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First drive: Wider appeal for Quattroporte auto

Maser slusher: Auto-Quattro is priced from the same $269,900.

Maserati fits an automatic transmission to its Quattroporte for the first time

13 Apr 2007

MASERATI has completely re-engineered its Quattroporte sports sedan to take a fully automatic gearbox for the first time.

Just released in Australia from $269,000 – the same price as with the six-speed DuoSelect sequential shift transmission – the new six-speed fully automatic Quattroporte is better-equipped to fight against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S500, BMW 750i and Audi A8.

Fitting an automatic transmission to the stylish Quattroporte was no easy matter, though. It required the transmission to be relocated to the front of the car, where it is mounted onto the back of the V8 engine alongside the driver’s legs whereas the DuoSelect unit is located with the differential at the back axle.

The engine also had to be revised to suit the new transmission, the floorpan was altered and the rear suspension was redesigned.

Despite moving the transmission so far forward, weight balance has not changed greatly. The auto Quattroporte has 49 per cent of its weight over the front axle while the rear-biased DuoSelect model has 47 per cent. By comparison, the 7 Series has the "perfect" 50-50 balance, the S-class has 51 per cent at the front, and the A8, with its forward-mounted engine, has 56 per cent.

Overall weight has increased by 20kg, offset partly by the need for a smaller conventional propshaft.

The Ferrari-sourced Maserati 4.2-litre V8 engine also had to be revised for the new six-speed ZF auto transmission, with a wet-sump arrangement (using a single pump) instead of the dry sump used with the DuoSelect transmission.

Other engine changes include a new inlet manifold and airbox, new variable valve timing, modified pistons and redesigned cylinder head covers (painted Maserati blue instead of the red covers of the old engine that is still fitted to DuoSelect models).

The main benefit with the revised engine is reduced noise, vibration and harshness to suit the auto, but there is also an extra 10Nm of torque (up to 460Nm) at 250 fewer revs (4250rpm) and over a wider spread. Power remains at 295kW at 7000rpm.

Fuel consumption is down by nine per cent, but at 14.7L/100km this Italian is still much thirstier than its German rivals.

The Quattroporte auto accelerates from 0-100km/h in just 5.6 seconds – 0.4 seconds slower than the DuoSelect version – and has a top speed of 270km/h (versus 275km/h).

The ZF transmission itself has a manual sequential shift mode, operated using the shift lever or optional steering wheel paddles (standard on the Sport GT model), and also a more aggressive Sport mode.

As before, the Quattroporte comes in three specification levels – the standard model, the Sport GT ($288,000) and the Executive GT ($298,000) – and all three can be ordered with either the DuoSelect or ZF automatic.

Maserati Australia general manager Edward Butler said that the Sport GT was the best-selling model and, while the original thinking was that 95 per cent of cars would now be ordered with the auto, the expectation is now 80 per cent as some buyers still elect for the sharper-shifting DuoSelect.

"There are still some people who prefer the sportiness of the DuoSelect option, but the important thing for us is that a lot of Mercedes, BMW and Audi buyers didn’t like it, so the auto will help us win those buyers," said Mr Butler.

Maserati sales have climbed rapidly since local distribution was taken over by Ateco 18 months ago, rising from 81 units in 2005 to 107 in Australia last year. Projections for 2007 have already been lifted from 130 to 150, with Melbourne and Perth being the big movers.

The ZF transmission is a hydraulic unit and was chosen mainly because it could handle the 7000rpm rev limit of the V8 engine and Maserati did not want to compromise performance by lowering the redline.

Mr Butler said that the new transmission also provided the required smooth shift quality, which could not be achieved with an electronically controlled unit.

"Maserati did not want to dilute or soften any of the essential driving abilities of the Quattroporte just to give it the ease of an automatic gearbox," he said. "This means that the new Quattroporte is the highest-revving auto in the world." Another change for the latest Quattroporte is the introduction of an automatic park brake, which activates when the transmission is put in park, then deactivates when the throttle is depressed in drive or reverse. Removing the conventional handbrake enabled the centre console to be redesigned with bigger cup-holders and a larger ashtray.

2007 Maserati Quattroporte range pricing:
Quattroporte $269,000
Quattroporte Sport GT $288,000
Quattroporte Executive GT $298,000
Note: Pricing denotes sequential or automatic transmissions.

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