take out his 458 Italia. Two hands firmly on the wheel and a very focused – read; terrified – look is the briefest way to describe his appearance. Having instantly declared him nuts, five seconds onwards the thought sunk in of where we were headed to and what we would be driving shortly. Buckets of rain continued to flood the roads, but still no snow storm. So on we went.

Upon arrival there were countless Tridents parked out front, but we had no actual clue which ones could be driven. While enjoying a glass of Prosecco, some salmon and carpaccio, we first took a look of what was on show. Some quite delicious material, actually. A Maserati Indy in impeccable state, an Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione and the entire line-up of what Maserati now has on sale. These latter could all be driven, the first two unfortunately couldn’t. If we were interested in taking the Quattroporte GTS out?

It’s a vast bulk of machinery, this new Quattroporte. An Audi A7 was parked next to it but looked more like an A3 in comparison to Maserati’s flagship. Measuring in at 5,26m long and 2,10m wide, there isn’t much on the road with such presence as this thing. How they’ve made it quite so elegant to behold, then, is anyone’s guess. Stepping into the QP also means you never want to get out again. The seats are like cushions developed especially for your buttocks and back, sitting tremendously comfortable and drenched in the finest leather out there. Take a look around you and all that meets the eye is either leather, wood or… air. It really is incredible how much space there is for people in the front and especially for those in the back, who have an entire ballroom to themselves.

Start up the engine and the V8 roars itself to life before settling down in a continuous hum. By now the roads were effectively inundated, and the fact that this Quattroporte wasn’t fitted with winter tires didn’t help either. Off we went, though, with a well-controlled right foot. What strikes you immediately is that the steering in the QP is surprisingly light for a sports car limo. Great feedback and a lovely directness to it make for a great feel altogether though, but you’re just not expecting it. The ZF 8-speed ‘box needs no introduction and is simply impeccable. The gear changes are dealt with so effortlessly, it raises the question why anyone would still want a manual. Agreed, a hot hatch is more engaging with a third pedal and a shift to operate, but in this Quattroporte it is the ultimate means of comfort. Whether you choose to leave it in auto or operate the paddles yourself, you’ll never even notice another gear has just been engaged unless by looking at the gorgeous dashboard in front of you.

So, how about that newly developed V8? A twin-turbo 3.8l monster that develops a whopping 530hp and 710Nm of torque (in overboost). It is a true beast, this Ferrari-built engine block. A rather untamable one actually, as we couldn’t get it to put its power down properly with all the water between the QP’s rubber and the asphalt. Get your foot anywhere near the throttle and the rear wheels just go berserk, not knowing how to handle all the torque that is thrown at them. Logical sense says putting the thing in third or fourth gear at low speeds should help, but no. There’s just so much push available from low down the rev line that the rear wheels step out over and over again, even in a straight line. Putting it in I.C.E. (Increased Control & Efficiency) helped things, but this clearly wasn’t the weather in which to try and up the pace. We can report that it sounds great though, albeit more subdued than was the case in the previous Quattroporte. We didn’t get the chance to rev it out, however. It felt like we were sailing the Quattroporte rather than driving it to be honest. But that’s the fun part about this limo. It doesn’t need to be pushed in order to savor the experience. Sure, you could mash your foot down the carpet and see everything in your mirror get smaller very quickly (if the roads are dry, that is), but it feels just as much at ease when you’re cruising around at a steady 90km/h. When you do so, there’s time to admire the beautiful dashboard, see what time it is through the elegant analog clock and just enjoy the fact that you’re in a Maserati. It’s just something special going about in a car that wears the Trident on its nose. This might be our general love towards Italian cars speaking, but they really do take a hold of you in a manner that no German car will ever be capable of.

