You know the scene in Rush where Niki Lauda unleashes his arsenal of F1 know-how on a road-going Lancia 2000 Berlina Sedan? That's sort of what it's like riding in a 2014 Maserati Quattroporte S Q4 with rally champion Alex Fiorio. We're playing pendulum through Europe's longest ice circuit in Breuil-Cervinia, Italy, totally sideways at breakneck speeds, spewing powdery snow from the rear wheels like spent jet streams. Bob Bondurant once told me that, in the deftest hands, a car could be made to do anything.
He was right.
This 4232-lb Italian luxury limousine is roughly one ton heavier than the Delta Integrale HF 4WD that Fiorio campaigned in 1987. Almost three decades after capturing the FIA's Group N Cup, it's clear he still has the same banzai, win-or-wreck mentality that made him somewhat of a cult Italian hero. Even at 48 years old, he hasn't lost his edge.
And an edge is precisely what Maserati thinks it has in the E-segment with the Ghibli—a uniquely driver-oriented sedan going toe-to-toe with the A7, the BMW 6 Series Grand Coupé, and Mercedes's CLS. The sixth-gen Quattroporte has sprouted extra inches in wheelbase and length (4.2 and 6.5, respectively) to claim its seat at the table alongside the Audi A8 Quattro, the BMW 750 xDrive, and the mighty Mercedes-Benz S-Class. This is the best-groomed of all automotive segments.
Both the mid- and full-sized 'SQ4'-badged offerings from Modena utilize the same Ferrari-designed 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, though the Quattroporte has slightly more aggressive ECU mapping, and it produces 6 additional horsepower as a result (410 hp versus 404 hp). Both cars also employ Maserati's first-ever all-wheel-drive system, which ditches the center differential for a secondary propshaft mated to the front axle and engaged by a multi-plate wet clutch. We thrashed the Ghibli S Q4 and found it a worthy dance partner; can the larger, heftier Quattroporte S Q4 exhibit the same poise on a mile-long ice track?
Alex Fiorio now sits in the passenger's seat, his trademark gap-toothed grin spread wide, plump cheeks pushing Oakley sunglasses halfway up his forehead. Sliding into the bucket next to him, the Quattroporte's cabin feels spacious and warm, though at $103,750, its minimalist design risks feel underwhelming. Still, there's something endearing about those beefy aluminum paddle shifters, the thumb-slotted sports steering wheel, and the I-Can't-Believe-It's-Not-V8 exhaust notes rumbling over crunching snow as the sedan coasts from the starting line.
Give the throttle a prod, and all two- tons of Quattroporte scamper off with a sense of purpose, tail wagging ever so slightly as the front axle grabs for traction, upshifting its conventional ZF eight-speed with DCT-like sharpness. Maserati's claimed 4.8-second 0-60 mph time seems wholly believable, even when stunted by a layer of ice and snow. Before hitting highway speeds, though, the four-door encounters its maiden bend—a hairpin left—and subsequent understeer.
"You must slow down very much into the corner. Imagine that you will almost stop. Then turn in angle, and go onto the gas fully. This is the key racing big cars with snow," Fiorio critiques.
Naturally, the guy with 236 WRC points is correct.
On ice, the Quattroporte S Q4 is a true 'slow in, fast out' rear-biased ride, aided by a confident brake pedal and a generally steady, deliberate demeanor. Trot in gingerly, find front grip to get the nose pointed through the apex, then hammer down and steer your way out. All-wheel drive and two quick-spooling turbos mean exit speeds ramp up very quickly—so quickly, in fact, that cresting a 20 percent gradient downhill ramp, the Quattroporte catches just the slightest jump.
"Woah!" Fiorio hoots from the passenger seat, perked up in his seat for first time since this drive began.
Just like that, the switch is flipped. He's into it now. Directions start coming faster and louder, accompanied by finger-pointing and wild gesticulating: "Swing wide here … wider, wider, wider! More steering angle! Now gas, gas, gas!" he shouts.
Pouring into a wide S-bend approaching the top of third gear, Fiorio's still ordering up nothing but flat-footed, rev-limiter-thumping acceleration. "Opposite steering, now gas! Gas, gas!" For Italian rally drivers, the answer is always more throttle.
More confidence, more speed. While the Quattroporte suffers the same electric-feel hydraulic steering ills of its Ghibli sibling, the larger four-door's stretched wheelbase and broader rear track allows it to carry longer, sweeping drifts while feeling supremely surefooted. You can recognize those front wheels scrambling while the tail oscillates about, yet the whole mechanism feels cohesive and fluid from behind the wheel—it's hard to believe Q4 only vectors torque fore-and-aft, not side-to-side.
VIEW THESE:Photos: 2014 Maserati Ghibli S Q4
"Ghibli for the road, Quattroporte on the snow track?"
"Yes," Fiorio nods, smiling, as the Maserati's porthole-clad fenders cross the Breuil-Cervinia Ice Proving Grounds' finish line for the final time.
Oddly, this afternoon has highlighted the Quattroporte S Q4's greatest strengths: its free-revving midrange power, ideal 50/50 weight distribution, and proclivity for predicable, progressive explorations of slip angle. There may not be a car of this size that's more eager (or more enjoyable) to hoon.
There are, however, plenty of competitors offering superior cabins, eight-cylinder engines, masterful design language, and lengthier options lists. I'm not certain the Quattroporte S Q4 represents the same outright value within its class as the Ghibli, but it proves that both the 3.0-liter V6 and Maserati's first all-wheel-drive system port well into a larger sedan. This car's focus remains on easygoing, approachable, rear-drive-derived fun, and there's value in that alone … whether you're a rally driver or not.