Thursday, October 18, 2012

A taste of luxury and seduction

The intense aroma of new Poltrona Frau Leather and Alcantara is intoxicating, the exterior curves seductive and the smooth finish cool and slick.  The physical response sets the heart a quicker pace, the vision a little sharper, the nose far more sensitive, the hands a subtle shake and the knees a little weak.  Such experience comes close in comparison to arriving upon a much anticipated intimate red carpet date with my wife being dressed to the nines in silk and bathed in sultry eau de fragrance.
This experience I had with a brand that I have long lusted after, Maserati.  I had theintense pleasure to test ride BOTH a Quattroporte GTS and a Granturismo S.
I only got the chance to try them out in normal driving conditions as pushing the limits of cars like these in the city and residential neighborhoods is impossible nor intelligent and not as easy to do as it is on a bike.  But to be honest, pushing the performance limits is not how I drive, so not trying that out does not matter as much ….more on that later.
 Performance wise, these are not the fastest cars in this class, or even in comparison to less costly cars in similar body class and definitely not the fastest of vehicles I have driven.   But drop a gear or two and if you are not ready, wither one will kick you so hard back into the headrest that you will be surprised that you did not end up in the back seat.  You hit the brakes hard (especially with the ceramic ones that were on the GranTurismo S) and you are glad you follow the law and common sense to wear a seatbelt as your teeth would end up imbedded into the steering wheel.  Romp on it through any turn and you kick out the back end in a sideways drift, but saved by the science behind traction control that lets you slip about 7 degrees.  Now like I said before, I did not get to do too much “performance” based driving, but there is no doubt that they both will out handle the capabilities of even the slightly more experienced drivers ability.  Of what I was able to do, and how I am most likely to drive, I was fully satisfied with a childish grin each time I decided to “play” a little.
The Maserati Quattroporte GTS is the sport version of the Quattroporte.  This is a gentleman’s car with the “Sport”  aspect of it making it better suited to the younger gentleman (or the older one being younger at heart).  It is classy, looks sharp, sounds smart and just standing there says “I get business done.”  This is next closest thing anyone could get to owning a limo with a personal driver of the likes of Michael Schumacher.

 With the GTS, there are a few styling aspects of the vehicle that give a more “sport appearance”, most of which is on the inside.  As to the mechanics, the GTS comes standard with fixed rate Bielstein suspension instead of the electronically adjustable Sky Hook system that is standard on the other models (Sky hook is optional on the GTS).  The ride is firm, but not jarring.  Going over 50, the road feels like a subtle buzz.  In town, you feel the road more and on the very bumpy roads of downtown Seattle, even going over a few close to lethal pot holes, it felt hard but not harsh- in other words, you definitely felt it, but it won’t send you to the chiropractor afterwards for the tweaked neck followed by the dentist to replace the fillings you swallowed.  This is NOT a Lexus or a Mercedes where the drive is plush like your couch on steroids, but it is not an uncomfortable ride.  You could very easily ride this car all day in small towns, on highways and in the city and not wince every time you go over a bump.  As mentioned before, the Sky Hook suspension is an option on this car.  Although I did not try Sky Hook on this car, the dealer said that there are 2 modes of suspension settings- normal and sport.  In either mode, the system will automatically adjust the setting while you drive depending on the selected mode and how you are currently driving.  In normal mode, is will be softer than the fixed rate springs, and in sport, it will actually be a little stiffer than the fixed rate springs.
 The engine of the GTS is smooth and shift transitions either in automatic or manual modes are crisp and not jerky.  Using the paddle shifters was a lot of fun and became very natural to use the longer I drove it.  Using manual mode with upshifts, things are just as smooth as the auto mode, but depending on if you are on the gas or not, downshifting could be smooth or a little jerky.  In sport mode it will wind out the engine more between shifts in automatic and also opens up exhaust baffles letting the beast of the engine breath and growl to its fullest capacity. 

