Test Drive: Romancing a Maser in Modena

Jul 26, 2015, 08:20 IST | Amit Chhangani

As Maserati returns to India, we recollect our beautiful encounter with the Quattroporte in its hometown

I’ve got a surprise for you,” said Akis in his congenial tone and enamouring Greeko-Italian accent. He had a mischievous grin across his face as he uttered those words. Akis, by the way, is one of the nicest people I’ve met. And I say this after having travelled the world and seen mortals of all shapes, sizes, colour and intent. He’s a man who has traversed the globe in his Land Rover Discovery over three years, with little money and a mountain of will. Very few would have seen the world as closely as he has, and even fewer would manage to remain as grounded as him.

Price: R2.2 crore                               (ex-showroom)
Price: Rs 2.2 crore (ex-showroom)

He wants me to meet Franco, the man at the Maserati factory inviting us to see exponents of unadulterated Italian excellence in design and engineering such as the Maserati GranTurismo and GranCabrio. Even the laser sharp Alfa 4C is made at the same facility.

As we enter the hallowed gates of Maserati factory at Viale Ciro Menotti in Modena, I see a Quattroporte parked in the open area — resplendent in blue and adding marvellously to the façade of the factory’s immaculate exterior.

The building that houses the Maserati headquarters and manufacturing facility in Modena
The building that houses the Maserati headquarters and manufacturing facility in Modena

Inside, we are greeted by Franco — a tall, well-built, middle-aged and knowledgeable man who’s waiting to take on all sorts of questions about cars — Masers or otherwise. Articulate, with profound knowledge about the art of automotive design and engineering, he comes across as a deeply professional man. One wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who has worked alongside the likes of Giorgetto Giugiaro.

Franco, the knowledgeable, eloquent man at Maserati, facilitated the drive
Franco, the knowledgeable, eloquent man at Maserati, facilitated the drive

He presents a paper to sign. I wonder what indemnity I need to provide for taking a tour of a car factory. As I read the contents of the high-quality paper, I realise it’s essentially a license to drive a V8 powered, 530bhp Maserati Quattroporte in Italy for as long as I intend to. The car is filled up, cleaned, scrutinised and ready to roar on the streets of Modena and beyond.

I look at Akis, who’s trying to keep a straight face. But I can clearly see the puckish sparkle in those eyes. He smiles as I am handed the key to the super saloon by Franco, and I pinch myself. I carry a stupid look on my face for those few moments. Only yesterday, he took me out for a tour of Maranello, showing me around the Ferrari factory, arranging a ride in the Ferrari F458 Italia, taking my family to the delightful town of Emilia-Romagna, and now, arranging a Rs 2.2 crore car to be driven on the sanctified streets of Modena.

The 3.8 litre bi-turbo V8 packs in a solid punch, and sounds the part when revved hard
The 3.8 litre bi-turbo V8 packs in a solid punch, and sounds the part when revved hard

Now, make no mistake, even with all those flouncing Italian Stallions underneath, and boasting credentials for being the most desirable super saloon on the planet, the Quattroporte is a proper luxury limo. Once behind the steering wheel, the bonnet seems to end at the horizon, the width of the car is enough to deter you from taking to narrow lanes and the less you talk about its girth behind your back, the better. And yet, it takes just a few revolutions of the wheel before the exquisitely crafted limousine, which intimidated you from the outside, tightly wraps you in its loving arms. There is an uncanny feel to the steering wheel; it’s perfectly weighted and the communication through the leather wraps onto my palms is intriguing to say the least.

You can choose from manual, ICE (Increased Control and Efficiency) and sport modes. Then, there is the unique Skyhook adaptive damping system, which stiffens up affairs at the mere press of the button, readying this near 2.0 ton saloon for some hardcore action. For the next part of our entire journey, I’ll have the manual mode chosen (of course the Quattroporte features shifter pedals behind the steering wheel) and Skyhook damping system stiffened up.

