Eight ways Maserati can make the 2018 Quattroporte even better

By Businessweek , October 4 2017
Eight ways Maserati can make the 2018 Quattroporte even better

People love Maserati for its looks and its history, but the brand’s mega-sedan has some flaws to fix.

Brits love Maserati. At least, the two Brits I had dinner with Wednesday night in L.A. do.

They were so excited to see the latest car I was testing that they waited outside on the sidewalk after the meal while I pulled it out of parking, then climbed all over the front and back excited to be even just sitting in the “MAZZ-uh,” as they called it.

The enthusiasm speaks to the legend and heritage of the brand that has borne the trident logo since 1914. It has created lifelong devotees with such hits as the 1960s-era Ghibli coupe and 3500 GT. I wish its current big sedan, the Quattroporte, were on a par with those icons.

Unfortunately, there are a few other contenders (BMW 7-Series; Porsche Panamera) more deserving of your hard-earned money than this one, at least for now.

While the latest Quattroporte sports some significant improvements over last year, such as noticeable exterior restyling, a redesigned infotainment system and center console, and bolstered engine specs, it remains far from perfect.

Here are eight things Maserati has to change to make its Quattroporte better.

1. Fix the transmission

The US$110,600 Quattroporte S Q4 I drove all over Los Angeles, Joshua Tree, and Yucca Valley in central California featured a twin-turbo V6 404-hp Ferrari-made engine. It also has an all-wheel drive capable of peak torque at 406 pound-feet and a top speed of 176 mph. (This top speed is an improvement over the previous generation.) Zero to 60 mph is 4.8 seconds.

These specifications roughly match other entries in this category, but the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission and electronically controlled shock absorbers were so delayed in their response to any press of the gas pedal that the numbers might as well have been slower.

Driving down Highway 10 past Palm Springs felt like heavy lifting – there was noticeable time lapse between pushing the accelerator and gathering speed to blitz past slower traffic, and the transition between gears – especially the lower ones – should have been much smoother than it was.

2. Eliminate body roll

Maserati says the Quattroporte has an “ideal 50:50 weight distribution” in its body and features much aluminum in the chassis, body, and suspension so that “performance and comfort are again unparalleled.” But this is not the case.

The curved mountain road to Idyllwild from L.A. is fraught with tight, steep turns and abrupt corners.

This isn’t a sport coupe – I don’t expect it to be. But the way the hips lagged behind the car, then lumbered and fell forward when they finally caught up to the rest of the car as it gained momentum around turns quickly became taxing. Stepping out after an hour of quick driving on a technical, hairpin-turn road felt like stepping outside the ring after a heavy sparring session.

3. Make the shifter more precise

The stick to shift in the Quattroporte requires the driver to push a button along the front of it to move from park, reverse, neutral and drive. It’s hard to tell what you’re doing, though; often I found myself accidentally shifting into reverse when I wanted neutral, or park when I wanted reverse. It was a constant battle to make sure I was in the correct gear before getting out or, even worse, reversing. It shouldn’t take careful consideration of the shifter knob and indicators to move a luxury car into neutral or drive, but that was the case here on a repeated basis. That has to change.

4. Adjust the paddles

Another design quibble that, like the shifter, sounds like a small thing on paper but actually dominated much of the driving experience on a sizable daytrip like the one I did: The paddle shifters here are much longer than they are in, say, a BMW 7-Series or Porsche Panamera, and they are situated close to the steering wheel.

That means my fingers got tangled sometimes between the shifter paddles, the turning indicators, and the windshield wipers (yes, I drove through fog and rain up in the hills outside Idyllwild).

Still, I give Maserati high marks for making said shifters pure carbon fiber. That touch is par for the course these days in this segment, and I’m happy Maserati recognized it as such.

5. Sharpen the engine notes

The sound of an engine should not play a role in ultimate judgment of how that engine performs.

I’ve said before that complaints about an engine’s particular tone will likely continue to fade as new generations adopt electric and autonomous technology in totality. And I’m a big fan of Formula E - the argument that it doesn’t “sound” like “real” Formula racing misses the whole point of the series.

Still, we live in 2017, when combustion engines are still much the kings of the road. And this one sounded far from regal. When I did notice the muffled pop of the engine, it often seemed unrelated to anything actually happening under the hood, like a random sound unrelated to what I was doing behind the wheel.

Most of the time it sounded phlegmy, like someone with egg caught in the back of his throat. Where Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz stand out as excellent in the engine note category (manufactured as those notes may be), this sits on the other end of the sound spectrum.

6. Add More Creature Comforts

Call me crazy, but I believe that if you pay upwards of US$120,000 after options for a big black sedan, it should include such niceties as a heads-up display and a big, if not panoramic, sunroof. The Quattroporte I drove had neither.

Yes, it comes with a new infotainment system with a high-resolution, 8.4” capacitive touch screen and a redesigned central console with rotary knob, but those already feel out of date. (That size of screen is relatively small when considering the 10- and 12-inch screens from others in the field, and the rotary knob felt thin and small compared with BMW’s iDrive and Merc’s futuristic knobs.)

7. Remove the bulge from the foot wells

Here’s what driving a car for eight or 10 hours at a time will tell you that driving a car for an hour or less will not: Seemingly inconsequential design elements, such as the bulge along the bottom of the center console that juts out on either side of the center of the interior of the car into the foot wells - imagine them shaped like a lower-case “d” – can make you very uncomfortable over hours of driving.

The Quattroporte has these, and their small protrusion disrupts the natural line of your leg as you sit.

The result is you have to twist your hips and knees slightly to force your left leg (if you’re riding shotgun) unnaturally. It feels like when you sit in an economy airplane seat, and the carry-on bag under the seat in front of you prevents you from stretching your legs even to a simple straight line. Super irritating.

Here’s another space-related note: It would be great if the seats were able to drop lower into the car. I had people in the Maserati who were 6’1’’ or so, and the extra headroom for those that height was minimal.

8. Improve efficiency

The official word from Maserati is that the Quattroporte S Q4 gets a combined 18 mpg on the highway. (The company doesn’t list the city/highway mpg breakdown.)

According to my readings over four days of heavy driving, the car I had averaged 14 mpg per day. When every brand is shifting to turbo-charging, smaller engines, and hybrid electric energy to comply with federal efficiency policies, this is not anywhere good enough.

The disparity speaks to the broader issue here, which I believe the good folks at Maserati already know and are striving toward (after all, these things take time): In technology, engineering, and design, the brand needs to get with the program in a real way.

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