The world would be poorer without this £80k Maserati

With its chic interior, low tyres and thrilling engine, the new Quattroporte Sport GT is seriously sexy. And the price tag is quite beside the point, says John Simister

Price: £80,595
Engine: 4,244cc, V8 cylinders, 32 valves, 400bhp at 7,000rpm, 333lb ft at 4,500rpm
Transmission: six-speed sequential semi-automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive
Performance: top speed 171mph, 0-62 in 5.2 seconds, 17.9mpg official average
CO : 370g/km

I am not quite believing what I'm hearing. Here I am in Modena, hearing about Maserati's new Quattroporte Sport GT, a long name to type so henceforth I may abbreviate it. I have learnt that relative to the standard Quattroporte, the QPS GT has carbon-fibre interior trim instead of wood, bigger wheels with lower-profile tyres, a chrome mesh for its grille and perforated aluminium pedals. And that it costs £6,000 more than the regular QP, to make a slightly breathtaking total price of £80,595.

Is this a wind-up? Have I come all this way to learn nothing more than the extortionate cost of a cosmetic variation? Are people at this indulgent end of the car-buying spectrum really that fashion-sensitive?

But then... I find myself weakening... and indeed, the QPS GT does look pretty damn wonderful. The QP is already a sensuous-looking machine next to the surgical metallicism of its German rivals or the dated conventionality of the Jaguar XJ. The Sport GT variation sharpens the focus and harmonises the visual messages. And it looks particularly menacing in black, all Swiss bank accounts and arms deals and minders lurking by the loggia.

And then I hear more about the return on that £6,000. There are parts you can't so readily see, too, such as revised software for the Skyhook adaptive damping to control the suspension better "when used in more press-on situations". The engine has a revised exhaust system that bypasses a silencer when a Sport button has been pressed and the engine is revving under load between 4,500rpm and the 7,000rpm peak-power speed. The brakes get cross-drilled discs plus braided hoses for a firmer action, and the transmission can shift its gears 35 per cent more quickly when set to Sport mode.

This transmission is still the six-speed, sequential-shift clutchless manual beloved of Maserati and its Ferrari cousin. The giant 20in wheels are about more than mere looks, too. They carry 245/35 tyres at the front, 285/30 at the rear - profiles so low the QPS GT almost looks as if it runs on its rims. These tyres are Pirelli P Zero Rosso Corsa, specially created for the QP Sport GT in the same way as the GranSport is transformed by its bespoke tyres. The sizes are different for the QP, though; finding exactly correct replacements in a few years' time for both cars may be quite a challenge.

Inside, the leather is dark, with red stitching, and the replacement of wood with carbon fibre makes the cabin seem crisper-looking. The detailing isn't as slick as in the German rivals - the sat-nav system, for example, has crude graphics - but there's an air of the hand-built here which its rivals' clinical perfection somehow misses. Whether you're prepared to pay more for the human touch of inconsistency is your choice, but it's a notion that has served Bentley well.

And there's always the underbonnet view to keep this idea of soul stoked up. Between the crackle-red camshaft covers of this Ferrari-built V8 is a snakepit of crackle-grey intake pipework, the visual centrepiece of an engine designed to be admired instead of hidden under a crass plastic cover shaped like some Toytown engine. I'm afraid this is not an engine to please our more green-minded readers, though, even if in this latest form its urban-cycle fuel consumption is reduced by 16 per cent with no power loss. Official CO 2 emissions are still a shocking 370g/km, so it's still well and truly a gas-guzzler.

Well, that's blown it. Why are we even giving such a car the oxygen of publicity? Because there is more to the appreciation of the automotive art than emissions, and the small number of Quattroportes will not make a significant difference to our atmospheric well-being. We can appreciate the good things about it, and let its rich owners pay for the privilege.

Beginning with that 4,244cc V8: its peak power is 400bhp, backed by 333lb ft of torque at a high-ish 4,500rpm. It's a powerful engine, but the QPS GT weighs nearly two tonnes so the V8 is still going to have to be worked hard to deliver the promised pace. Not that this is a hardship, because it sounds delicious with its hard-edged staccato beat, especially when that exhaust bypass is in play.

Before you explore that delight, there's the gearbox to learn. This has been the Quattroporte's worst feature, but the Sport GT's quicker shifts in Sport mode give a smoother drive. That's because there's less interruption of engine torque and it's easier to smooth the upshifts with a quick lift of the accelerator without waiting for the next gear to engage.

So Sport is the preferred mode unless you're feeling lazy and don't want to help the gearshifts with the accelerator. And, of course, there's the default automatic mode, which Maserati has always staunchly defended as good enough for a luxury saloon, even though the surges and pauses in progress make for queasy occupants. It's best avoided unless you're stuck in a traffic jam, and Maserati has finally admitted this because a proper automatic transmission is on the way.

Now out of the Modenese suburbs and in the hills beyond, I'm in Sport manual and the engine is in its element. Yes, it needs to be revved vigorously to give its best despite its variable valve timing, but it's happy ambling along at low revs in high gears when asked. Then two flicks on the downshift paddle and a prod on the accelerator and you're away again to the machine-gun note of this lovely engine, able to shoot the QPS GT to 62mph in 5.2 seconds from rest if asked and to run all the way up to 171mph if allowed.

With the Sport setting come sharper steering responses thanks to the tighter settings for the adaptive dampers' operating range. The effect is extraordinary: the QPS GT flicks into corners like a BMW 335i, then powers out of them with a satisfying flourish. You feel at one with the QPS GT, flowing with it even though the razor-accurate steering is too light.

The way the suspension "breathes" with the road is a key to this one-ness; you'd think such low-profile tyres would ruin the ride, but they don't. And if you revert to non-Sport mode, the ride becomes almost cosseting, yet much of the agility remains. All you really lose is the steering's sharpness, but even then the QPS GT still feels much more together than the first Quattroporte I drove.

Here, then, is a car rather greater than the sum of its parts, the Sport GT modifications making the Maserati Quattroporte into the car it should be. It's expensive and extravagant, but the world would be the poorer without it.

The rivals

BMW M5 £63,495

A stratospherically high-revving V10 engine and a sequential-shift gearbox give the M5 a racing-car flavour, with huge pace from its 507bhp. You press a button to get the last 100bhp.

Jaguar XJR £62,040

The XJR's V8 matches the Maserati's 400bhp, but does it with a supercharger for a more relaxed power delivery. Excellent automatic transmission and fine handling, but dated looks.

Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG £68,045

The most powerful of the group at 514bhp, the AMG's 6.2-litre V8 is again supercharged. A delightful car, good at all it does and, next to the Maserati, it's almost good value.

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