The Maserati Quattroporte now gets electrically-assisted steering and more safety kit for 2018, but has it cost the Italian executive any of its plentiful charm and charisma?
Maserati doesn’t really seem to move with the times so much as it wanders vaguely along behind them, checking itself in the mirror. Witness the diesel engines that it only introduced four years ago, and the distinct lack of any hybrid or electric tech in a rather old-school model lineup - although rumour has it that this is set to change in the very near future.
But even if it’s late, Maserati always turns up looking good and exuding that unmistakable, achingly desirable lust for life that is a near-tangible aspect of many Italian cars.
Here is a perfect case in point – the freshly updated 2018 Maserati Quattroporte. While Audi has just launched the Audi A7 with future-proof, next-generation autonomy and a 48V mild-hybrid system, Maserati has added electrically-assisted steering, more advanced traction control, and optional driver aids that include lane-keep assist, autonomous braking, traffic sign recognition and blind spot assist. For some brutal context, this is stuff that's been available on a lot of family hatchbacks for years, never mind top-end, luxury cars.
Other updates for 2018 include a power hike for V6 Quattroporte models, while a new four-wheel drive ‘Q4’ system is sadly only offered in left-hand drive markets, so we won’t be seeing it in the UK.
The style updates for the Quattroporte are pretty minimal, unsurprisingly given that it was only tweaked in 2017. The angry-looking headlights are now fully LED as standard, but otherwise the ‘Alfieri’ grille with its vertical chrome slats, the trademark triple punch-holes on the forward flanks and the rising swage line still make this a serious, swaggering head-turner in the big sports saloon class.
Inside, things also remain much the same unless you factor in the soft-close doors that are now standard, meaning that you're ensconced in a cabin full of rich-looking leather and appropriately indulgent style details, even if ultimately it doesn't feel up there with the solidity and material quality of the interiors offered by most rivals, including Porsche, BMW and Audi.
An 8.4-inch touchscreen is still the focal point; it responds quickly, plus it features voice control and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or Mirrorlink, and you can control the system via a rotary controller if you’d prefer.
The graphics are quite old-school and it’s a shame that the screen is hard to see in direct sunlight, but otherwise the system does what you want it to do with ease, so while a Merc's infotainment system looks much more modern, actually the Maserati's is more straightforward.
Go for the range-topping, 523bhp twin-turbo V8 Quattroporte GTS that we’re testing here and you have to pick between GranSport or GranLusso trim (they're cost options on lower-end Quattroporte models but included in the GTS price), for either a sporting or luxury emphasis. GranSport adds sports seats, 21-inch alloys, red brake callipers, slightly different front and rear bumpers and gloss black exterior highlights. GranLusso sticks with 20-inch wheels and such extravagance as wood trim and mulberry silk seat inserts. Try getting a coffee stain out of that, then…
As an aside, credit to Maserati for still making one of the best steering wheel and paddle setups going. Rivals may be more high-tech, but the slim Maserati steering wheel with its perfectly positioned, large gearbox paddles is the ultimate blend of function and beauty.
There's plenty of room for tall adults in the rear seats, and while the saloon boot opening is nowhere near as practical as that of an Audi A7 Sportback, the boot is very deep and more than roomy enough to cope with a couple of sets of golf clubs or chunky suitcases.
How does it drive?
The new, electrically-assisted steering is good but not quite as nuanced in its responses as you might hope. It’s well sorted on the motorway, making the Quattroporte dead easy to keep precisely in a lane without feeling nervous. This is an absolutely top-notch GT (and the Bosch-sourced lane-keep assist is very effective, too) even if a Porsche Panamera is a bit more refined.
It’s in Sport mode and in more involving driving that the steering can feel overly-quick on initial response, and too light for comfort when the car's loaded up in tight bends. It’s not noticeable enough to make the big Quattroporte feel nervous, but there isn’t quite the confidence and oily-smooth progression of response that some rivals, including the Porsche Panamera and Mercedes E63 S can deliver.
You have to use those excellent paddles to make the most of the GTS in harder driving (no hardship at all, by the way), as the eight-speed auto is smooth and well-sorted in relaxed use but is quite easily caught out in Sport mode unless you take control yourself.
Even so, there is a real depth of character to the Quattroporte that makes this a properly entertaining and rewarding car regardless of how you’re driving it – chiefly imbued into it by the deeply lovely V8 engine. The noise isn’t overly intrusive (you might even wish it were louder at times), but the unmistakable V8 ricochet when you do give it everything is wholly addictive.
The adaptive dampers are effective at taking the sting out of bumps, and while there’s quite a bit of body lean in the Quattroporte in Normal, in Sport it sucks its stomach in and does a fine job of revealing some athleticism, carving through corners with proper rear-wheel drive verve, yet without feeling overly lairy or unmanageable - even on winter tyres and in the icy roads around the Italian Alps where we drove the car.
We did have a drive of the V6 Quattroporte S complete with left-hand drive only Q4 four-wheel drive, and it has to be said – while the V6 is a great engine, the GTS is just better in every way; every bit the full-blooded, extravagant Italian sports-saloon that you imagine a Quattroporte will be.
Should I buy one?
Not if you’re looking for what is objectively the finest four-door sports-GT, or indeed the best value. The very wonderful Porsche Panamera is what you’re after if that’s what you want - and you only need to look to the Panamera 4S to have better performance than the GTS, even though it's some (gulp) £29,000 cheaper than the £117k Quattroporte GTS. And don't even bother comparing the objective merits of a Mercedes E63 S with the Quattroporte, because the Merc obliterates the Quattroporte on literally every front except ride comfort.
So no, the Quattroporte is not a rationale purchase. You really shouldn't buy one. And yet... You don’t buy a Maserati Quattroporte because it’s the most rationale proposition, or the finest handling, or the most solidly built, or the most modern. You buy it because you love cars, and you want something that looks beautiful, and - above all else - feels special. And the Quattroporte GTS does that and then some. It will make you smile every day, no matter how mundane the drive might be.
Unfortunately you have to be willing to accept frankly ruinous financial implications for that character and verve, but if you care about money less than you care about enjoying life, then you should probably stick one finger to progress and teutonic precision, and go and join Maserati somewhere on the care-free coat-tails of progress.