The Quattroporte is available in two guises — the one we’re driving is the wilder, crazier, bloodier version with a 3.8 litre bi-turbo V8 engine, top speed is rated at 307 km/h. 0-100 comes in a little over 4 seconds and double ton shows up in about 12 seconds. What numbers for a big four-door saloon.

Drive the car gently in ICE mode, and you’ll barely hear the engine humming and pulling the heavy machine with disdainful effortlessness. For someone who doesn’t know cars, the Quattroporte can easily be driven by a chauffeur and in the backseat, the unfortunate fellow wouldn’t ever know about the savage beasts chuckling underneath and hauling it in a hushed manner. Put the right foot down, though, and the ferocious instincts of the V8 beast, having drawn its character from a certain prancing horse living nearby come to the fore. Anything above 3,000 revs results in a brutish snarl, which reaches its yowling, intimidating crescendo accompanied by plentiful crackles all the way up to 8,000 revs. The way the engine reacts to every dab of the throttle is menacingly feral to say the least.

In conjunction, the engine and the exhaust make the enthusiast in you listen to the aural orgasm build up over and over again. It’s what Bob Dylan was to Steve Jobs, it’s what Pink Floyd is to the potheads, it’s Kishore Kumar’s soulful voice for all us Indian dads, it’s Survivor yelling ‘Eye of the Tiger’ — it’s what makes the blood in a motor enthusiast’s veins rush twice as fast. It’s a drug for inducing adrenaline discharge, a climactic sensation through the ears, a loud war cry. You need to drive this beauty on the streets of Modena through the tidy rolling hills covered in vines of fine Lambrusco grape to know the intensity of the subject. It’s the coming together of a wet childhood dream in an all-encompassing, overwhelming, mind numbing manner. It’s nirvana.

Through the pristine Italian countryside, draped in sprawling greens and peppered by exponents of medieval architecture we drive over one of the SuperStradas (second fastest Italian highways after the heavily tolled AutoStrada) to the charming town of Castelvetro di Modena.

Riding up and rolling down the gentle hills, offering mild curves all through the way, I surrender to the elegantly veneered, yet compelling allure of the Quattroporte. All along, I witness gestures of respect from the local residents — a Fiat Panda flashes its headlamps, a cyclist waves his hand, the odd pedestrian winks — driving this car in this region, or anywhere else in the world, represents that you are a man of taste and class, in addition to being filthy rich.

As we drive along, I experience firsthand what makes this piece of Italian art and machinery so unique. Sure, the interior isn’t the most tech-laden, but when you hold that steering wheel, and turn it around a bend, it talks its heart out to you. Goad it with your right foot, and it will take you to the moon and bring you back only when you lift off, through a path full of pops and crackles, which appears no less magical than a fairyland of castles and sparkles. A car is not about the plastics and digital screens inside the cabin, it’s about the metal under the hood — and this Maserati, while being driven through the numinous countryside of Italy brings the point home in the most emphatic manner possible.

Castelvetro Di Modena is an achingly beautiful little castle town with a small but stupefying neighbourhood built in medieval style. Driving through it, we emerge into an open area with a chessboard painted on the floor in black and white. A fine-looking old clock-tower stands proud on one end of the square, with the ledge of the castle on the other. The setting overlooks the hills, offering a breathtaking view of Lambrusco vineyards scantly dotted by buildings proudly representing Italian heritage.

The Maser is parked in the middle of the area, in all its dazzling blue glory — as though signifying the divine marriage of tradition and technology that the Italians have so flawlessly realised. I soak in the view, I let my senses experience the unusually pleasant weather for this time of the year and I take a moment to let this dreamlike reality sink in. How am I ever going to pay you back, Akis, I wonder.

Technical specs Maserati Quattroporte GTS
Displacement: 3799 cc V8
Fuel Type: Petrol
Max Power: 530 bhp @ 6500 RPM
Max Torque: 710 Nm @ 2250 RPM
Alternate Fuel: Not Applicable
Transmission: 8 gears Automatic
Drivetrain: RWD

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