Of course I always dreamed of driving the Targa Florio. I imagined it would be in a Ferrari or a Porsche or at least a GTI. Once again I prove myself stupid even dream-wise – for Sicilian mountain roads you’d do much better with an SUV.
Landing at Falcone airport in Palermo, your first introduction to local culture is a massive obelisk marking the spot where the Mafia blew up 200 metres of highway to get over one hurdle: judge Giovanni Falcone. They say it was half a tonne of dynamite. For La Cosa Nostra it is collateral damage, with reminders everywhere. Local landmarks are mounds of garbage piled up storey-high on residential streets. The Mafia isn’t collecting. Forget Goodfellas – these are guys with comb-overs and side partings, local government clerks, officials, cops and politicians, running city traffic, zoning, trash… Running Sicily.
My airport pick-up explains the Mafia is slowly fading – they don’t belong in the 21st century and the locals have had enough. Tradition takes its time though, and Palermo is gritty, tossed together and covered in graffiti. The surrounding hills are just as messy, wild shrubbery, weeds and rocks everywhere and occasional crumbling concrete bus shelters serving stone houses scattered around the island. There are Orangina bottles with sun-faded labels and bleached aluminium cans in every bush. The land looks hard and stubborn – the peasants must have it tough here.
Sicily is about the size of Denmark in population but its GDP is half that of the rest of Italy. If it was a country, it’d be poorer than Armenia. They have no time for fixing mountain roads. They don’t even have time to properly commemorate their most fantastic contribution to the world, the Targa. A decaying pits’ area in Cerda remains, and a private museum a little way down the race route in Collesano is run by the goodwill of the owner – he doesn’t want any entry money, just a note in the guestbook.
The incredible collection includes driving suits, helmets, steering wheels, gloves and boots from drivers like Vic Elford, Jo Siffert, Nino Vaccarella. But that’s about it. Without a keen eye for all the devout ‘Nino’ graffiti along the route (Vaccarella was a revered local school headmaster who won the Targa three times) you might as well be dodging craters anywhere. Yeah, don’t bring a Ferrari here. Bold, then, of Maserati to launch its latest saloon on these roads. But productive… The BMW 7 Series and old Porsche Panamera are fresh in my memory, and a few miles up the Targa route inland, it’s evident there isn’t a car in this segment that’ll steer much better than the newest Quattroporte. It’s massive but it doesn’t let on, not like a bulbous Merc S-Class or insubordinate Audi A8. But the Quattroporte’s always gone well. And with Ferrari engine choices up front, some horsepower context in the segment is irrelevant. You can have up to 530bhp, so the Quattroporte’s always gone fast too.
For this midlife update on Maserati’s sixth-generation luxury saloon (the Quattroporte line goes back over 50 years), the Italians left well alone what didn’t need doing. At the top of the game you have to know your customers and Davide Danesin knows his well. ‘You buy a Maserati for the style,’ says the company’s head of vehicle lines and programs management.
This is truer at second thought. Spec for spec, turn for turn, the new Quattroporte won’t get you sold on much else but style. The S-Class is a better luxury car, so is the 7 Series, the Panamera, the Audi, maybe even the antiquated Lexus LS. But Maserati buyers don’t cross-shop – what they want they can only get from the Italians. Since the latest Quattroporte was launched in 2013, 24,000 were sold. At least that many people out there wear crocodile skin loafers over bare feet. The guy in the Lexus wears socks with sandals. So even around here this big two-tonne car with all-wheel drive isn’t burdened around tight turns and feels quick to react. It’s longer and wider than an S-Class, but lower (style, remember) with a longer wheelbase and great high-speed stability, and when the motor picks up pace on autostrada stretches, 310kph seems a safe bet.
That’s not the issue. The Quattroporte’s trouble is less of the emotional kind and more of the quantifiable kind. Its trouble is the Germans are plainly, on paper, more car for the money. So the Italians try harder where their strengths lie. For example you must spec the Ermenegildo Zegna option of silk and fabric trim. It’s not pretentious, it’s fabulous – that’d be the right term. (What? It is – it wasn’t easy homologating silk and such for in-cabin use considering the industry’s stringent flammability rules.)
Other than careful choices of materials and stitching and carpeting and suede, there isn’t much inside a Quattroporte to say $200,000 (about Dh734,500). That’s because true style you’ll find within you, or something.
There’s no night vision or a lady on call to make your foot spa reservations. Maserati brought the Quattroporte up to date, or as close as possible, with a range of new tech added to the facelifted model. There’s an active front grille (speaking of which, that’s redesigned too, and the bumpers, and a couple of other bits you won’t notice), which is supposed to affect aerodynamics by up to 10 per cent; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility; a new rotary knob controller; and driver assistance systems like adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, lane departure warning, advanced braking and more.
Critically, there’s also a new better-integrated (almost flush) 8.4in touchscreen with neat graphics and intuitive use. It’s a fact – today’s customers demand GHz not bhp. Which is why, technically, the Quattroporte still offers the same, sweet 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 worth 410bhp or our tester’s 3.8-litre V8 with 710Nm of torque. There aren’t many problems in life that much torque can’t solve.
Where you get extra choice from Maserati with the Quattroporte update is in the newly revamped line-up, which now includes GranLusso and GranSport trim levels. The former is luxurious with exclusive 20in wheels and an open pore wood dashboard plus standard kit like power-operated pedals and keyless entry. The sporty one gets bigger wheels, bigger air intakes, piano black exterior accents, and red brake callipers. I never would’ve thought either of them could handle the Targa better than any Ferrari.