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What’s new at Maserati?

by David Zatz on

Over the summer, Maserati and Alfa Romeo invited a group of writers to test out their cars and learn about the future of FCA’s most premium brands.

Maserati Quattroporte S

Tim Kuniskis described the future of Maserati, pointing out:

  • A new, smaller crossover may be on the way
  • The current Maserati/Alfa Romeo plan started years ago; and the company is trying to stay true to the brands’ heritage
  • Every Maserati will have a Ferrari-tuned-and-built powertrain
  • A full battery-electric car is on the way

We were able to test out various Maserati cars on the road and track. The Ghibli and Quattroporte have a similar feel, which is not surprising since they’re on the same platform; the Levante crossover has the same basic tuning and a similar interior. They are all sports tourers, with a more luxurious feel than the bold Alfa Romeos.

Much has been made of their similarity to the Chrysler 300C in basic dimensions and rear suspension design, and that’s true enough, but not the whole story. Cost was less important than on the six-figure-production Chrysler and Dodge sedans, and performance and comfort were more important; the powertrains were developed (in the sedan-V6’s case, from a Chrysler base) by Ferrari for the purpose, and share few, if any, actual parts.

The Maserati front suspension has a different architecture from the Chrysler or Dodge, and it shows not just in superior handling, but in a feel that is at once tighter and lighter. The basics of the Chrysler setup were put in place under a Daimler edict to emphasize a feeling of weight and safety; Maserati’s goals are quite different, and it shows. As a Chrysler 300C owner, I can safely say that the Maseratis have some things little in common — they are responsive, have similar dimensions and space, and mildly similar handling, with the same basic transmission design; but they are also quite far apart.

The seats were more comfortable than those of the Chryslers, the interior design a bit more upscale; mainly, it felt more solid, and my guess is far less likely to start rattling with age (disclaimer: I have a ’13 and understand the ’15s are less prone to noise).  The interior is better shielded against noise, though, again, the 300C is at or near the top of its class. The stereo controls allow touch-free operation to avoid fingerprints.

On the track, the Maseratis were fast but easy to drive, bringing up the phrase “point and shoot” variety — no need to over-finesse or fiddle around; the cars seem to know what you want from them. The Alfa Romeos take more time and attention, while the Maseratis emphasize the touring part of “sport touring.” They had instant acceleration, though I was able to get faster times in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

Though the Maseratis have forced-induction V6 engines (with an available V8 on the Quattroporte and Levante), they felt smooth and clean, more like a straight-eight than a turbo-V.  Power came quickly and easily from the twin turbos, without turbo lag or sudden changes. Driving them at low speed through the city streets, they were easily controllable; on the track, they shot forward without fuss. It seems that all the new Maseratis are turbocharged, and we can see why.

In the past, some cars performed well on dry roads or tracks, but a little rain would hobble them. The Maseratis we tested performed well on both wet and dry ground, a hypothesis we were able to test through the empirical method (which is to say, it rained. Quite a lot. Repeatedly.) Fortunately, the tires remained grippy.

Overall, Maserati and Ferrari have done an amazing job with these cars and engines, making them well-balanced and easy to handle. These are practical vehicles, despite over-the-top performance figures which come from weight reduction as well as raw horsepower. The Levante Trofeo, for example, has an optional 590 horsepower V8 which has just 3.8 liters of displacement, aided by twin turbochargers; still, what’s 590 horsepower in this age of Hellcat engines?

So why get the Maserati Levante instead of a Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which reportedly gets from 0-60 in under 3 seconds? Partly because the Maserati is very well balanced, providing better cornering than the Jeep (the 50/50 weight ratio helps); it’s more comfortable; and, let’s be serious for a moment, it’s a Maserati. Oh, and if you were wondering about the song, it goes 181, but not 185. You’ll need a sedan for the higher speed.

Another advantage of the Maseratis over their American cousins is their fine tuning. For example, the Maseratis have many more transmission shifting programs, and they seem to be better tested and tuned; it’s one of the things you’re paying for. The powertrain seems to be devoid of the occasional bumps or surprises that Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep owners get used to (or don’t notice).

If you ever wanted a Chrysler 300C that was faster yet gentler, more comfortable, more likely to earn you some respect around town, and provided far better handling, the Maserati sedans are definitely worth a look, if you can lay down the extra cash. They look like a bargain next to Mercedes and BMW cars, and carry out the promise of luxury brands since the 1930s — effortless driving with bountiful power, low noise, and the ability to take just about any turn at any speed you can handle.

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