Yes, you can get pulled over by police for speeding in Italy in a bright red Maserati. But if you're driving the Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S you can outrun them.
Full Disclosure: Maserati wanted me to drive the new Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S so badly they flew me out and put me up in a nice hotel to make sure I wrote about it. Also, they fed me pasta. But not very much of it.
"Maserati! Maserati!" There's always going to be something about a bright red Italian supercar that excites nearly everyone's internal teenager. Unfortunately today, we only seem to be exciting Italian teenagers.
Some things about Italy will never change. The maze-like medieval towns will always be unnavigable, teenagers will always love cars and something on those cars, in this case the Sat/Nav, will never work as expected. But some things will change.
Maserati's of old, including previous incarnations of the Quattroporte have, as if honoring a point of national pride, been deeply flawed vehicles. Build quality has been a bugbear ever since Citroen bought it in 1968. In my lifetime they've never driven particularly well. The fifth generation of the Quattroporte addressed the former, but always delivered a confused mix of performance and luxury. Neither big enough to make a reasonable case against a far cheaper S-Class or 7-series, nor fast enough to compete with still cheaper cars like the XJR, S8 or S63 AMG. The Sport GT S changes that.
These improvements don't necessarily change the opinions of the residents of the towns on the route chosen by Maserati or their local law enforcement officials who, besieged by three previous waves of international journalists, are noticeably aggrieved by our presence (we hear the Chinese are mostly to blame). The most immediately obvious advantage the 2009 Maserati Quattroporte Sport GT S has over the regular S isn't the single-rate Bilstein dampers, the blacked-out grill and headlights or even the 20" wheels, but the volume of the exhaust through the new dual-oval exits. In Sport mode this is a seriously loud car, belying the luxury of its Alcantara-clad interior and the class of its updated exterior. If the color red could be embodied by a sound, this would be it. Angry looks match the angry noise.
That sound isn't the only reason I'm in Sport mode - pushing the button opens two valves in the exhaust, essentially creating straight through pipes - it also delivers improved throttle response, much quicker shifts from the auto box, increased propensity for kick down, rev-matched downshifts and permanent control of the gear position through the bigger wheel-mounted paddles. The Quattroporte drives and sounds so good in Sport that it's nearly unconscionable to try it otherwise.
Driving again and again through the narrow alleys and back streets of Ravenna, the bright red Maserati and I are starting to draw the wrong sort of attention. The unmuted growl of the 4.7-liter Ferrari-sourced V8 reverberates off the ancient walls. Children are grabbed by stern-faced mothers blocks away as I accelerate harder and harder. Cyclists pull over and dismount at the sound of my approach. Traffic stops. Everyone's pissed off, including me. The reason I'm driving like a dick is because the SatNav system is completely and hopelessly lost, unable to find a restaurant just 80 miles from the place where it was installed. That and I really have to pee. The only people that appear to benefit from all this are the gathering crowds of pubescent males, as indicated by their excited repetition of the brand in question and the puzzled looks on their faces as they realize the unholy racket is coming from a four-door luxury car.
The first thing you have to do with this Maserati is throw away any number comparisons. With 433 HP, 391 lb-ft, a 0-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds and a 178 MPH top speed, the $133,700 Sport GT S isn't notable next to the $126,000 S63 AMG's 518 HP, 465 lb-ft and 4.5 seconds. Nor is it much next to the regular $125,750 Quattroporte S, it only makes about 8 HP more at the very top of the 7,500 RPM rev range.
But this Maserati isn't about numbers, it's about experience. Look at the dyno chart below. It's peaky in ways that don't look promising on a 4,387 lb car purporting to offer luxury accommodation for five. But, equipped with the new faster throttle response, louder exhaust and improved gearbox you end up reveling in each one of those revs, not wanting for low-end torque or more power, but more road on which to use what's available.
Also changed is the suspension. Gone is Maserati's flawed Skyhook adaptive suspension- which never really handled nor rode well - replaced instead with stiffer, single-rate dampers and lowered ride height. It doesn't sound like much and you might think the ride would be even worse, but that's not borne out on the road.
With my right foot buried in the carpet at over 160 MPH over some of rural Italy's roughest, most uneven roads the Sport GT S is utterly composed, delivering Porsche-like confidence and Ferrari-like sound. Braking hard into the 90 degree left at the end of the straight, the newly feel-full steering tells me exactly how fast I can push the front through the corner, the rear snapping wide as soon as I get back on the power.
As you're probably guessing, it was driving like this that drew the attention of the Carabinieri. Well, not specifically my driving, but the cumulative misbehavior of several nation's car journalists combined with the particularly disrespectful brand of hoonage demonstrated by American hacks abroad. Exiting a 50 Km/h limit just outside a small village, I tear past a blue and white Alfa and its comically dressed counterparts. Luckily they're outside the car drinking a coffee from a roadside stand. Staying on the power over a hill and round a corner, I don't see them again. The next journalist along, a dapper Peruvian gentleman, wasn't so lucky.
Initially threatened with jail time, the overweight female officer soon softened on him. Why? He flirted with her shamelessly.
Italy's not the same as it used to be. The cops'll pull you over while driving a fast Italian car. But, if it's the Quattroporte Sport GT S, that car will be a lot better than cars from that country used to be. Gone is the grand illusion and poor reality of past vehicles, present is a reality that although high-priced, at least finally lives up to the promise of glamorous looks, a storied history and an exotic name.