Would you dare buy a pre-owned Maserati? Your prejudices might play a part here, especially if you have more than anecdotal experience of a seemingly bargain Biturbo or an early 3200GT manual with woolly brakes, strange steering and near-impossible traffic manners, but Maseratis aren’t like that any more. With the arrival of the current Ferrari-based V8 engine came the era of the modern Maserati, of the Maserati designed to work properly, keep working properly and give its owner pleasure not pain.
Come September, it will be six years since the fifth-generation Quattroporte broke cover at the Frankfurt motor show, and that means you can now pick up a 2004 example of the most characterful supersaloon on the planet – a car that went on sale in May of that year priced at £69,995 – for as little as £20,000 if you’re not worried by a hefty mileage.
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We’d already drooled over the impossibly elegant 3200 and 4200 GTs designed by Giugiaro, but, for the Quattroporte, Maserati went to Pininfarina. The result was a warm-hearted beacon of muscular but restrained elegance in a sector previously populated only by cold, steely Germans or sepia-tinted Jaguars.
The Quattroporte wasn’t without retro touches – the oval grille, the triple portholes in the front wings – but the end result was that too-rare mix of modernity, sympathy with the history and genuine beauty. This theme continued inside with lashings of leather, plentiful wood and the obligatory almond-shaped clock, but here the detailing wasn’t so hot, with some odd gaps and crude graphics, later improved.
Mechanically, it was a petrolhead-turned-plutocrat’s dream. Front wheels pushed well forward plus a rear-mounted transaxle gave near-equal weight distribution. The V8 made 394bhp at 7000rpm from its 4244cc, and sounded fabulous. It was fabulously thirsty, too, although the official CO2 became less tragic with development. But Maserati’s aim of luring affluent car lovers away from the default German cars was slightly scuppered by the gearbox.
It was fundamentally the same six-speed, internally manual paddle-shifter as used in the 4200GT, but here named DuoSelect instead of Cambiocorsa and defaulting to automatic mode on start-up. As a paddle-shifter it was fine, blipping the throttle tidily on downshifts and behaving smoothly if driven sympathetically, but the auto mode, predictably, surged and paused during shifts and made the Quattroporte hard to love by someone wedded to conventional automatics.
After several years of doggedly insisting that it saw no problem, Maserati finally capitulated and launched a proper automatic Quattroporte in early 2007. Sales skyrocketed, and deservedly so because this was a fabulous car. Partly this was down to the ZF transmission, still available with paddle-shifters (not fitted to all cars), but by now the suspension was better at soaking up shocks, the steering was crisper and the interior properly oozed the quality it had always promised.
Making the Quattroporte an auto was complex, because the gearbox had to be moved forward to meet the back of the engine and this itself changed from dry-sump to wet-sump lubrication. Improved refinement was the aim here, but the Quattroporte still sounded fabulous. Meanwhile the DuoSelect remained available, best suited to the Sport GT version, which was harder-edged in its suspension, wheels, tyres and decor.
Last year the Quattroporte gained a facelift that coarsened the look of the nose but, for the new S and Sport GTS models, inserted behind it a more powerful and torquier 4.7-litre engine. The 4.2 continues in the ‘base’ model, but all now have only the ZF automatic transmission.
Driving One Today
You’ll have the most entertainment in a Sport GT, best driven in Sport mode in which the gearchanges, activated by proper fixed paddles, are not only faster but are also smoother because it’s easier to blend throttle with shift. Plus you get the lovely metallic machine-gun beat as the revs soar towards the 7000rpm power peak, and the suspension firms enough – not too much – to make this heavy machine feel like something half its weight.
Luxury and civility on the surface, a streak of madness within. I defy anyone not to fall for the QP’s charms. John Simister