An auto box in a big luxury saloon? That’s hardly news…
It is for Maserati. To mark the Quattroporte out as a very different, more sporting proposition to its mainly German rivals, it has only been offered with the Duo Select automated manual until now. Although it has an auto mode, it still uses a clutch and will never be as smooth as a proper, torque-converter auto. This limits the car’s appeal - so now, having established the Quattroporte as the edgy, sporty, driver’s choice, Maserati has bought in ZF’s awesome six-speed auto 'box.
But doesn’t the Quattroporte’s gearbox sit at the back?
It does; by having a transaxle gearbox the manual Quattroporte gets a slight rearward weight bias (47/53) that cuts understeer and aids handling. Positioning the auto gearbox at the front hasn’t required major changes to the car’s structure, but it has shifted the weight forward slightly, to a 49/51 split. The engine that comes with the auto is now wet-sumped and gets blue cam covers; power is the same at 394bhp, but there’s a 7lb ft increase in torque to 339lb ft, delivered 250rpm lower than the dry-sumped red V8 at 4250rpm.
So has the Quattroporte gone all soft?
Not really. The 0-60mph time slips slightly to 5.6sec and the top speed is down fractionally from 171mph to 167mph, owing to the auto’s longer sixth gear which also gives a claimed nine percent improvement in extra-urban (i.e. motorway) fuel consumption. Maserati’s Skyhook adaptive damping system has been recalibrated for ‘improved comfort’ in the auto, so yes, it has been softened slightly.
So it’s either a manual with an auto mode, or an auto with a manual mode?
Right. Around town the ZF auto gives its usual, seamless performance; automated manuals like the Duo Select have become much smoother in auto mode, but still can’t match a proper torque converter automatic, and particularly one as good as this. The ZF box is also capable of delivering manual changes which are almost as fast as an automated manual - and almost as smooth as a twin-clutch manual; the Aston Martin DB9 is no less exciting as a sports car for having this gearbox.
But how well does it work in the Quattroporte?
Our first drive in the Quattroporte Automatica is the first time we’ve used this gearbox and felt slightly disappointing. When you get outside town and ask a little more of it, the ‘box doesn’t change with its customary speed and smoothness. Both up- and downshifts, whether in auto mode or using the paddle-shifters, were occasionally hesitant and imperfectly synched with the engine. The answer might lie in the engine; by comparison with the V8s and V12s of its rivals, many of which use the same gearbox, it’s a responsive, high-revving but relatively low-torque unit and suits the DuoSelect automated manual well; it doesn’t feel such a natural fit with the auto.
So which do I choose?
The important thing is that you now have the choice, and a lot of buyers who would otherwise have ruled the Maser out will now pick it over a 7-series or an S-class. And that’s a very good thing; it is a colossally cool car, however you define it. On balance we’d trade occasionally lumpy full-power shifting for seamless changes 95 percent of the time, and choose the auto; its resale value will also be higher. Prices start from £77,000; the most popular Sport GT trim will be £83,200 and gets the paddle-shifters as standard. They’re a £658 option on the base car and on the comfort-oriented, £85,900 Executive GT, each of which accounts for about a quarter of sales.