Oct. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Asked to describe the brand Maserati, most people would use words like Italian, expensive and exotic.
They’d be right, mostly. The best-selling Maserati in the U.S. is the four-door Quattroporte, an Italian-made sedan that is reasonably fast and, in the case of the car I tested, plenty pricey at $159,600. The overall character, however, was more stately than sexy, buttoned-down rather than exotic.
Put away those thoughts of the Italian supercar of your dreams. Think of the Quattroporte as a rival to capacious luxury cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class AMG, Audi S8 and BMW B7 Alpina. This car is aimed at the reclining CEO or perhaps even a fortunate family.
Fiat sPA owns Maserati and Ferrari, and both companies’ original factories are only a few miles apart in northern Italy. The Maserati brothers were racing cars by the early 1900s. Yet these days the notion that the company sells fire-breathing sports cars has arguably worked against it, scaring off buyers who assume they’ll find supercar prices at dealerships.
The new Quattroporte Q4 starts at $105,600, whereas the closest thing to a people-carrier that Ferrari sells is the four-seat FF, at more than $300,000.
This is the sixth generation of the Quattroporte, and for the 2014 model we get an entirely redesigned car with two engine choices, a V-6 and V-8, each with distinct price points. The GTS V-8 model has an MSRP of $143,600, and is the car that I tested.
The twin-turbo V-6 Q4 model is all-wheel-drive, a must in this category, especially in markets like the American Northeast. The V-8 comes only as a rear-wheel-drive, a configuration which will disappoint some.
The major point of departure from the last generation is that the engines are turbo-charged, losing the distinct sound and high-revving nature of the previous naturally-aspirated V-8. They lack some of the visceral appeal, but are more efficient and powerful.
Both motors were designed by Maserati and are assembled by Ferrari. The V-6 has 404 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque; the V-8 523 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. The V-6 model is actually heavier (4,226 pounds), a result of the added weight of the all-wheel-drive system.
Yet it is only two-tenths of a second slower to 60 mph than the V-8, taking 4.8 seconds. (The Audi S8, by way of comparison, gets to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.)
The car has also grown larger. It is 6.4 inches longer and 2.5 inches wider, with an overall increase of four-plus inches of legroom. This makes it longer than even the Jaguar XJ. Maserati is clearly catering to the Chinese market.
The most distinctive design feature of any modern Maserati is the wide oval mouth of the grill with the trident icon at its center. This treatment on the Quattroporte looks quite good.
That’s where the exterior joys end. The Quattroporte is in danger of looking generic, especially in its oversized rear --it could be mistaken for just another Infiniti in the parking lot. One wonders why the design is so conservative, so lacking in overtly Italian flourish.
At least we could hope for perfect proportions, but here too it falls short. One suspects the extra length stymied the designers, who still had to build it on a chassis shared by a new, smaller Maserati sedan, the Ghibli.
This inelegance presents itself in rear doors which are longer than those on the front and a scrunched appearance where the A-pillar meets the side windows.
There’s better news on the inside, where the steering wheel has a pleasing sculptural design, with metal paddles framing either side. A long thin strip of metal runs along the dash as part of the ventilation system, and an analog clock seems to float from the dash. My car had natural, unvarnished wood throughout, a fantastic touch.
Some of that panache is lost by the navigation system’s digital screen, which comes from Chrysler. This isn’t a travesty, as Chrysler’s latest navigation and infotainment system is quite good. Still, the screen lacks a certain visual sophistication.
Where the Quattroporte should -- and mostly does -- shine is in the actual driving. It hustles away from stops, accompanied by a muted howl from the motor. Disengage the traction control and you can easily smoke the tires. Steering is confident, and the overall character is stable. Brakes are excellent.
A few buyers might cross-shop it with the new Mercedes S-Class, a technological wunderkind which literally steers itself in short increments. The Mercedes’ ride is pillowy, whereas the Maserati is firm. In general, the Maserati is the old-school performance sedan.
The car is easy to live with. I enjoyed the interior space and ample storage. Still, I kept waiting for the hallelujah moment, the point where my endorphins would trip and I’d say, “I must own this car!”
This was especially so when I got out the car and looked over the too-timid design. Italian and expensive, yes, but the Quattroporte falls a bit too short on the exotic.
The Maserati Quattroporte GTS at a Glance
Engine: 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 with 523 horsepower and
479 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: ZF eight-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 13 city, 22 highway.
Price as tested: $159,600.
Best features: Pleasant interior, copious legroom.
Worst feature: Bland exterior.
Target buyer: The sedan lover who wants something not made
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Rick Jarovslovsky on technology and Stephen West on theater.
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.