Speaking of “modes”.   Normal is the default setting.  Selecting “Sport” with the fixed rate springs only effects the car when the transmission shifts (in auto at higher RPMs) and opens up the “DB killer” baffles in the exhaust.  Cars with the Sky Hook suspension, will also adjust the spring rate to be stiffer in sport mode.  As to the exhaust baffles, in normal mode it does not kill the sound of the car, it just “softens it” and from the street it is audible but comforting, inside the car you can just barely hear it.  In sport mode, the engine sounds angry, mean and just plain awesome and is very noticeable inside the car, but tremendously more so outside the car.  In sport mode, you downshift hard or hit the gas as a stop light, unsuspecting mothers will jump, little children will cry and most every guy will look like he was just blown a kiss from Eva Longoria.
 Besides the incredible styling, the sound of the Maserati 4.7 V8 is what I love best about these cars - not even a Ferrari (which the engine is taken from) sounds the same.  In manual shifting mode and doing down shifts, it electronically (as there is no clutch pedal) gives it a little gas just before the shift that makes it bark and howl in such a kick ass way.  Letting off the gas you hear the engine gurgle and growl.  The “Mode” selections in both the Quattroporte and the GranTurismo have the same functionality and capability.

 Visual fit and finish of any Maserati is fabulous.  In my opinion, they have the highest quality of finish and styling that I have had the chance to see.  The interior of the Quattroporte is roomy for 5 people, but fit 4 best as the rear seat has a bit of a hump in the middle that no one would really want to be in for an extended period of time.  The front seats are wide and bolstered jsut enough to feel snug but not cramped.  The pedals are very close to each other, are on the same level and wide, which is nice for heel and toe driving, but will require the driver to get used to as most vehicles there is a definite placement difference of where each pedal is.  When I first got in the seat, I did accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake, but being the first time, I was extremely cautious and did not have any incidents taking place.  After 20 minutes of driving I no longer had to think about it.  The pedals that were on the Quattroporte that I drove were the “Aluminum Sport pedals” which are on option and the driver may choose to get either the optional MC line pedals or the standard pedals as they are narrower and I think actually look a little nicer for this class of car.
 The exterior of any Quattroporte just exudes style.  While is does look more of a luxury sedan, it retains some sportiness compared to other sedans in its class.  The GTS has some slight exterior differences that also bring out a sportier look than the other versions of the Quattroporte.  The only thing that does lack some of the great style of the Quattroporte is its backend.  It does look nice so it does not detract from the looks of the car, but in my opinion, I would like it to appear sportier on the backend as much as it does on the front, but in no way a deal breaker.

The trunk volume of the car is not that bad, especially for a centrally mounted engine and driveline.  Although it is nowhere in comparison in volume to a Mercedes E or S class, it is large enough that it could hold about 4 carryon bags snugly, or as I tested it, a double stroller and a small picnic cooler.
 Bottom line on the Quattroporte GTS is that it has all the class, style and sound of a luxury sport sedan that outshines (in my opinion) any other sedan out there, in ANY class.  Although not as “comfy” as other sedans, it is still comfortable for all day and with the Sky Hook option, could take the cake as a complete package of comfort, performance and style.  Due to limited trunk space and stiffer suspension, this would not be the “take the whole family on a day hike via gravel roads to the mountains”, but satisfies the functionality as an everyday driver or multiday road trip and family car.

 Now the GranTurismo S - this car to me is the epitome of appeal, class and sass.  The best way to describe this in human terms-
This is the curvy Italian supermodel that catches everyone’s eye as she goes about town.  She is always holding onto your arm out in public showing the world that you are hers (not the other way around).  She has a great personality, until she gets pissed off (but never at you).  She has great curves front to rear, but not too much.  Her skin and body is toned and unflawed.  She has defined lips, but not pouty.  She has high cheekbones and smiling eyes that have a hint of mischievousness.   Under the covers with her (i.e. behind the wheel), she holds you close and will love you slow and intensely, or can take you on the wild ride ever at the push of a button (literally!).

 So that would sum it up for me…but away from the harlequin romance and onto more practical reality.
 The engine, drivetrain and exhaust on this car are the same as what is in the Quattroporte GTS and so the outside audio is the same in either standard or sport.  Fit and finish cosmetically are on the same high level.  

The biggest difference is the appearance and ride.  Compared to the Quattroporte in dimensions it is not as long, slightly wider and sits lower. 
Suspension on the car I drove had the Sky Hook system (the fixed rate springs are an option).  Due to the lower and wider stance plus larger, lower profile tires, it did run a little stiffer, but like the Quattroporte, it is not jarring, even on bad potholed roads.  Driving over the stutter bumps along the highway was more noticeable too due to lower profile tires.   There is a noticeable difference when going from normal to sport modes when it comes to suspension settings.  I would leave the car in normal mode for every day driving but in sport mode, although stiffer it is still not jarring when going around town.  The only bad thing is that if you want the “Sport sound”, you have to be in sport mode.  You cannot get the sport sound in normal mode (except at engine start until it warms up, which is nice for showing off in the parking lot a bit).  This is the same for both the Quattroporte and the GranTurismo.

