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Modena dips a toe into AMG territory with a V8-engined performance limousine

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Maserati has been guilty of mixed messaging lately about the kind of car maker it wants to be.

With the memory of the Ferrari Enzo-based Maserati MC12 hypercar still fresh in our minds at the end of the noughties, it elected to spread its wings as a luxury brand. Once a kind of sharp-suited Italian answer to the BMW M5, the Quattroporte became an Mercedes-Benz S-Class-fighting limousine. The Maserati Ghibli, which many will remember as a 1990s coupé (possibly even as a stylish 1960s GT), became a mid- sized executive saloon with all of the mechanical necessities to take on Mercedes, BMW and Audi – and one of them was quite an ordinary diesel engine. And then there was the firm’s debutant SUV, of course: the Maserati Levante.

Maserati was a really appealing brand to me a couple of decades ago. Now it seems hardly intended for European tastes at all. Here’s hoping the MC20 can change that

The cars were part of a bold plan to transform Maserati’s global business; and although it has subsequently fallen some way short of its volume ambitions, it has certainly given the firm a more noticeable presence in our daily motoring lives than it has had before. But they were all more conventional, mid-market luxury models than the marque has tended to offer over the decades; cars with lots of leather and chrome and other luxury flavourings, but fewer technical points of differentiation about which to get excited.

But now, having done so little for years to build the sporting reputation of its brand, Maserati is evidently looking to restore some really interested drivers to its customer base. The Maserati MC20 supercar, which is due to arrive in the UK later this year, should certainly do that, but so might the subject of this week’s road test.

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The Maserati Quattroporte Trofeo is one of two 200mph high-performance saloons that Maserati has recently launched to sit alongside its similarly positioned Levante Trofeo SUV. It has a Ferrari-derived V8; but how much more lasting dynamic appeal than any other modern Maserati besides, you may wonder. Stand by to find out.

The Quattroporte line-up at a glance

The Quattroporte has a slightly narrower showroom range than the smaller Ghibli or the Levante SUV because Maserati doesn’t offer it with its new four-cylinder petrol hybrid powertrain.

The entry-level GT version is powered by a lighter-pressure- turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 and the mid-range Modena derivative uses the same engine tuned to 424bhp. Neither offers the option of four driven wheels, manoeuvrability-boosting four-wheel steering, height-adjustable air suspension or any of the other technical features now typical of the limousine class.



2 Maserati Quattroporte trofeo 2021 RT hero side

Maserati claims to have become one of the pioneers of the performance saloon market when it dropped a V8 into the very first Quattroporte 4200 in 1963.

Now, having refined and redeveloped the 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 of the 2014 Maserati Quattroporte GTS and then put it to work in the Maserati Levante Trofeo of 2019, it has endowed this new range-topping Quattroporte with that same engine, which makes up to 572bhp of peak power and 538lb ft of torque between 2250rpm and 5250rpm.

Red-edged wing vents are among few distinguishing styling features on the Trofeo’s exterior. They’re colourful – but don’t really advertise the car’s 572bhp V8 quite as boldly as they might

The Trofeo’s engine uses a Ferrari F154 cylinder block; but its crossplane crankshaft, special camshafts and high-tumble cylinder heads, wet sump lubrication system and parallel twin-scroll turbocharged, twin-intercooled induction system are all of Maserati’s own design. If the foundations of a great super-saloon are laid on a great performance engine, it certainly sounds like a promising start.

Where next, though? The Quattroporte Trofeo doesn’t look like the typical steroidal, bespoilered, fast four-door, and that might be because Maserati considered it vital that the car should blend visual aggression with elegance as only a sophisticated Italian option could. Judging by the reactions of our test jury, though, the firm might have played it too safe. The Trofeo rejects typical super-saloon styling addenda, such as bootlid spoilers and bonnet louvres, and its lack of a truly sporting stance (despite the fitment of 21in forged alloy wheels as standard) made one tester remark that he might have mistaken the car for a mid-range model.