So we returned the keys of the Quattroporte GTS and were offered those of the GranTurismo MC Stradale (on winter tires). Not really knowing what to expect – on the one hand it has less power, but on the other hand it’s slightly lighter and is more hardcore – we set off with an even steadier right foot. Describing the looks of the GranTurismo would be an insult, as there simply are no words that can do them justice. Let’s keep it at ‘one of Pininfarina’s finest’, which says quite a lot. While the Quattroporte’s interior oozes luxury, the GranTurismo’s does specialness. Here too, the seats are utterly enjoyable, offering more support as well. Alcantara, alcantara and more alcantara surrounds you, again joined by an analog clock and then there’s some more alcantara. Sure, it’s outdated. Sure, the center console is unclear and overloaded with buttons. But none of that matters since this cockpit just makes you feel special. And there’s no state-of-the-art infotainment system that can do that, only the Italians somehow manage to make that happen over and over again.

Once you’ve let the exquisite interior sink in, you turn the key (yes, there’s still one of those instead of a button) and that majestic 4.7l naturally aspirated V8 clears its throat for the first time. Did I say the Quattroporte sounded great? More on that later. Unlike Maserati’s flagship, this GranTurismo MC Stradale gets a robotized 6-speed gearbox. It’s basically a standard ‘box, but it just does all the gear changing for you instead of letting you do the work. This also means it’s far less civilized than the Quattroporte’s ZF, having you leaning forward every time another gear is engaged. It would feel out of place in the QP, but here it somehow works. The transmission feels like it’s alive, behaving differently throughout the rev range and letting you know it’s there rather than doing its job seamlessly like all the dual-clutch gearboxes that are out there. The same goes for the steering, which is much weightier, nicely direct and gives all the feedback you could ever wish for. It would be too much in the Quattroporte, here it’s perfect.

The naturally aspirated V8 – one of the last of its breed unfortunately – falls short when you compare it to the new Twin-Turbo unit in terms of power output. 460hp and 520Nm of torque are still decent, but compared to the 530hp and 710Nm of the new powertrain, it lags behind. Numbers aren’t everything fortunately, as we were about to find out. We’d experienced this engine before, but it had been a while. Now that all manufacturers are forced to walk the turbo-road, it was a delight to experience an engine that gradually builds it power up the more you push it and the more rotations its doing. Proof that a naturally aspirated engine has its benefits is the fact that the MC Stradale wàs perfectly manageable in these dreary weather conditions, whereas the Twin-Turbo V8 from the QP was not because of its instant torque output. Putting your foot down results in a linear buildup of push here, making it far more controllable. Once the 4.000-mark has gone by on the rev counter, the acceleration is furthermore joined by one of the most exhilarating noises you’ll ever come by. It is as if the late Pavarotti – a great Maserati-fan – himself spent years orchestrating how every single rpm of an engine should sound in order to be perfect, and then handed over his results to the Maserati engineers. It seems odd describing a sound as perfect, but this is definitely as close as it gets.

That noise and the gradual increase in power have you take it up to the nearly-8.000rpm-rev limiter every single time the opportunity presents itself. When you do so, the acceleration is brutal but oh so manageable due to the sublime chassis and communicative steering which both make you feel truly in control. This being quite a hardcore racer actually, the ride is also surprisingly compliant and not at all harsh. The thing is stiff through corners but makes for an excellent cruiser too, though it’s not in the same league as the Quattroporte when it comes to comfort of course. Brembo-brakes provide plenty of stopping power as well. We’d never expected the MC Stradale to be more enjoyable given the flooded streets we had to deal with, but it absolutely was.

This was never meant to become a review (hence why there’s only one picture), but we felt the desperate need to write these words down after what we’d experienced. These are two mighty fine cars. But one is a – admittedly fast and luxurious – means of transport, while the other is a characterful piece of art which just so happens to produce one of the best sounds you’re likely to ever encounter. It’s not that the Quattroporte is unexciting, but that GranTurismo MC Stradale is just so lively, so invigorating that it makes everything in comparison seem somewhat dull. Driving it is a true feast for the senses. We felt it our task to convince anyone who’s reading this that, if ever given the chance, you shouldn’t miss out on driving this masterpiece. Even if there is a snow storm. It might very well stay with you for the rest of your life.

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