Cervinia, Italy - Q4 is more than the Audi-esque name of Maserati’s first-ever all-wheel-drive system. At least, that’s what its engineers and marketers claim. Q4 is an AWD system that transforms the car, be it Quattroporte or mid-size 2014 Maserati Ghibli. So far offered only with the company’s 405-hp 3.0-liter V-6, a V-8 AWD Maserati is possible, but it’s not in the short-term plans. Your humble servant will have to take Maserati’s word for the character transformation, because while contributor Lawrence Ulrich has driven the rear-wheel-drive 2014 Maserati Ghibli, Automobile Magazine HQ in Ann Arbor hasn’t seen one yet.
You may recall that Ulrich loves the 2014 Ghibli because, even with a coddling interior swathed in supple leather and loaded with the usual level of cutting-edge electronic gizmos, it manages to maintain its connection with the driver. Maserati and Cadillac (!) are now the antidotes to the German premium/luxury brands, all three of which are doing to the sport sedan what Japanese automakers did to the midsize sedan a generation ago.
The AWD Ghibli’s best qualities seem to be the same as those Ulrich extolled in the RWD car. The Germanic layer of isolation, which lately has been infesting everything from the BMW 3-series on up, is not to be found in the once-shaky Italian brand’s cars. A drive on snowy, icy roads in the Italian Alps proved that steering feel and seat-of-the-pants feedback is not a lost art. The car transmitted precisely what the weather-affected tarmac could have your two-ton luxury car do with misapplied throttle and/or steering.
That drive was followed with amateur rally trials on a 1.6-kilometer ice circuit near Cervinia. Here, the Maserati Ghibli S Q4 launched as if on dry pavement, even on a dead-start uphill trial, and did whatever one would ask it to do via throttle and steering, whether in normal mode, I.C.E. mode (which is not what it sounds like – it’s the upshift-early, save gas mode), Sport (which plays the ZF eight-speed automatic as quickly and smoothly as Joey DeFrancesco on a Hammond B3), or with the traction and stability controls completely -- and we mean completely -- off. When the stability and traction control intervened, it was only to stifle power to the rear wheels, such as when coming out of an icy turn. With everything turned off, spinning rear wheels and the need for countersteering is your only guide. The turbo V-6 gets brappy when laying into, and lifting from, the throttle. The surprise is what we didn’t hear: not one bit of the sort of German whining and creaking noises of stability and traction controls that warn you that you’re not driving the way your Big Three luxury car likes it.
Maserati’s Q4 is an unusual AWD system that uses an electronically controlled multiplate wet clutch in the transfer case, connecting via the driveshaft to the front axle. It ranges from 100 percent RWD to 50/50 torque split, with no more than 35 percent of the power normally going to the front because of the multilink rear axle’s superior traction capabilities, according to Maserati. The system actually shaves 0.2 second off the RWD Ghibli S’s five-second-flat 0-to-62-mph run, the manufacturer says, although top speed drops 0.5 mph, rounding up to 183 mph. The drive also included the new Maserati Quattroporte S Q4, which felt like the Ghibli S Q4, only slightly bigger.
Engineers also tried to clarify the provenance of the Maserati 3.0-liter engine in the wake of online criticism. The engine is not a Pentastar V-6, they say, although the block is milled and cast in Chrysler’s Pentastar engine factory in Trenton, Michigan. They say that the Maserati engine shares its bore spacing with the Pentastar because both powerplants have the optimum spacing for compact engine design. The Maserati engine also shares oil and fuel pump parts with the Pentastar (which displaces 3.6 liters in Chryslers), though the 3.0 is assembled in Maranello. The Maserati engine can rev much higher than the Pentastar, but the eight-speed transmission limits it to about 7000 rpm.
Whether the issue lingers on the Internet or not, the Maserati Ghibli S Q4, with its direct, refined feel and powerful, torquey, twin-turbo V-6, is a standout in its class. It may or may not have a different character than its RWD version, but it is the executive-class sedan to spread enthusiasts’ faith among the well-heeled in the Midwest and Northeast.
2014 Maserati Ghibli S Q4
Base price:$76,000 (est)
Engine:3.0L twin-turbocharged V-6, 404 hp@5500 rpm, 406 lb-ft@1750-5000 rpm
Fuel economy (est):15/25 mpg (city/highway)
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