The Trofeo uses the same mixed-metal chassis as the standard Quattroporte and the same front- mounted ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. It gets enlarged iron brake discs and calipers, stiffened coil springs and reprogrammed Skyhook adaptive dampers (whose management software is informed by a greater range of data inputs than most adaptive damping systems). Specially developed Pirelli P Zero tyres also feature, as does a new Corsa drive mode, which recalibrates the engine, transmission, steering and stability control for optimal high-performance driving.

The Quattroporte Trofeo does not have the ability to manage and manipulate its mass, cornering posture or inertia via four-wheel steering, active air suspension or active anti-roll bar system – any of the systems, in other words, that are used by rival car brands to make big, heavy, long-wheelbase luxury cars feel smaller and nimbler.

Instead of the stability and assurance of four-wheel drive, it counters with the ‘purity’ of rear-wheel drive.


14 Maserati Quattroporte trofeo 2021 RT cabin

Whether you’re seated in the front or back, this is a car in which almost anyone could stretch out in plenty of comfort. Taller adults won’t find rear head room that abundant, but in that respect the car isn’t unlike so many Mercedes-Benz S-Class-sized limousines. The boot is huge and, unlike in some full-sized luxury options, there are split folding seatbacks that, even though they don’t fold totally flat, permit you to carry longer loads.

However, when you sweep in behind the steering wheel, the wave of stylish material splendour you’ve been anticipating from this car never really hits home. The interior feels lavish and rich in some ways. Its leathers are smooth and soft and widely used, while the decorative lacquered carbonfibre trim on the fascia and transmission tunnel is quite appealing. But elsewhere, the cabin quality is conspicuously short of what you might reasonably expect of a near-£130,000 luxury car. The switches and secondary controls on the centre console and centre stack both look and feel plain and cheap, as do those on its steering wheel.

Leather and carbonfibre around the front seats may be a selling point, but the cabin’s broader standard on material quality isn’t. The driving position isn’t straight, either

Reach out a hand for the chrome air vents high on the fascia and you will find flimsy, cheap-feeling fittings. Our test car had one or two unsecured fittings in the driver’s footwell, too, and some harsh, slightly sharp-edged plastic mouldings around its seat cushions. Besides failing to look and feel quite as special as you might expect of a high-end Italian luxury car, then, the Quattroporte also had some pretty clear quality problems.

A crooked driving position was probably our test car’s biggest failing. While the transmission tunnel spreads out as it proceeds towards the front bulkhead, so the routing of the steering column also seems somewhat diverted by the mechanicals packaged ahead of it. It’s likely to be a problem specific to right-hand-drive cars, of course, the ergonomic layout of which can’t be imagined to rank too highly among Maserati’s priorities. But while our car’s pedals were offset a good 50mm further right from the centre line of the driver’s seat than they ought to have been, its steering wheel was offset by 25mm to the left. It’s rare to find ergonomic failings so clear in any new car in 2021, but to find them in one priced like the Quattroporte Trofeo is hard to overlook.

Infotainment and sat-nav

The Quattroporte, Maserati Levante and Maserati Ghibli all received an updated touchscreen infotainment system called Maserati Intelligent Assistant for the 2021 model year. It works through a 10.1in screen that has good clarity and has Android-based operating software, which is pretty usable. You can skip between menus easily using shortcuts along the base of the screen and there’s also a small rotary input device on the transmission tunnel.

It’s disappointing the system hasn’t had a right-hand-drive reskin. Driver-specific functions, such as for the heated steering wheel, are displayed in the top left corner of the display when, for right-hand-drive convenience, they should be top right.

Visually, the system isn’t as neatly integrated into the surrounding fascia as it could be, looking a little bit ‘plonked’ onto the dashboard, but it works quite well. The navigation is fairly easy to programme and the mapping crisply displayed, and audio system quality (our car had the optional Bowers & Wilkins surround audio set-up) is powerful and clear. Wireless smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android is also included.


32 Maserati Quattroporte trofeo 2021 RT engine

The twin-turbocharged V8 lying under the contoured bonnet is this car’s greatest asset. It’s the main event in its driving experience and an overwhelmingly dominant presence within its motive character, and there are several strings to its bow.

