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Forget downsizing: the new Maserati Quattroporte is thoroughly upsized. This is a BIG car. Start at the front, the proudly engorged Maserati mouth now a little smoother than before, and the customary new-car walk-round takes so long you’ll be stopping for a tea break somewhere near the boot-lid. It measures 5.26m in length - 21cm longer than before - and even on 21in alloys the QP’s flowing bodywork threatens to overwhelm the wheels and tyres, like a huge wave breaking on a beach. Thankfully, increased use of aluminium in key areas means that at 1900kg it’s actually 100kg lighter than the old car.

Much of the extra length is in the wheelbase, and rear legroom is consequently much greater than before. This is what Maserati thinks its new limo needs to compete, particularly in China. The boot’s much bigger, too, for all that shopping that Shanghai potentates and their families like to do.

Topgear.com, of course, doesn’t really care about rear legroom or boot-space, especially when it comes to Maserati’s super saloon. Reborn in 2003 after a lengthy spell in the wilderness, the QP has always been flawed but also somehow magnificent, much like the country that created it. The word was that the new car was smoother, softer, and generally more mannered, no longer a sports car fidgeting in a three-piece suit and more of a traditional high-powered executive express.

Well, you can relax. This is still every inch a proper Maserati. ‘This is the biggest car I’ve done in my 40-year career,’ Fiat group design boss Lorenzo Ramaciotti confirms, ‘but the new Quattroporte preserves the strong elements of the previous car: the low grille, the small, defined lights, and the strong bonnet centre line. We didn’t want to do a car that just fades away after a year.’

No chance of that, Lorenzo. As ever with these things, the right spec and colour transforms the car as much as the wrong combo can ruin it, but plugs the new QP into a retro Euro glamour typified by Italian screen legend Marcello Mastrioanni, whose 1965 series one QP sat in an art gallery near the launch venue in Nice. A Mercedes S-class or BMW 7 series simply doesn’t generate that sort of heat, I’m afraid, although there are shades of Infiniti and Audi in some of the detailing.

Thankfully, one thing that does fade away pretty quickly is the QP’s size and heft. Powered by an all-new 523bhp, direct injection 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 - overseen by Ferrari engineering wizard Paolo Martinelli - it’s much silkier and less obtrusive than the old car’s wonderfully raucous V8 around town, but still has a unique aural signature. The ZF eight-speed transmission is similarly smooth, and the ride is perfectly good if not quite as hushed as the S-class Merc’s, though I suspect it will be borderline on typically poor British back roads.

In the mountains an hour or so east of Nice, it’s a relief to discover that the new QP hasn’t junked the old car’s occasionally wanton ways in pursuit of better refinement. Its electro-hydraulic steering is fantastically linear and direct, and it really does hustle from corner to corner with the wieldiness of a smaller car. Great seats and a fine driving position help here, too. The Brembo brakes are over-servoed and over-sensitive, but wrestle the QP’s mass to a stop long before a Provencal cliff-face does the job for you. There is real engagement here, and the engine is a corker, revving out to a memorably strident 7200rpm. A ‘sport’ button allegedly beefs up the suspension, but all it seems to do was make the car jiggle more. Its standard suspension - an all-new independent set-up all-round, with double wishbones at the front and a multi-link rear - is well enough calibrated for that not to matter. It’s also properly fast: 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds, and a top speed of 190mph.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Maserati if it didn’t have some flaws. The interior effectively has three layers, leather, wood and aluminium, all of which can be endlessly configured according to taste. But the air vents are plasticky, there’s nasty brightwork on the doors, and the steering wheel is butt ugly. The main touchscreen works well, but the gear-selector is dreadfully fiddly to use, the action between ‘reverse’ and ‘park’ especially hopeless. If you do still insist on playing CDs, you’ll struggle to load them into the slot because the gear-lever is right in front of it. And despite claims of greater efficiency, the QP gobbled fuel during our day with it, even though treacherously icy conditions meant we really weren’t flogging it that hard. Maserati claims a combined average of almost 24mpg, which seems optimistic.

All in all, however, the new Quattroporte is our kind of saloon. It also spear-heads an ambitious Maserati product plan that will see it, the new Ghibli saloon and Levante SUV attempt to boost sales ten-fold by 2015, to around 50,000 cars per year. On the evidence of this first volley, it might work. The QP isn’t just a genuinely soulful big thing, it’s also genuinely good.

 

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