First Drive: 2007 Maserati Quattroporte Automatica
The marque's flagship sedan shifts to an automatic transmission.
Based at the famed Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, Monaco, we had our first opportunity to experience the sexy Maserati Quattroporte for the first time with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Those unfamiliar with this car would likely wonder what the big deal is about the introduction of an automatic transmission. The fact is while a minority of Quattroporte buyers was looking for a true sports car in sedan form, most wanted the performance but didn't want to give up a comfortable ride.
Since it was launched in 2004, the Quattroporte has been offered solely with Maserati's DuoSelect transmission, which is based on Ferrari's F1 transmission. The manual transmission can shift automatically but the shifts were abrupt. While it could be driven more like a performance car, it was very difficult to drive smoothly, especially in stop and go traffic.
When Quattroporte was originally developed, there was no plan for an automatic transmission. As Roberto Ronchi, CEO and general manager of Maserati S.p.A., told us, the marque was still very much in the shadow of Ferrari (not necessarily a bad thing), and Ferrari didn't see a reason for automatic transmissions if performance is the ultimate goal.
(Apparently it was quite a fight just to get cupholders in the Quattroporte. The Ferrari engineers could not understand why you would even have a drink in the car—their cars are made for driving, not for drinking coffee.)
The DuoSelect gearbox will still be available for those Quattroporte buyers that are hardcore driving enthusiasts, but with the introduction of the automatic transmission, Maserati is hoping to attract a new range of customers that want Italian style and performance is as well as a luxurious ride.
The most significant change in the Quattroporte Automatica is the new transmission, but there are a host of other changes surrounding the new automatic. We should note that no changes have been made to the exterior styling.
The transmission is a hydraulic 6-speed automatic transmission produced by ZF, a German transmission builder. Built specifically for the Quattroporte, this transmission currently won't be found in any other vehicle. It was specially designed to handle the high-revving V8 powering the Quattroporte and took 18 months to develop.
Speaking of the V8, it has been revised for use with the automatic transmission. Now with a wet sump configuration, horsepower remains at 400, but maximum torque has been increased to 339 lb-ft (previously 326 lb-ft at 4750) and is available at a lower rpm than before. In fact, more than 75 percent of the torque is available at just 2500 rpm. Fuel consumption has decreased with the new engine, as has noise levels.
The additional torque means that performance with the automatic is almost identical to the Quattroporte equipped with DuoSelect. Sixty mph is reached from a standstill in just 5.6 seconds with the automatic, approximately four tenths slower than the DuoSelect. Top speed difference is negligible—168 mph with the automatic as opposed to 171. We didn't have the opportunity to test this out, so we'll take Maserati's word for it.
The automatic offers four driving modes for different driving situations:
- Normal — for leisurely driving and optimum fuel efficiency.
- Sport — for more enthusiastic driving, keeps engine revs high.
- Ice — for slippery conditions, starts the car in 2nd gear to reduce the torque at the wheels.
- Manual — shifting via the gearshift or paddle shifters.
Unlike the DuoSelect gearbox which is positioned over the rear axle, the new automatic is connected directly to the engine. This had the potential to ruin the balanced feel of the Quattroporte, which was weighted in a 47% front / 53% rear ratio. However Maserati engineers were able to keep a rear-biased weight balance of 49% / 51%. This is quite evident in the Quattroporte's excellent handling.
Taking a Drive
On the morning of our press drive, a selection of Maseratis sat staged in front of the elegant Monte Carlo Casino. When we got into our pearlescent Maserati, my driving partner and I noticed the red and white curbing under the rear wheels. This was done quite deliberately by Maserati PR folks, harking us back to Fangio's race 50 years ago and also connecting us to the present-day F1 race held in the Principality, when cars of a different beauty and ferocity hop that curbing each May during the Monaco Grand Prix.
We settled into comfortable seats swathed in supple light-blue Italian leather with cream-colored piping to match the exterior color. And unlike past Maseratis, we simply put the gear selector in D and were on our way. Unfortunately, we were on our way to getting quite lost.
The rather cryptic directions had us heading toward Italy rather than Nice, which was our expected destination. But as my driving partner pointed out, we were driving a beautiful Maserati through the streets of Monaco, so why should we care that we were lost?
We did eventually find our way, but our initial moments of misdirection gave us the opportunity to test the grand touring qualities of the Quattroporte Automatica.
The new transmission shifts incredibly smoothly and quickly. When accelerating around slower vehicles, downshifts are fast without being abrupt. Cruising on the motorway at around 80 mph, the QA's ride is so comfortable this new Q would be an ideal vehicle for a cross-country drive. It's not soft as a Lexus—you still feel connected to the road—but road noise gets minimized and the firm ride is not uncomfortable.
However, once the Quattroporte gets its wheels on twisty narrow roads the car takes on a completely different personality.
The transmission changes shift points with more aggressive driving, keeping the engine at high revs for the best performance. Moving the shift lever to the left allows for manual shifting. Shifts are impressively quick for an automatic, and while our car was not so equipped, shift paddles placed on the steering column are also available.
When driven hard, the QA's transmission allows the V8 to rev all the way to its 7500 rpm redline. At redline it's best to have the windows down, because that's the ideal way to enjoy one of the key qualities of this Italian sedan—the sound. By the end of the day we were looking for any opportunity to enjoy that wonderful engine roar. It's especially impressive in a tunnel.
Most importantly, the handling has not been compromised with the adjustment of weight balance. The Quattroporte feels light and nimble, not at all what you'd expect from a large four-door sedan. Steering is precise, and we found our cornering speeds continuing to increase as we discovered the impressive road-holding ability of the Maserati flagship.
Maserati is not going to discontinue the DuoSelect transmission, but company representatives expect that going forward the majority of Quattroportes sold will be with the automatic. This percentage will likely be even higher in America, which is Maserati's largest market.
Maserati has sold around 9,000 Quattroportes worldwide since its introduction, and with the new automatic transmission the company hopes sales to increase by as much as 30 percent.
A total of 5,700 Maseratis were sold worldwide in 2006 with a goal of 7,500 for 2007. According to Ronchi, that number would make the company profitable. Ultimately, the company would like to reach annual sales of around 15,000 units. Any more than that and the Maserati name would begin to lose its exclusivity.
Quattroporte is available in a base level as well as Executive GT and Sport GT. All versions will be available with either transmission. The cost of the automatic transmission in the U.S. market is expected to be around $1,200.
Vehicles are already arriving in showrooms, with custom ordering taking only about three months.
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