Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Test Drive: 2007 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT

The Maserati Quattroporte has always held my interest. I find the design attractive and the Ferrari pedigree would seem to foreshadow a performance potential that should be near the top of the class for 4-door sedans. This version that I found and was considering as a potential addition to the Club's fleet, looked to be a completely cherry example. The exterior was pretty close to flawless except for a few small marks on the edges of the doors and the interior looked clean and despite the 43k+ miles that the car had, still carried a distinctly new car smell.

But as the salesman attempted to open the door, the challenges of owning an Italian car with a supercar pedigree began to rear its ugly head. The battery had gone completely flat. So much so that the remote failed to trigger anything and the car refused to turn over. Okay, not a bit problem, right? The car can always be jumped. However, the salesman began telling me how they had just driven the car on Friday and that the flat battery was a regular occurrence with this vehicle. I am not impressed...

We finally get the car started and I am able to check out the electronics and everything seems to be working except for the HVAC and navigation/radio unit. Additionally, the dash shines like a Christmas tree, warning me that driving the car is not recommended and simultaneously displaying a system error and an airbag system failure. I push and prod the other buttons and everything else appears to be working. I pull on the paddles and confirm that the transmission computer is working. Thinking to myself that it might be okay, I accept the opportunity to test the vehicle.

Firing the car back up, the tail pipes emit a sharp bark and settles into a surprisingly reserved and barely audible idle. I grab first using the right paddle and allow the computer to do the shifting initially. Recalling that that Quattroporte sports an older generation single clutch automated manual transmission, I start off easy and keep the throttle opening small, hoping that the transmission will shift somewhat smoothly after its rather clunky start. Easing down the street, the first shift arrives and JERK, clunk, JERK, the transmission finds second gear. Hmm....I am not impressed...

Getting out beyond the neighborhoods, we arrive at a highway and I switch the car into Sport mode and merge into the traffic flow, the transmission having warmed up a bit, but still acting a little clunky. Shifting over a few lanes I find an opening and switch the transmission to manual mode, pull the left paddle back 3 times to grab third gear, and nail the throttle. The transmission hunts for a moment to find the gear, the clutch re-engages and suddenly, the car surges forward on a wave of thrust, trailing an angry bark as I blast past the speed limit and quickly fill the open space between me and the cars in traffic ahead of me. Now I am beginning to understand the reason for this car. Sliding in and out of spaces in traffic, the car glides along and rides exceptionally well considering the 20-inch wheels and rubber band tires. Steering effort is light though the transmission continues to clunk along with every pull of the right paddle.

Coming up to a good place to flip a u-turn, I shut off the traction control system, pull the left paddle twice to grab a lower gear, crank the wheel and nail the throttle, expecting to be able to kick the rear out a little bit, but the car just grips and goes, blasting forward and quickly reaching extra-legal speeds. Figuring that the car has clearly acquitted itself in the power department, I figure a few curves were needed to see how well it handled.

Turning off onto a side street, I make a series of left and right turns at intersections without stop signs or stop lights, finding a street with some nice sweepers ahead, I amp up the speed a bit and begin wheeling the big sedan down the empty tree lined street. As the wheel turns back and forth, threading through the turns, it became abundantly clear that in spite of all of the shortcomings, when this huge sedan finds a curvy road, it is in its element. The light steering suddenly feels incredibly precise, directing the full-size Quattroporte down the road with surprising aplomb. Throttle motions result in immediate changes to the cars attitude and even the clunky transmission is no longer a problem as the flexibility of the Ferrari-built motor's flexibility makes it possible to shift minimally when tackling the curves.

So is the Quattroporte a worthy used car purchase? Well, it ultimately depends on what you intend to use the car for. As a GT, there are better options with more power lower in the rev range, better fuel economy, and a better ride. As a daily driver, there are cars that are easier to live with and less prone to problems. But if you have local mountain or coastal roads full of challenging curves with a variety of driving conditions, there are few cars that will give you the ability to take a few of your best friends along for the ride like the Quattroporte, so long as you also have a battery tender where you park it.

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