It starts in surprisingly reserved fashion, and also runs very quietly when you’re mooching about gently. The eight-speed gearbox that it drives through is occasionally guilty of clunking its way into reverse gear, and of whining and resonating just a little bit through the rearwards section of the car’s driveline under light throttle loads. In neither respect can the Quattroporte be considered one of the most refined limousines of its kind, clearly.

Be cautious with your entry speed for tighter bends, or the front axle will wash wide without a second invitation

The car offers Sport, Corsa and ICE driving modes (ICE is short for Increased Control and Efficiency, rather than being a dedicated winter mode) in addition to its default mode. Selecting Sport introduces the vocal presence you’re anticipating from the V8 engine, which is rich and deep. Corsa turns the volume up another notch, although never quite to Mercedes-AMG or Jaguar SVR levels of demonstrative noise.

The engine’s boosty, torque-swollen power delivery suits a car of the Quattroporte’s size and role well. Get deep into the throttle when locked in an intermediate gear at middling revs and the way the car surges forward in response feels rather like pouring rainwater out of an old oil drum. The acceleration builds a little slowly and softly at first, but then it takes on a momentum all of its own, ultimately adopting a really willing, elastic and unstoppable quality. This engine doesn’t have the throttle response of some modern turbos, but it’s obedient enough and likes to rev, carrying on giving very freely beyond 6000rpm.

The gearbox, by contrast, feels somewhat clunky and slow in paddle- shift mode, and quite clearly like it’s blunting the car’s performance level rather than sharpening it. That it wouldn’t hold any ratio above fifth at lowish revs and maximum load even in manual mode is why we couldn’t record a full set of in-gear acceleration numbers.

With so much mass to move, only one driven axle and a fairly ordinary set of Pirelli tyres, the car struggles to get off the line with the urgency of some contemporary super-saloons – but it doesn’t hang around once it has found grip. We performance tested it on the same day and in the same test conditions as a Lotus Exige sports car of little more than half its weight, and while the Lotus was the quicker car of the two up to 60mph and over a standing quarter mile, the Maserati was comfortably quicker to 100mph and over a standing kilometre.


33 Maserati Quattroporte trofeo 2021 RT cornering front

The Quattroporte Trofeo handles every inch like a big, heavy, luxury saloon car with lots of power, and often not as much grip and composure as it would need to fully deploy it. And it doesn’t offend particularly in doing so, because if you want to make a performance limousine, after all, first you have to make a limousine. The Maserati’s preference for ride compliance and a bit of dynamic gentility always makes it at least broadly comfortable and easy to drive.

On smooth surfaces, you can accrue and maintain high speeds easily enough, but vertical body movement builds quite voluminously when the suspension is given some medium- and long-wave inputs to deal with. While the car’s firmer damping modes stop its body from heaving as far as it might on quicker A-and B-roads, they obviously can’t adjust its spring rate or ride height; and ultimately they don’t maintain the sort of outright composure at speed that we’ve come to expect of a performance four-door.

There’s not the composure, incisiveness or agility that you’ll find in some rivals but its preference instead for greater pliancy in its ride does make it generally comfortable

During cornering, the Trofeo rolls noticeably but not alarmingly, and only in a fashion that seems well matched to the medium pacing of its steering, but it has the languid chassis response you would expect of a car with such a long wheelbase. That means it really takes its time to settle when you’re guiding it through a faster corner, and it can often feel as though you’re still turning in to that corner, and managing the front axle, long after you’ve passed the apex.

Although outright cornering balance isn’t bad, the extended time that it takes for lateral cornering loads to be passed through the chassis from the front contact patches to the rear ones makes rear-drive throttle adjustability a non-starter. That factor, plus the car’s outright size and its slightly gluey steering feel, prevents the Quattroporte from engaging like some of its rivals. It never feels particularly agile, taut or poised and, engine aside, it doesn’t seem to offer much more driver reward than any other derivative in the range.

The Quattroporte Trofeo just about tolerated fast circuit driving, sticking with a quick pace around the MIRA Dunlop circuit for five laps or so before overheating its tyres and brakes, but it wasn’t at home there and certainly didn’t reveal reserves of grip, chassis balance or driver reward that had been hitherto hidden on the road.

