2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
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Review and photos by Laurance Yap

Modena, Italy – I can still remember quite vividly the first time I drove at high speeds in Italy. It was on the autostrada heading out of Rome in 2002, and I was charging along the left lane in a Mazda6, feeling like a hero as the speedometer needle swung past 160 km/h and I shifted to fifth and floored the throttle again. It was right about then than a clapped-out 1980s Fiat Panda, which seemed to be made out of tin foil and had about 50 horsepower to its name if it was lucky, went charging by me on the right, a little grandmotherly-looking type in the driver’s seat with her arm raised in derision.

They drive differently in Italy. The last time I was there, the big debate in the national newspapers was not whether they should reduce the country’s national speed limit, but whether it should be raised from 130 km/h on the autostrada to 160. Apparently drivers (little old grannies included) were getting bored and falling asleep at the more sedate speed, and the government thought that a little more action might wake them up a bit.

All of this goes a long way towards explaining exactly why the Maserati Quattroporte (or QP, as I like to call it) is the way it is because by most of the world’s standards, it’s kind of a stupid way to do a luxury car. Its V8 engine, for instance, is based on a Ferrari unit, and produces the majority of its power up around 7000 rpm, rather than the more relaxed and quiet speeds favoured by most luxury cars.

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
Click image to enlarge

Its transmission isn’t a smooth-shifting automatic, but a Formula 1-inspired paddle-shifted manual, which (when not operated skilfully) can be jerky and abrupt around town. The 20-inch wheels fitted to the model we’re testing, the Quattroporte Sport GT, are wrapped in sticky Pirelli high-performance rubber, not the best for long-distance comfort or a quiet ride. The chassis mounts the drivetrain way back behind the front axle line, compromising interior space and forcing a massive transmission tunnel to intrude between both front and rear seats.

Yup, the QP makes little sense as a luxury limousine. But, when you’re in Italy, a country where it’s like a national requirement that you drive like Schumacher going for pole on Saturday, it really is a fantastic amount of fun. The 394-horsepower V8 builds from an angry gurgle at idle through to a snarling midrange and a high-end scream that’s like nothing you’ll get in any other big sedan.

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
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Its power delivery is very sports car like in the sense that it’s not exactly linear; there are two distinct steps as the engine picks up steam and reels in the horizon. And then there’s the noise: with a freer-flowing exhaust, and four bazooka-size exhaust tips, the Sport GT sounds just like a Ferrari, especially between its torque peak at 4,500 rpm and its power peak at 7,000.

When you’re driving it aggressively on open roads, the Cambiocorsa gearbox is excellent.

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
Click image to enlarge

Pull on the right-hand paddle to upshift, and the next gear slams home with authority; pull on the left-hand one for a downshift, and the engine computer blips the throttle to smooth out your downshift. In town, and despite the transmission’s significantly revised programming for 2006, progress can still be a bit jerky, especially when the transmission is in its automatic mode. I found that slightly lifting off the throttle while ordering an upshift would smooth things out, but a conventional automatic would do even better. (Interestingly, I found it easier to be smooth with the transmission when it was set in its quicker-shifting sport mode.)

Then again, one hardly buys a Maserati to cruise around in. At least, I hope one doesn’t. If you’re an aggressive driver, few large luxury sedans will be as entertaining on a winding road, or even around an on-ramp. It has to do, mostly, with the QP’s unique front-mid-engine layout. Thanks to the engine being so far back, and the transmission actually being at the rear axle instead of up front, the car’s static weight distribution is actually 47% front/53% rear; put a couple of people in, and it’s perfectly balanced. It also means the steering remains uncommonly light and direct, guiding the car with precision no matter how hard you drive. Despite the QP’s substantial size and weight, you can throw the it around with exuberance, and it remains stable and controllable beyond the point where most other sedans, even rear-drive ones, would give up with squealing tires.

