► Updated Quattroporte GTS tested
► Sporting saloon faces stiff competition
► On sale now for £115,980
At this rarefied end of the Quattroporte line-up there is some serious competition. This recently revamped quad-door saloon is Maserati’s flagship model, and the GTS is the best version you can buy.
In other words we’re dealing with the best of the best here – meaning its rivals include the likes of the BMW M6 Gran Coupe, Merc’s ever-impressive AMG S63 and the brand-spanking-new Porsche Panamera. So, this will be one hell of a dust-up.
Maserati has introduced a brace of tweaks to the Quattroporte for 2016, with the aim being to keep it competitive. In order for us to find out what it’s like in isolation, we travelled to what Bologna hopes will be its natural habitat – a superyacht haven in Italy’s La Spezia harbour – to pick one up and go for a blast.
Visually there haven’t been major changes. The Levante’s nose has been introduced – featuring a drag-reducing electric air gate behind the grille – and our test car comes in the racy new Gransport trim. It features 21-inch alloys, red brake calipers, more aggressive front and rear bumpers and different seats.
We also had all of the optional carbonfibre trimmings you could ever need or want. The interior benefits from Maserati’s latest touchscreen following the revamp, and this works as well as it needs to. The interior might not look as cutting-edge as the Germans’, but it does look more stylish.
How does the revamped Quattroporte drive?
Very well. We rumbled out of the harbour and immediately encountered over-sized speedbumps. Coaxing the car gently atop, we were reminded that Maserati’s chassis team really does bump and rebound tuning well. The active Skyhook (still not a Bond film) suspension works smoothly and quickly, maintaining excellent body control. Although the GTS does have a firmer ride than we’d have liked, it’s certainly not in any way uncomfortable.
Let’s get this out of the way early: I don’t like stop/start systems. They’re disruptive at best and at worst can be dangerous on cars that struggle to spin the engine up quick enough for a dart out of a junction. Imagine my chagrin when the QP’s worked flawlessly. The engine’s so smooth at low speeds that you can’t feel the system working unless you glance at the rev counter, and not once was it reluctant to pull away. Quite the pleasant surprise from an unexpected feature.
As the jams began to thin and the roads to widen on our way up into the Tuscan hills, we came to the first of many deeply joyous tunnels.
What’s so good about driving a GTS through a tunnel?
Buy a GTS, drop the double-glazed windows, engage Sport mode and find out. This thing sounds great. It’s got a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 built with help from Ferrari, and those words mean it’s very, very good. The main source of noise is tailpipe wail from the active exhaust, but if you concentrate you can hear the intake – both being gulped in while the turbos compress atmosphere and when the blow-off valves release the pressure between throttle prods. It’s enthralling – especially when you’re making use of the overboost to shoot the rev needle towards the 7200rpm redline.
Full throttle gearchanges are rewarded with a loud crack, which adds more to the experience. The gearbox feels smooth and easy-going during normal driving, but press on a bit using the cool metal paddles mounted on the steering column (where they should be) and the ZF eight-speeder really shines, slotting the next ratio in with precision and unnatural speed.
Does the handling pass muster?
After about 15 minutes of third-gear fun we were away from the tunnels and finally into the Tuscan mountains. The first notable thing is that switching the dampers into Sport (a function decoupled from the actual Sport button) doesn’t do anything to improve the on-road experience other than firm up the ride a little too much.
Instead, you can rely on the rear-driven and brilliantly balanced chassis to deliver its thrills without the associated back problems. The steering alone is a wonderful thing, tuned for hefty weight but offering the sort of feedback that’s all too rare these days. It grants you the confidence to drive quickly because you’re fully aware of the front tyres’ adhesion, so despite its size you’re not worried the GTS is going to plough on forward when turn-in’s requested.
What about when you’re really going for it?
As the bends tighten the Quattroporte does begin to feel like the large saloon it is, but it somehow falls short of feeling as large as its rivals – partly thanks to its excellent driving position.
In Sport mode you can use the throttle to your advantage – apply it earlier or more than necessary and the limited-slip diff-equipped tail will whip out playfully to straighten your trajectory and conquer that curve. We noticed – not entirely unhappily, it has to be said – that there’s a decent amount of slip dialled in here before electronics stop play, and furthermore its intervention isn’t as heavy-handed as it could be – so the overall driving impression remains smooth.
Of course, this Maserati – like all of the firm’s cars – lacks the breadth of high-tech systems and kit of German rivals. For that reason it doesn’t feel anywhere near as modern despite its touchscreen and flash dash, but it’s also that bit more interesting to boot. Instead of relying on stuff to do things for you, here the driver is master of their own destiny, and the car simply helps along the way.
The 2016 update of the QP is one that allows it to keep up with the Joneses rather than demonstrably moving the game forwards, but luckily there’s still quite a car under there to keep the keen driver happy. We’re not entirely sure you need to go for the GTS over the already impressive S with its also-Ferrari-built V6 – but if you can, you’re not going to be disappointed. It’s one of the best-handling cars in its class and has a simply wonderful engine.
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