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MASERATI QUATTROPORTE; DIESEL : Lure of Italian limos

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Specs

MASERATI QUATTROPORTE; DIESEL

Price: $488,000 with COE; $466,000 with COE

Engine: 2,979cc 24-valve twin-turbocharged V6; 2,987cc 24-valve turbodiesel V6

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with paddle shift

Power: 330bhp at 5,000rpm; 275bhp at 4,000rpm

Torque: 500Nm at 1,750-4,500rpm; 600Nm at 2,000-2,600rpm

0-100kmh: 5.6 seconds; m6.4 seconds

Top speed: 263kmh; 250kmh

Fuel consumption: 9.8 litres/ 100km; 6.2 litres/100km

The phrase "affordable luxury" is an oxymoron. If an object is affordable, by definition it cannot also be a rarefied object of desire.

Last week, local Maserati dealer Hong Seh Motors launched a pair of entry-level Quattroportes powered by a twin-turbo petrol engine and a turbodiesel power plant.

With a price tag at less than $500,000 each, the latest pair are the "most affordable" limousines from the Italian marque in Singapore.

The smaller Ghibli, while cheaper, is more a premium executive sedan than limousine.

The Quattroporte dates back to 1963. The current model - the sixth generation - was launched in Singapore last year with two twin-turbocharged petrol engines: a range-topping 530bhp 3.8-litre V8 and a 410bhp 3-litre V6.

The latest petrol variant is powered by the same 3-litre power plant, but tuned to a lower output of 330bhp.

The car has an imposing presence. At 5,262mm in length, it is longer than the 5,246mm long-wheelbase Mercedes-Benz S-class.

Indeed, the S-class is its prime target. Says Hong Seh's executive director Edward Tan: "In this segment, the market leader is the S-class and the rest throw darts at it."

Despite its massive stature - which exceeds the Urban Redevelopment Authority's minimum carpark length - the Quattroporte manages to look seductive and desirable, thanks largely to its coupe-like side profile, flared wheel arches and the unmistakable Maserati grille.

While the latest 330bhp Quattroporte may be an entry-level limousine, its equipment list is anything but frugal. It has frills such as adaptive bi-xenon headlights and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.

Costing less than $500,000 each, the latest Quattroportes are the "most affordable" limousines from Maserati in Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: TOH YONG CHUAN

But some omissions are rather stark, such as motorised soft-closing doors and a motorised boot lid, which are common features in luxury cars.

Inside, the best seats are obviously in the second row. The car's 3,171mm wheelbase is slightly longer than that of the long-wheelbase S-class' 3,165mm.

This means very generous legroom for rear passengers. Still, taller occupants have to duck slightly to get to the rear seats to avoid hitting the low and sloping roof line.

The texture of the Quattroporte's leather seats is among the best sampled. They are fitted by Italian furniture-maker Poltrona Frau, which also makes seats for Ferrari. I found myself running my fingers along the seams and surfaces for no reason at all.

In the cockpit, the driver can easily find a perfect driving position. The dashboard and centre console are modern and uncluttered, mostly thanks to an unusually large 8.4-inch touchscreen which controls everything, from navigation to radio and the Bluetooth pairing of mobile phones.

When fired up, the car's 330bhp engine purrs with a low burble that sounds like a V8. It may be the entry-level engine, but it performs credibly.

Mated with a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, the car feels faster than the 5.6 seconds stated for its zero-to-100kmh sprint.

This makes it merely 0.5 seconds slower than the 5.1 seconds clocked by the 410bhp Quattroporte S.

The car has three basic drive modes: normal automatic, sports with a sharper steering response, and increased control and efficiency for better fuel economy.

Besides these modes, the driver can also set a stiffer suspension for a more spirited drive and even a full manual mode using paddles behind the steering wheel to change gear.

Sports mode, stiffer-suspension setting and paddle shifters do not transform the long and bulky Quattroporte into a sports car, but they bring some measure of driving pleasure.

The car excels on expressway runs. In its default normal mode, it behaves like a grand tourer - gliding over bumps and imperfections in a way that a towkay seated in the rear will approve.

Still, an Italian car is never complete without a few quirks.

In the Maserati, the signal stalk is set so far back from the steering wheel that a non-basketball player can flip it only if he moves his left hand away from the steering wheel slightly.

Overall, the Quattroporte is an attractive proposition for those who yearn for something other than a German limousine. The lower engine output of the latest variants does not detract from this proposition.

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