What Is It?
Maserati's very first all-wheel-drive system. Quattroporte and Ghibli, Q4 is mechanically simple but electronically sophisticated. The same basic all-wheel-drive component set will also likely be seen in the next Maserati, the Levante SUV scheduled to go into production very late this year or early 2015.
Heart of the Q4 system is the clutch located inside the transfer case bolted to the rear of the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, the same transmission that is used in all Quattroporte and Ghibli models. Q4's mechatronics can take the wet multiplate clutch from fully open to fully engaged in just 150 milliseconds, an eye-blink transition from 100 percent rear-drive to all-wheel-drive with 50 percent of available torque being distributed to each axle.
But this is a clever clutch, capable of delivering anything between the extremes of open and closed. Or, to put it another way, any proportion of available torque between 0-50 percent. Maserati engineers claim, persuasively, that the clutch's smarts allowed them to create a pair of all-wheel-drive cars that feel like they're rear-drive most of the time.
Whatever torque is directed forward by a Q4-equipped Maserati's clutch is transmitted through the transfer case's train of three gears to a propshaft. This connects to the front axle's open differential and its pair of driveshafts.
Installed, Q4 adds around 130 pounds a Maserati's weight. This isn't a lot; it's certainly not enough to significantly impact either fuel economy or weight distribution.
What's It Like to Drive?
Maserati brought both Ghibli S Q4 and Quattroporte S Q4 to the Italian Alps in January for an event to demonstrate its all-wheel-drive system to international media. This is, after all, the first ever winter in the company's century-long history that snow-worthy cars have worn the Trident badge.
The ski resort town of Cervinia, near Monte Cervino, was the base selected by Maserati. On the Swiss side of the border on which it stands, the mountain is called by its better-known name: the Matterhorn. Maserati's program involved driving on both nearby public roads and a mile-long track close to Cervinia.
Both S Q4s employ the same drivetrain, including Maserati's 404-hp, 404 lb-ft twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine. At international launch events in Italy through the spring (Quattroporte V6) and summer of 2013 (Ghibli), Q4 confirmed its value on dry bitumen. The Ghibli S Q4, in particular, stood out for its dynamic superiority over the rear-drive Ghibli with its 59 hp less powerful engine.
Narrow Italian mountain backroads, in the depths of winter, are a very different kind of test. Despite encountering slush and snow on the higher sections of the test loop, the Maseratis were stable, secure and swift. These are uncomfortably wide cars to thread through village streets, but this was the only difficulty.
The ice and snow of the closed track near Cervinia was a sterner trial. It was fun to switch off the cars' ESP and steer mostly with the throttle, exploring the remarkable agility of the hefty Italians for all it was worth. But this wasn't the most impressive thing the Q4-equipped Maseratis could do. Instead, it was moving off from standstill on a treacherously slippery snow- and ice-covered incline of around 20 percent.
Do I Want It?
For those who need a Maserati that will easily make it up a steep driveway any month of the year, the answer must be yes.
But this isn't the only reason to go for Maserati's all-wheel-drive option. In the case of the $76,900 Ghibli S Q4, its $9,000 higher price compared to the base Ghibli buys not only more power but also greater curvy-road agility.
And there are precisely 38,000 reasons choose the Quattroporte S Q4 over the V8. That's how many dollars less the $102,500 all-wheel-drive car costs. Though its engine delivers 119 fewer hp than the V8 of the rear-drive GTS, the S Q4 isn't, thanks to all-wheel-drive, very much slower 0-60 mph.
The appeal of Maserati's Q4-equipped models is obvious, and effective. When the new Quattroporte and Ghibli began reaching the USA in numbers in late 2013, Maserati's monthly sales first tripled, then quadrupled. And more than 70 percent of American buyers of Quattroporte and Ghibli are choosing Q4-equipped models.
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