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First drive: Meaner Maseratis menace Modena

Italian stallion: New GranTurismo S takes Maserati to a higher level.

We drive Maserati's facelifted Quattroporte and the new GranTurismo S flagship

11 Nov 2008

MASERATI'S Quattroporte sedan is a success for the exclusive Italian brand, with around 15,000 sold since its 2003 launch. But no car can sit on its laurels for long, and this one's had a thorough makeover.

There have been few changes to the exterior of this elegant Pininfarina design, with a gaping grille borrowed from the sportier GranTurismo coupe - its wider opening required to cool the larger powerplant.

The side-skirts are slightly different, and new larger headlights use LEDs, which also feature out back. The tail-light's vertical bar is an instantly identifiable feature, as we discovered while following one as night fell.

Inside, dash ergonomics have improved, the general layout essentially lifted from the GranTurismo. More significant is a substantial upgrade of the workings behind the dash, especially the console with its satellite-navigation and more sophisticated entertainment system.

The big news of course is that the 90-degree 4.2-litre 295kW V8 is joined by a 4.7 to create a more sporting four-door car. That's achieved by increasing the bore and stroke, which together with a different program for the engine management system delivers a tad more performance - 317kW at 7000rpm and 490Nm at 4750.

Eighty-two per cent of that torque is delivered at 2500rpm, which results in impressive punch from just above rest despite the car's 1990kg wet weight.

Both cars are now only available with automatic transmissions - there's no robotised manual - but a more powerful car to come could use Maserati's new MC-Supershift system.

32 center imageUnderneath, the 4.2 gets new single-rate suspension damping while the 4.7's fitted with a further development of the electronically-controlled, continuously-adjustable Skyhook suspension system, acting via new damper settings, springs and valves.

There's even a new passenger airbag system, which uses additional airbag holes to reduce pressure if the bag hits an obstacle near the dash.

Maserati's succeeding in part because it puts its components to work, and the 4.7 offered another opportunity to address criticism that the otherwise charismatic GranTurismo lacked the power its persona needed.

In the resulting GranTurismo S, it's further tuned for slightly more urge and mated to a six-speed robotised manual based on the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano's, which Maserati calls MC-Supershift.

More notably, unlike the standard GranTurismo which attaches the gearbox to the engine, the S moves the transmission to the rear for a transaxle set-up.

Given this car is barely more powerful than the Quattroporte S, and at 1880kg not that much lighter, the impression of greater performance must in part be down to this transmission.

It's a twin-plate clutch set-up with six ratios designed for rapid changes via steering wheel-mounted paddles. They're modelled on those used in the MC12 racing car - you can change gear while still applying extreme levels of steering lock.

Otherwise there's manual or auto mode, the latter linked to the 'sport' button that instantly offers a sharper shift strategy.

It also accesses the performance exhaust. The steel system uses two paths, one off each bank of cylinders, with a central silencer. Pneumatic valves actuated by a driver-operated button are fitted near the silencers. When they're closed, exhaust gas takes a long route out - emitting rather quietly, as you expect from a GT.

Tap sport though and those valves open, routing air round the silencer and resulting in this car's hair-raising soundtrack.

Other changes include tweaks to the suspension, with modified springs, bars and dampers. Ride is a bit firm at times but it comes together on demanding roads, the steering in particular at its best when you're working it.

Stopping? The brakes are co-developed with Brembo and use dual casting with cast-iron for the brake surface, and aluminium for the hub - an arrangement first used on the Quattroporte Sport GT S.

The 20-inch wheels that mirror the brand's three-pronged logo are also new, as is the integrated spoiler, the new side skirts and the oval-section exhaust outlets.

The only omission - there's no 'S' badging to shoulder-tap this as the hooligan variant until, or unless, the driver opts for the louder soundtrack.

The Quattroporte opens the Maserati range at $286,000 with the GranTurismo S closing it at $332,800, or $278,500 and $317,000 respectively in New Zealand - don't you just love the luxury car tax?

Drive impressions:

MASERATI is quietly confident it will survive the current economic downturn. The Quattroporte and GranTurismo have proved the brand can supply quirk, excitement - and the build quality expected at this level.

Now it's consolidating, honing the four-door car and adding a hairier edge to the GranTurismo coupe. Customer cars have landed but they're jealously guarded, so we detoured to Modena for a post-Ferrari California launch drive.

Maserati's trident logo spears above the massive glass factory facade, looming over incoming trucks disgorging car bodies. But we focussed on the three cars in front - the updated Quattorporte, new more powerful Quattroporte S, and the GranTurismo S.

Rain lashed down, traffic crawled and once out of town we headed for the hills soaring from here to the west coast. The roads are narrow, the tarmac heaving drunkenly as it switchbacked into the gloom, or speared between the plastered walls of rain-lashed villages.

Yet the Quattroporte impressed. The retuned Skyhook electronically-controlled, continuously-adjustable suspension is a revelation comfy enough to cushion the worst of the bumps yet sufficiently surefooted to throw this heavy car round a tad.

The 4.7-litre Ferrari-sourced engine's a beauty, too. A higher-capacity development of the 4.2, with 317kW at 7000rpm and 490Nm at 4750, it's well-matched to the six-speed ZF transmission with its steering wheel-mounted paddles.

This isn't a sports car, but it's happy to have a go - though at times the following 4.2-powered standard Quattroporte struggled to keep in touch on the steeper, tighter stretches.

Like the 4.7 it's a relatively high-revving beast for a V8, but its 295kW and 460Nm isn't quite enough in these conditions and in this company.

What's needed is more power, a more flexible rev-range, or a drastic diet if it's to avoid losing its two-thirds sales advantage to its more powerful - but pricier - sibling.

Of course you could opt instead for my favourite Maserati - the GranTurismo S. The standard model is a gorgeously handsome car with bags of character, a soundtrack wrought from pure sin - and a reasonable claim to practicality given it genuinely seats four.

But performance wasn't quite up to the looks, or its testosterone-addled persona.

Well, now it's got performance, again courtesy of that front-mounted 4.7-litre V8, this time tuned for 323kW at 7000rpm and 490Nm at 4750 - just a nudge above the four-door Quattroporte.

Here it's mated to a rear-mounted electro-actuated double-clutch six speed transmission and an exhaust valve that reroutes air around the silencers at the touch of a button.

The result is a gloriously anti-social soundtrack, trumpeting like a sex-addled stallion on the straights, crackling and popping as we throttle off for yet another unexpected tarmac twist.

And you can play with this beast, the modified springs, bars and dampers firming the whole plot without making it too hard, the 53 per cent rear weight bias and the sporty stability control tuning allowing just enough play to slide her at will without going too far, the delightfully predictable breakaway and this car's ability to keep the power down particularly appreciated in the atrocious weather conditions of our drive.

Back on the motorway we returned to normal suspension - and normal soundtrack, the hooligan setting a little anti-social for everyday driving.

Read more:

First look: Maserati goes racing – again

Geneva show: S treatment for GranTurismo

Melbourne show: Maser GT sedan gets S treatment

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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