Time is nearly up for Maserati’s Ferrari-supplied twin-turbocharged V8, but it’s going out with a bang. At this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, Maserati will unveil the Ghibli 334 Ultima, an all-out eight-cylinder sedan that promises serious speed. It’s actually in the name, as 334 signifies top speed measured in kilometers per hour (207.5 mph). That’s just good enough to make the Ghibli 334 Ultima the fastest new combustion-powered sedan on sale, at least until Bentley builds a Flying Spur Supersports or something of that sort. However, in the words of Lil Durk, “This ain’t what you want.”
A Maserati shouldn’t be a car you buy for any rational reasons. It shouldn’t be cerebral, instead tapping into your id to work under your skin and win you over. If you placed every luxury sedan maker with one of the seven deadly sins, Maserati would invariably end up shackled to lust. However, to find a truly lustful Maserati sedan, we have to go back a few years.
Before Maserati received engine blocks made in Kokomo, Ind., there was only one four-door Maserati: The Quattroporte. While that name sounds about as sexy as new lingerie, it’s a literal Italian translation for ‘four-door.’ Everybody and their grandmother knows this by now, but it’s something to think about for a minute. [Editor’s Note: Remind me to have a talk with Thomas about the use of the words “lingerie” and “grandmother” in consecutive sentences. – JT]
Unless you buy into the machine-fed writhing of marketing-speak, every car model name comes behind an article, usually ‘the.’ That makes the Quattroporte the four-door, as in the superlative be-all and end-all of sedans. Bold strategy, but the first Quattroporte lived up to its name. In 1963, no sedan was this fast, and this gorgeous, and this well-appointed all at the same time. It could stretch it legs to 143 mph thanks to a quad-cam all-aluminum 4.1-liter V8, which meant that the entire family could keep up with E-Types and 250 Lussos in one of these bewitching Italian sedans. Wild.
Fast forward to 2003 and after a disappointing previous generation, the Quattroporte was set for a rebirth. Maserati was now owned by Ferrari and was pulling out all the stops. After rebooting its coupe with V8 power, a more thorough transformation was planned for the family car of the lineup. At the Frankfurt Motor Show that September, the fifth-generation Quattroporte burst onto the scene with a Ferrari-derived engine, an interior that smelled like the inside of a Birkin, beautiful styling by Ken Okuyama at Pininfarina, and the scourge of the early aughts — a six-speed single-clutch automated manual gearbox called DuoSelect.
While capable of lightning-fast shifts when you’re really hustling, the trademark of any automated manual gearbox is a herky-jerky simulation of riding along with someone who just learned the basics of driving a manual car last night whilst under the influence of 12 Coors Lights. Needless to say, early adopters were subject to rolling misery until the clutch went out, at which point owners were presented with repair bills large enough to make them consider a cheaper thrill, like cocaine or lighting hundred dollar bills on fire. The original Quattroporte V was brilliant in the corners, endowed with a soundtrack to die for, and completely undrivable in everyday traffic. Then in January of 2007, Maserati fixed everything by dropping in a conventional ZF 6HP automatic.
Cutting-edge tech at the time, the ZF 6HP was a transmission whereas the wretched DuoSelect abomination was a rear-mounted transaxle. If you know even the slightest thing about automotive packaging, you’ll recognize the scale of the task at hand. I’m talking about a new driveshaft, new transmission management, a new differential, a new subframe, a new crossmember, a new center console, a new shifter, and that’s only the minimum necessary stuff. In the process, Maserati switched to a wet sump oiling system, and changed a full 4,800 of the 16,500 total parts in the Quattroporte. That’s 29 percent of the entire car.
The crazy part? It worked. In one fell swoop, Maserati managed to massively improve drivability, massively improve reliability, and still manage to keep a majority of the car’s weight over the rear wheels for a 49:51 front-to-rear weight balance. Oh, and let’s not forget the sound this V8 makes. It’s a cross-plane version of Ferrari’s F136 V8 that sounded even better than the wail of the F430’s flat-plane motor. It emits a vibrato growl-to-howl as you rip towards redline, reveling in the sublime steering and unreal agility for something so large. Indeed, Car And Driver sung high praise of the automatic Quattroporte, writing that:
The car still steers, stops, and goes more like a four-door Ferrari than any of its competitors, but the automatic gives it a far more refined highway demeanor. It also gives away little in spirited driving, because the adaptive six-speed downshifts early and holds onto a gear until redline in sport mode, which also firms up the electronically adaptive shocks of the Skyhook system and sharpens the throttle response.
Talk about having your cake and eating it too, am I right?
If you’re looking to get into one of these large, fast, luxurious sedans, you’d probably want to know the pitfalls before signing on the dotted line for a fifth-generation Quattroporte with the ZF gearbox. Failure points? Why yes, you’ll find a few in any aging Italian car. Let’s start with the biggie: Rattly camshaft variators, as reported by Evo Magazine and many owners. The updated parts aren’t hugely expensive at around $530 each, but the job still leaves a huge labor bill. Figure in the neighborhood of $7,000 to $8,000 at a reputable independent shop. If you’re looking to pick up a Quattroporte, make sure this key job has been done.
Otherwise, you’re largely looking at little annoyances. The rubber-coated buttons may go sticky over time, but rubbing alcohol and a light touch makes quick work of that. Tie rod ends are absurdly expensive at nearly $200 each, and the adaptive skyhook dampers are S-Class air strut money, but these are fairly solid cars with general running costs on the affordable end of the ultra-fast luxobarge scale.
So, what we have here is the best-driving, best-looking, best-sounding full-size luxury sedan in the history of the world. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems a whole lot more important than mere top speed. If you really want to celebrate V8 Maserati history, don’t spend six figures on something with switchgear from a Dodge Dart — spend less than $30,000 on a fifth-generation Quattroporte with the ZF six-speed automatic gearbox instead. Your accountant and heirs will be at your throat, but I promise you this: It’s worth it.
(Photo credits: Maserati)
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.