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
Click image to enlarge

As the most aggressive version of what is arguably one of the raciest big sedans (the BMW M5 comes close for speed and aggression, but falls behind on interior space), the Sport GT version of the QP cranks things up an extra notch. Beyond the larger wheel and tire package, it features enlarged Brembo disc brakes with cross-drilled rotors, an adaptive Skyhook suspension system whose sport setting is stiffer than it is on the base or Executive GT grade cars, and transmission programming that delivers even faster shifts (by 35%) than the standard Cambiocorsa setup. The result is further reduced body roll in corners, greater cornering speeds, and an overall improved sense of stability. What’s impressive is that despite the car’s handling ability, the Sport GT remains a comfortable ride: it’s definitely firm, but the suspension takes the edge off all but the biggest bumps.

Maserati’s new management (CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell joined the company a year ago, and formerly worked at BMW) has admitted that early Quattroportes suffered from spotty assembly quality and slow-shifting gearboxes. To that end, the company has a new 50-engineer-strong division devoted solely to making sure that each QP leaves the line delivering what its sleek styling and sumptuous interior promises.

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
Click image to enlarge

Certainly, the interiors of the cars we drove in Italy were far better in terms of panel fit and finish than early QPs I’ve seen. The plastic pieces all fit together like they should. The Schedoni leather on the dash and seats (you get contrasting French stitching in the Sport GT model, along with red stripes on the Maserati trident logo) looked and smelled great. And the genuine carbon-fibre trim, draped liberally across the dash and doors and centre console, had a uniformly glossy sheen. In short, save for a few cheap pieces clearly sourced from Fiats – such as the mirror switch and the turn-signal stalk – the QP Sport GT’s interior lived up to its high-end billing.

Viewed as a competitor to such cars as an S-Class Mercedes or BMW 7-series, the Quattroporte looks like a flawed, expensive car (prices have yet to be determined, but in the U.S., the Sport GT will cost about $111,000). It’s smaller and edgier and doesn’t offer quite the same level of gadgetry; while the QP comes with an F1-style gearbox, it doesn’t offer infrared night vision, adaptive cruise control, or the option of all-wheel-drive. Its ergonomics are also several steps behind: why, for instance, are the seat heater controls mounted where you can’t see them, and the indicator lights between the speedometer and tachometer?

2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT
Click image to enlarge

What the QP does give you, and what it has more of than any other large luxury sedan, is that nebulous thing called character. It’s a car that, from the moment you clap eyes on its sexy body, to the smell of its sumptuous leather, to the way its engine snarls when you prod the gas and the way its tires squeal in joy when you go screaming around a corner, is shot through with Italian passion. The QP is, after all, built in Modena, a region of just over 100,000 people that builds the vast majority of the world’s most exotic cars. Corporate sister Ferrari is just down the road in Maranello, while Lamborghini is less than 65 km away in Sant’Agata Bolognese.

This is a car that’s unapologetic about what it is, where it comes from, or its mission in life. It may be a big luxury car, but it’s also, underneath all that leather and carbon fibre and shiny paint, something racier than any of its competitors. If, like me, you’re a fan not only of Italian cars, but Italy in general – the way they seem to have more fun at everything than anyone else – or if, like my cab driver from the airport, you’ll never drive at anything less than ten-tenths or double the posted speed limit, the QP Sport GT, warts and all, may just be your ride.

Technical Data: 2006 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT

Base price $111,000 (U.S.) Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger full-size sedan
Layout Longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 4.2-litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves
Horsepower 394 @ 7000 rpm
Torque 333 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual with autoshift
Tires front P245/45ZR18
Tires rear P285/40ZR18
Curb weight 1984 kg (4375 lbs)
Wheelbase 3063 mm (120.6 in.)
Length 5052 mm (198.9 in.)
Width 1894 mm (74.6 in.)
Height 1437 mm (56.6 in.)
Cargo capacity 450 litres (15.9 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption 19.1 L/100 km (15 mpg Imperial)
  13.9 L/100 km (20 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Premium unleaded
Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 4 yrs/50,000 km

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