First Drive: 2017 Maserati Quattroporte

Palermo, Sicily - Is it possible for a brand to have too much cachet? Marco Magnanini, head of marketing for Maserati, faces that rather unusual predicament. The average punter whispers Maserati in the same breath as Lamborghini and Ferrari, and views this legendary Italian marque as equally unattainable. “People are generally scared to enter a Maserati dealership. They don’t understand a Ghibli starts around $80,000.”

Still, the Modena-based automaker has made incredible strides in only a few years. In 2012, it moved 6,200 vehicles. Three years later, sales had ballooned to 35,000 on the strength of the new Ghibli and Quattroporte. With the Levante SUV in the wings, 50,000 is just around the corner.

When Maserati launched its sixth-generation Quattroporte in 2013, the Italian automaker took the position their performance-focused luxury sedan would not be equipped with cutting-edge driver’s aids because Maserati drivers don’t care about such things.

Well, the market has different ideas, and so this refreshed 2017 Quattroporte can count numerous radar- and camera-based safety systems as part of its numerous upgrades. Nonetheless, there is no need to fear the Quattroporte has gone mainstream – it’s still very much a unique offering that trades on its heritage and decidedly Italian driving flair.

Case in point: While piloting a preproduction 2017 Quattroporte S Q4 GranSport in Sicily, I spied a tunnel up ahead that cut through one of the island’s rugged rock formations. The driver’s window came down, the Sport button got pressed, and I tugged on the long aluminum left-side shift paddle to drop the ZF eight-speed down a few cogs.

As darkness enfolded my black Quattroporte, the throttle met the carpet and the 3.0 L 404hp Ferrari-derived turbo V6 howled, filling the void with a sound best described as a deranged Caruso going for high C after a night of chugging limoncello. We blasted past the dawdlers and, God knows, probably loosened some tiles in the process. Spectacular. Also spectacular was the way the big sedan surged ahead while snapping, crackling and popping on upshifts. You won’t get this raw passione in a Mercedes, BMW or Audi.

This is not to say the Quattroporte has a narrow skill set. Maserati has improved elements of the interior design and material choices to bring it more in line with its six-figure price tag. New air-filled, lightweight insulation reduces cabin noise. Nonetheless, the adaptive Skyhook suspension remains resolutely firm even in the normal setting. Plenty of road info filters up through the structure which could dissuade buyers looking for Mercedes-Benz S-Class levels of compliance.

The 2017 Maserati Quattroporte comes at you with extra aggression thanks to a more pronounced “shark” grill with concave vertical strakes and a very large central trident. The front and rear fascias are restyled as well. Available Canadian models are the rear-wheel-drive 523 hp 524 lb-ft twin-turbo 3.8 L V8 GTS and the all-wheel-drive 404 hp, 406 lb-ft 3.0 L twin-turbo V6 S Q4. Both use a ZF eight-speed auto that gets faster shift times (under 100 milliseconds) for 2017.

We’ll see the S Q4 in August of this year, with the V8-powered GTS to follow in November. No pricing yet, but expect them to be close to the current lists of $121,400 and $161,400 respectively.

New for 2017, Maserati is offering a choice of two distinctive trims, GranLusso and GranSport. They are optional on the S Q4 and standard on the GTS, and play into the Quattroporte’s dual personality as both a luxury and sporting full-size sedan.

GranLusso leans to the luxury side, with its marquee feature being the truly striking Ermenegildo Zegna Edition interior with woven silk fabric seat inserts, doors, sun visors and headliners. It also gets open pore wood trim, heated rear seats, leather steering wheel with wood inserts, four-zone air conditioning, power pedals and electric rear sunshade. Exterior cues include a floating bridge element in the lower front fascia and 20-inch wheels.

The GranSport rides on 21-inch wheels, gets more aggressive front intakes, bigger quad tailpipes, a piano black rear spoiler, red brake calipers and a blue insert on the trident logo. Inside, we are treated to contoured sport seats both front and back, a leather/carbon-fibre sport steering wheel and stainless steel pedals. Standard trim is piano black wood although these testers were fitted with a very nice carbon-fibre upgrade.

Whichever trim is chosen, an upgraded infotainment system with an 8.4-inch screen dominates the centre stack. It’s still based on the Chrysler Uconnect touchscreen system (which is one of the best of its kind) but now benefits from classier graphics, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and a new rotary controller behind the electronic shifter.

Ah, the shifter – still that troublesome Chrysler/Dodge unit that makes it difficult to find reverse without overshooting to park, neutral or drive. I thought for sure Maser would have ditched this annoying contraption. Another Dodge hangover is the door-mounted window switches, although they look and work just fine, and I’d wager most Maserati buyers will not have spent a whole lot of time in a Dodge Charger.

The chrome-rimmed gauges in the centre cluster are large, clearly backlit and bathed in blue light. Going for the optional Advanced Driver Assistance Systems nets adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-departure warning, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. Also available is Surround View Camera.

As the Quattroporte sticks with hydraulic steering (remember that?), the helm has a natural heft that builds nicely in the corners and is not corrupted by any electronics trying to counter crosswinds or nudge you back in your lane. Grazie, Modena.

This refreshed Quattroporte cuts a cleaner path through the air thanks to active grill shutters and redesigned under-shield. Drag coefficient drops from 0.31 to 0.28.

It’s on the winding roads that weave up to the medieval town of Erice where the Quattroporte S Q4 shows its mettle. For such a big sedan, it cuts a sharp path, biting into corners and powering through with its rear-biased all-wheel drive. Sport mode is now split in two, with one button altering the steering, throttle, transmission mapping and ESP settings, while another deals only with the adaptive Skyhook suspension. Good call. You can have the engine on song without a super stiff ride.

The 3.0 L twin-turbo V6 goes on a tear above 4,000 rpm, and the eight-speed auto plays along as you direct the symphony with those deliciously long, column-mounted aluminum paddles. It truly is an intoxicating combination, but rear-seat passengers (who do indeed enjoy plenty of legroom) will take exception to such hooliganism. Best to explore the Quattroporte’s more wild side when driving solo.

These mid-cycle upgrades go a long way in justifying the 2017 Quattroporte as a worthy contender in the premium European luxury sedan segment. The big Maserati now feels truly special inside, and the availability of cutting-edge driver’s aids along with the revised infotainment is a much-needed nod to the mainstream. Thankfully, the Quattroporte’s Italian soul is anything but.

Is it possible for a brand to have too much cachet? Marco Magnanini, head of marketing for Maserati, faces that rather unusual predicament. 6/28/2016 7:07:34 AM