You do hear more road and engine noise as to reduce weight, they use less insulation and single layer windows versus dual layer laminated on the Quattroporte.  This extra noise did not distract though from being able to hold a conversation at normal voice levels and in comparison to standard more affordable cars, was on par or better based on interior noise levels.  Remember, this car is designed more for performance and style than comfort albeit it does very well in the comfort area.
Speaking of comfort (not taking suspension into consideration); it is on par with the Quattroporte, although the back seat does have less leg room.  BUT, it is a true and functional 4 seater as you can fit 4, 6 foot adults in there and you do not have to cut the back seat riders legs off at the knees like you would with other coupes with “back seats”.  You can actually fit 5, but like the Quattroporte, the center back seat area is a bit of a hump, which is due in part to the centrally mounted drive line.

 The trunk space on this car is not as good as the Quattroporte.  You can still fit the stroller, but not the cooler with it, or forget the stroller and the small cooler fits fine.  It will fit 2 carryon bags easily with room still available for a couple coats, a handbag and some small shopping bags, perfect for a weekend getaway with that special someone.
 Now with this car being a coupe, you do loose the practicality of a 4 door and to get into the back seat, you need to move the front seats forward which take place electronically and are a little slow.  For consideration (not actually tested but I just know) an impatient overzealous 4 year old would in most cases not wait for the seat to move forward so I can see him quite easily climbing across the front seat and pass through over the center console area with dirty shoes, or squeezing between the seat and B pillar with hands and feet in contact with everything in his path. 

So let’s say I can only choose 1…Quattroporte GTS or GranTurismo S…  I hate this question.  In one aspect I would really want both.  The Quattroporte for when I need to haul the family around, and the GranTurismo for solo driving or on date nights with my wife.
Maybe I should leave the family driving to my wife’s  vehicle and mine as a backup for family, but be primarily for solo driving, the occasional kids drop off and pickup  and special occasions (with and without kids)…therefore choosing the GranTurismo.

So why the confusion, the concern, the need to try them all out? Well, let’s learn a little more about Aaron.
Maybe what matters to me is not what it used to be, and maybe just having had one too many opportunities, it has taken the allure out of what the everyday person longs for.  Being behind the wheel of the car for me is a different fulfilled desire, for either being in the car or seeing and hearing the car from the outside.   This may be that when it comes to performance cars and that I will almost never be able to utilize the car to its complete capability (especially during a test ride) which then makes it “just a car”. 

 From the inside, it is like driving any nice car (even ones at the fraction of the cost).  Yes there is a bit of a thrill when you stomp on the gas and it throws you back, or gun it turning onto a highway on ramp that gives the backend a little shimmy or hearing the growl and wail of the engine from a idle to full RPM or the engine braking noise when downshifting; but that does not happen every time you are out driving (nor would be smart with LE around too many corners).
 Now I do not get the gawking (from guys and girls alike) in the Volvo, on the BMW or even the Ducati as I did driving the Maserati’s (especially the GranTurismo).  Not sure if I really like that.  When showing off a bit, yes I don’t mind the attention, but all the time when just driving around?  Sometimes I don’t want to get noticed, I just want to drive it. 

I just want to get out and go.  I don’t need to be satisfied just by power and performance - I need to be satisfied by the overall experience of being on the road.
I love to drive for the sheer pleasure of driving. Every time I drive (in a car or on a bike); I strive to enjoy the whole as an experience.  This experience does not mean applying full automotive engineering magic and mayhem every second while behind the wheel or in the saddle.  It comes to the whole package.

 I guess I am seeking the ultimate driving machine…. for me. 
 I desire a vehicle that every time I head to the garage or wherever it is parked, it makes me smile -  like seeing a best friend or loved one who I look forward to seeing. 

 I desire that when I am driving it, I want to feel like the car has physically consumed me into being a part of its very construction or that I was physically built into it. 
 I desire that as I drive on the road, there is a line of uninterruptable communication between me and the vehicle; that I feel stable and in control at all times.  To feel what is on the road is fine, but to be physically affected by the road, due to how the vehicle rides on the road is not.

 I have yet to find this vehicle.  I have come close I think and maybe need more time with some of the rides I have been in/on.