2019 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 GranLusso Review: Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue
Wherein the latest big sedan from the marque of Fangio warms our heart and breaks our brain.
Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2019 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 GranLusso.
The Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 GranLusso, By the Numbers:
Base Price (Price as Tested): $119,780 ($136,160)
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6, 424 horsepower, 428 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
Seating Capacity: 4
0-60 mph: 5.3 seconds
Weight Distribution (Front / Rear): 50/50
Quick Take: The big Maserati may be the most misunderstood luxury sedan, but it's still a Fiat Chrysler enigma.
Back in the 1980s, Argentine motoring legend and savvy dealmaker Alejandro De Tomaso saved Maserati from the bankrupteur’s pen by way of an intercontinental alliance. The dream-weaving president and CEO cajoled his old friend Lee Iacocca out of millions in Chrysler treasure, in exchange for five percent of partly-state-owned Maserati. Soon, the company’s storied trident badge, under which Juan Manuel Fangio executed the most heroic drive in Formula One history at the 1957 German Grand Prix, would be slapped on a janky competitor to the Cadillac Allanté.
Despite some top-line material, like an interior of Italian leather, body panels by Innocenti in Milan, and wheels by F1 supplier Fondmetal, the “Chrysler TC by Maserati” couldn’t hide its plebe origins. (It was based on the Dodge Daytona.) That, plus a more-than-passing resemblance to the far cheaper LeBaron, spelled disaster. Over three years of production, Chrysler sold only 7,300 TCs at the inflation-adjusted 2019 equivalent of $67,000 each. Still, for Maserati, it was an economic defibrillator, tiding it over until De Tomaso could complete a sale to Fiat in 1993.
The TC’s backstory is relevant to the 2019 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 GranLusso I’ve been driving, not because of Maserati’s reunion with Chrysler in 2014 or fear that FCA beancounters will again tarnish the celebrated brand (more on that later), but because car enthusiasts can be exceedingly cruel. By far the worst cruelty against the Quattroporte is calling it the “Chrysler TC of our generation.” That’s the kind of hyperbole that gets attention: It’s just true enough to be tantalizing, but is also inaccurate and unfair. It does, however, articulate a certain dissonance in the Maserati brand during its FCA tenure.
One last thing about the TC: It had a tantalizing secret. A few hundred shipped with a ringer under the hood—a version of its turbocharged 2.2-liter four fitted with a twin-cam, 16-valve Cosworth cylinder head, Mahle pistons, Crane cams, and an IHI turbo plus intercooler. A Getrag five-speed manual managed the extra torque from the engine’s higher boost. Cosworth cast the aluminum block to high tolerances, and the whole bit was screwed together by Maserati in Italy. It may have had Detroit in its blueprints, but that engine had Barolo (along with a gulp of East Midlands ale) in its veins.
That’s only vaguely similar to the origin of this Maserati Quattroporte’s 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6, whose bottom end was devised on a Michigan CAD screen but the rest re-engineered and finished to Ferrari specs in Maranello. As Automotive News reported in 2014, Chrysler Group's Kokomo casting plant handles the casting, while Trenton Engine plant machines the blocks (along with Weber Automotive in Italy) “under the supervision of Ferrari engineers.” This is where internet rumors about the engine being a “Pentastar V6” arose. The result of Ferrari’s tweaks is a responsive, flexible engine that feels as premium as any V6 can. The downside? I averaged 14 miles per gallon on a combination of city and heavy-footed B-road driving, which is antediluvian by modern standards, even with the Quattroporte's 4,100-plus-pound curb weight. (Those looking for more can pony up for the optional Ferrari F154 V8, a gorgeous engine it shares with the Ferrari GTC4Lusso T.)
The V6 is no slouch in performance, however, with a recent upgrade to 424 horsepower and 428 pound-feet. And with a platform connection to the Alfa Romeo Giulia, the Quattroporte feels best when it’s being driven hard. That’s no mean feat for a car that’s longer than a BMW 7 Series. In full Sport mode, the performance picture comes into focus, and the Quattroporte shines like an Italian car should. While its short suspension travel is the predominant limiting factor when it comes to over-the-road comfort, the bruiser’s transient forces are contained at highway speeds, even if its languid steering can’t compete with the crispness of its Alfa brethren’s tiller.
Design-wise, the Quattroporte upends all the competition, in both theater and outright presence on the road and at the curb. Maserati buyers can rest assured they’ll outdo their German-buying counterparts in sheer number of head swivels per mile, with those graceful fender lines, the aggro grille—and of course, those portholes. Sheer, unabashed sexiness is the Quattroporte’s core competency.
The Quattroporte does draw on Chrysler’s engineering resources in ways that drive car fanatics crazy. An automotive Nelson Muntz need only peruse the various Chrysler-sourced buttons and stalks and toggles and rotaries to provoke a “ha-ha.” But I’m a realist; I can abide a bit of corporate efficiency engineering. (After all, I own a 15-year-old Jaguar made by Ford.) What I can’t abide are chromey-plastic dash trimmings at odds with an otherwise elegant, richly-appointed interior. Those who enjoy the visual simplicity of an analog gauge will appreciate the two dials at center gaze, but those looking for the latest tech will turn down their noses at the tiny TFT screen between the speedo and tacho, which provides only rudimentary info. Want a head-up display? You’ll have to go German.
There’s more flame-war fodder down and to the right. Chrysler’s UConnect infotainment system is one of my favorite modern infotainment systems. It’s stable, usable, configurable, quick-acting, and integrates effortlessly with Apple CarPlay. Nonetheless, the system’s user interface is far outmatched by flush German competitors, all of which have spent kingly sums to improve their interior tech in recent years. Not to mention, the eight-inch screen is at least four inches shy of the latest from Munich, Stuttgart, or Ingolstadt.
Is it fair to harp on such mundane details as tech, when the house of Ermenegildo Zegna fashioned the interior? Well, hoss, depends on what your definition of fair is. Was it fair for FCA to treat the great Maserati brand as if it were a mass-market carmaker? The answer is no, and it was a serious miscalculation, and one that Maserati boss Mike Manley admitted to late last year:
"With hindsight, when we put Maserati and Alfa [Romeo] together, it did two things. Firstly, it reduced the focus on Maserati the brand," said Manley. "Secondly, Maserati was treated for a period of time almost as if it were a mass market brand, which it isn't and shouldn't be treated that way."
Luigi Caccia Dominioni, an Italian architect and furniture designer, when asked about the allure of Italian design, said the Italians were just “better mediators between the past and the future.” Maybe it’s time to make Maserati more Italian, not less.
The hardest part about reviewing the Quattroporte is reconciling the trident brand, the Fangio brand, with the business of car-making and the realities of car marketing. Does it feel special? Yes, it does, especially if you plan to look at it or give it the business on the back roads every Sunday. Is it a compromise? Yes it is, especially if you plan to cross shop it against cheaper German alternatives. Is it really a Maserati? I think the company knows the answer to that, and how to fix it.