The car’s body control problems become more obvious at the limit.It rolls in quite pronounced fashion and pitches hard under braking. The car stays stable at least, understeer marking the margins of the chassis’ capabilities both on turn-in and mid- corner, with oversteer presenting quite suddenly under power later.

The steering yields little useful information. However, the electronic stability controls are effective and unintrusive, so the car can be perfectly benign when driven to extremes – although it’s not a rewarding exercise.

Comfort and isolation

Just as you can perceive the age of the Quattroporte (which is due to be replaced by a new-generation model next year) by looking at some of the fixtures and fittings of its interior, so can you sense it in the way that the car behaves on the road.

There’s simply less of a sense of integrity about the chassis than you will find in a big Bentley, Mercedes or BMW in 2021, which makes the ride (fine and relaxing at a gentle canter on a smooth surface, and mostly comfortable around town) become a little clumpy and tremulous over broken and gnarled asphalt, and over drain covers and cobblestones.

When you find surfaces like these on the road – and it isn’t hard to – you’ll hear the seats and other fittings resonate and reverberate slightly over sharper, complex suspension inputs. You can watch in the rearview mirror as the rear headrests gently shimmy to their own rhythm.

These things shouldn’t happen in any modern luxury car. The Quattroporte is a long car, and they’re hard to make stiff, but it feels some way short of the torsional rigidity of some of its rivals, and the way that you can hear and feel suspension impacts reverberate throughout the interior beyond its wheel arches is evidence of that.

Even if you don’t pay that much attention, you’ll be able to hear the car’s slightly noisy ride over coarse surfaces. It registered 69dbA of cabin noise at 70mph, which is a decibel more than the Alpina B3 Touring we tested last year.


1 Maserati Quattroporte trofeo 2021 RT hero front

The Quattroporte Trofeo’s £128k asking price might come as a bit of a shock, but that it’s not an exorbitant figure in relative terms.

If this car had been executed to the standards it should have, that could even be considered the going rate for a desirable, exotic, rich, rapid and dynamically enticing Italian limousine. However, the car that Maserati has presented here simply isn’t compelling enough in any of those ways to justify what’s being asked for it. For its outright performance and outright size, it comes closest; but for its flawed control layout and disappointing cabin quality, you might object to paying a third as much, frankly.

Residuals aren't pretty for any of our three luxury examples: the Alpina B7 takes two years to shed half its showroom price, while the Maserati and Audi S8 need only one

According to CAP, the car’s potential for depreciation, although significant, isn’t any more serious than that of one or two key rivals. Big, fast saloons have always been pretty poor on retained value.

For everyday fuel economy, meanwhile, our testing suggests that you might see somewhere between 22mpg and 28mpg from the car, which is no better or worse than you’d expect.


35 Maserati Quattroporte trofeo 2021 RT static

The Quattroporte Trofeo has some likeable qualities but, given its notable failings and shortcomings, it’s hard to take seriously priced next to its significantly more enticing German- and British-built rivals, and harder still to recommend.

The car has competitive outright performance and a fine engine, as well as limo-level occupant space. In all other respects, though, it is either uncompetitive with class standards or downright poor. It rides fairly comfortably but with questionable refinement; it handles with little or none of the extra agility, purpose or engagement expected of a performance derivative; and for cabin quality, on-board technology and control ergonomics, it falls way short of expectations of any luxury car with a six-figure price.

The market for full-sized luxury cars has seen something of a technological revolution over the past decade or so, and Maserati is very quickly being left behind. The next Quattroporte will need to be a much more advanced car than this one just to keep up

The Trofeo feels like a performance derivative done to deliver a short-term boost to this ageing model’s order bank, rather than as a serious attempt to relaunch the Maserati brand and aim it at buyers of Porsches, Mercedes-AMGs or Alpina BMWs. It’s only a momentary appetiser to the forthcoming MC20 in that respect, of course, but Maserati ought to do much better. Our advice would certainly be to skip to the main.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Maserati Quattroporte First drives