Payne: Aging Maserati Quattroporte grande dame still dazzles
The 2020 Maserati Quattroporte is dated, heavy, lagging in infotainment technology and expensive.
But, boy, is it irresistible.
There’s something about Italian luxury brands that make our legs weak, and the Quattroporte is a case in point despite the fact that it’s an aging sedan in a SUV world. Like its Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini countrymen, Maserati comes with boatloads of sex appeal. It’s got racing history. Runway style. Brand cache. It’s the Italian bombshell you always dreamed of in travel brochures.
With its Levante model, the Italian brand has dutifully followed market demand for an SUV. The Levante checks all the signature boxes — trident logo, racy roofline, big grille — but it’s designed to mimic the sedans that have carried the family crest for decades. Those are the vehicles we really covet.
The six-figure, sixth-generation, flagship Quattroporte (Italian for “four doors”) is the most desirable of all. My friend Rob has coveted a Quattroporte for 20 years. When I finally scored a tester, I immediately brought it over to him to see if reality lived up to the dream.
Right on cue, his knees buckled.
Like Monica Bellucci, the Quattroporte has presence. In an era of in-your-face grilles, the long hood is a ski slope, ending in a sports car-low nose that sniffs the ground. The huge trident grille with its uprights bars — as if imprisoning the rabid beast within — is unmistakably Maserati.
The swept headlights start a lovely shoulder line over big 20-inch wheels that doesn’t end until the broad hips. Every line is purposeful, efficient, European. There are hints that this is a dated, 2013 chassis — the headlight units, for example, are not as lean as current LED designs.
But overall, the style is timeless. Its sporty fascia is a welcome departure from the intimidating, upright grilles found on the mug of, say, the BMW 7-series.
Gal pal Missy, an 89-year-old car nut, also turned to jelly when I brought the Maserati by. She could have driven around in the Italian heartthrob all day. The big rear lounge chairs reclined — and she also had command over the front passenger seat when more leg room was needed.
But I didn’t feel the tug of younger generations as I have with, say, the Tesla Model S or the Audi A8. The Maserati has an Old World feel to it.
Part of that, surely, is that Maserati doesn’t race like other luxury brands — Audi, BMW, Mercedes. Racing wins was once a Maserati hallmark — and maybe that will return now that the 630-horse MC20 supercar is coming for 2021. But more than that is the cabin technology where Quattroporte lags. As Tesla and Audi wow with their splashy Google Map and touchscreen displays, the Maserati is a generation behind.
The instrument display is analog compared to the competition’s lush, digital landscapes. The center console screen is taken right out of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's corporate parts bin — shared with a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Don’t get me wrong, the Jeep’s UConnect system is one of the finest in the business, but it lacks the brio you would expect in a six-figure Italian stallion.
I thought of the new Corvette and how its mid-engine layout and sci-fi digital instrumentation have turned millennial heads. Does today’s youth aspire to a Maserati when they strike it rich?
The interior is otherwise swathed in luxury. Exquisitely stitched seats, acres of wood, and those adjustable rear seats that had Missy purring.
But what really woke me up was the drivetrain. Push the starter button and my murmurings about technological deficiencies were suddenly drowned out by my elevated heart rate. Italians are masters of styling and engine tech. The twin-turbo V6 under the hood in front of me was developed by Ferrari.
It growled at idle like a starved tiger. Sport driving mode is temptingly placed next to the simple monostable shifter. Shift paddles the size of butcher knives stick out from the steering column.
I toggle to manual shifting. We’re off.
Brap! Brap! Brap! go the upshifts as I lashed the 3.0-liter, two-turbo engine V-6 with an excellent 8-speed transmission. The Quattraporte is a big, all-wheel-drive luxury sedan — but it’s 150 pounds lighter than the equivalent, V6-powered BMW 7-series. Four hundred pounds lighter than the Mercedes S-class.
As I bounded through the twisties of M-66 up north, the Maserati really came into its own. Where the Germans are ocean liners, the Italian wants to gulp terra firma.
The car’s tight, weighted steering seals the deal, and Quattroporte and I danced from apex to apex. It’s a feeling not unlike another Italian, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, which lags its German peers in interior electronics but puts a smile on your face when you want to play.
Italians make driver’s cars, and that’s how the Quattroporte stands out in the big yacht market. My standard V6’s 424 horsepower is a good 60-100 ponies above its German peers. If that’s not enough, then an earth-pawing, 525-horse V-8 is available in the upper trim Gran Lusso.
I found 424 was plenty.
Luffing along I-75 north of West Branch, I came upon a pickup weaving back and forth across the northbound two lanes. The predicament allowed the Maserati to show off two of its latest assets.
The first was automatic braking. As the truck blocked the left-hand lanes, I moved to the right lane to pass. The truck veered right across my bow. Before I could react, the car did — its automatic braking system (using the same technology that enabled adaptive cruise control on my long ride north) flashing a red alert in my instrument panel and braking automatically. Eccellente!
The second was raw power. Reacting quickly to the pickup’s blocking maneuver, I juked left and dropped the hammer.
The Quattroporte’s twin turbos rocketed the big sedan past the wandering pickup. The menace was a dot in my rear view mirror in seconds.
Of course such amenities are also available on full-sized sedans like, say, a Dodge Charger Scat Pack (485-horse V-8) or Kia Stinger (365 ponies) for half the price of the Maserati.
But they don’t have a trident at the end of a long nose that has mesmerized buyers for decades. Brand matters. But so does tech. Maserati will need to hustle to keep up with a new generation of luxury that decorate college kids’ dorm walls.
2020 Maserati Quattroporte
Vehicle type: Rear- and all-wheel-drive, five-passenger, big sedan
Price: $112,985, including $1,995 destination charge ($126,805 S Q4 as tested)
Powerplant: 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6
Power: 424 horsepower, 428 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.6 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 179 mph
Weight: 4,232 pounds
Fuel economy: EPA — 16 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined
Highs: Maserati moxie; engaging drivetrain
Lows: Dated console tech; big price tag
Overall: 3 stars
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.