Maserati is fighting hard for relevance right now. Its car lineup is severely dated with both the Quattroporte and Ghibli. The Levante faces more accomplished competition. At least there is hope on the horizon in the form of the Alfa — ahem, Maserati — MC20 mid-engine supercar and high-tech Nettuno engine. Plus, with the Grecale crossover soon to come, there could be brighter days ahead.
That’s tomorrow, but today we still have the vanguards of the early 2010s. The current flagship, more or less by default, is the big Quattroporte, and Maserati is giving it the Trofeo treatment for 2021 in an effort to bring it back onto our radar. Previous to now, the Trofeo trim was limited to the Levante. In the Quattroporte, the Trofeo formula is similar. It plops in the unbridled version of the Ferrari-sourced 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 engine — red wrinkle paint and all — making 580 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque. It is, without a doubt, the brightest and best part of this car. The most potent version previous to now was the Quattroporte GTS with its 530-horse version of the same Ferrari V8.
Very little is done to the exterior to let you know this Quattroporte is the Trofeo apart from the script on the front fenders that are accentuated with red-painted side air ducts. Beyond this, the C-pillar’s Maserati logo gets a red lightning bolt, and more carbon fiber trim is used throughout. It also comes with 21-inch forged aluminum wheels, a glossy black grille finish and the same restyled taillights applied throughout the 2021 Quattroporte lineup. Unlike “look-at-me” performance offerings from Mercedes-AMG or BMW's Alpina, Maserati’s Trofeo is notably subtle. This not only goes for the Trofeo extras, but the Quattroporte in general. The big trident in the grille announces its presence, but just as it's been from the beginning, the current-generation Quattroporte simply fades into the background in a parking lot. Our test car's beige paint certainly doesn't help. While most prefer their big luxury sedans to be restrained and tasteful, aren't Italian sedans supposed to have a certain degree of excitement and flare?
At least the Trofeo will be recognizable by the sound it makes. Even with a pair of turbochargers attached, the Ferrari engine and exhaust note are unmistakable. Although the V8 is the same basic engine as the Levante Trofeo's, the Quattroporte version gets new turbochargers, stronger internal components and new camshafts and valves. Power is transmitted through a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission — yay to the enormous, column-mounted paddles — and exclusively sent to the rear wheels, further differentiating it from the largely all-wheel-drive competition.
Acceleration is traction-limited due to that rear-wheel-drive configuration, but it still blasts from 0-60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. Thank the new launch control system programmed into the also-new Corsa drive mode for this added accelerative zest (0.6 second quicker than the GTS). It’s a serious song and dance of mode switching, paddle pulling and systems checking to successfully activate the launch (we had multiple false starts before figuring it out), but once you do, the car expertly manages wheel slip for a seamless and quick start off the line.
From there, the V8 is silky and creamy like expertly crafted chocolate gelato all the way up to 7,200 rpm. The right pedal is simply an unrelenting tap of power you can call upon at any time to luxuriously and hurriedly send you down the road. Maserati sticking to a rear-drive layout makes this car even more entertaining, as you can rip a fat burnout at a moment’s notice, which is considerably more fun than the clinical acceleration you get from much of the competition.
And then there’s the Italian soundtrack. It’s good enough to make you drive around in Sport or Corsa mode all the time (exhaust valves are open in both), endlessly searching for tunnels and overpasses to hear it trumpet FERRARI to the world again and again. None of the Germans even get close in comparison when it comes to the emotive force and pure musicality playing out the back of this Quattroporte. We liked listening to it enough that our end-of-week fuel economy figures were about the same as what Hellcats typically achieve in our possession —the 12-14 mpg range.
Unfortunately for Maserati, our glowing praise for this Quattroporte ends after we move beyond this brilliant powertrain. The chassis and suspension have seen no changes with the Trofeo trim, which is a shame. Maserati’s press kit reads: “Thanks to the excellence of the chassis used on the brand's two sedans (Quattroporte and Ghibli), no changes were needed to accommodate the increased power of the Trofeo V8 engine.”
We’re going to disagree with Maserati on this one, as the Quattroporte’s ride and handling is in a confused state. It’s neither a sharp handler, nor a cosseting cruiser. Maserati uses a continuously adaptive damping system it terms “Skyhook,” and the stiffness is adjustable via the “suspension” button near the drive mode switcher. While the ride does stiffen up in the sportier setting, the handling benefit is minimal. It’s a celebration of body roll when you chuck it into a tight corner, and transitions between consecutive corners border on sloppy. Add in a super-slow steering rack that is devoid of feel, and this car’s lack of a sporting nature is elevated.
This big sedan simply doesn’t like being pushed left and right like its Trofeo name might suggest. It’s no huge surprise, either. This is an awfully big sedan and Maserati doesn’t have some of the newer technologies that make such big sedans so accomplished through corners these days. There’s no rear-wheel steering, variable-ratio steering rack or active anti-roll bars — all three of those features are helping the Quattroporte’s competition handle better while still retaining their barge-like size.
Many of these complaints could be tempered if the Quattroporte Trofeo floated with S-Class-like comfort down poor roads. But yet again, Maserati disappoints. Any of the Quattroporte’s contemporaries are vastly more comfortable — think Porsche Panamera, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8 and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. This Trofeo crashes too harshly over highway frost heaves, and it ensures you know the city street you’re on is a bad one. It’s not just the ride, but the noise intrusions, too. We get to hear the tires smacking over bumps at speed with cracks and smacks aplenty, the likes of which you’d expect to hear in something a fraction of this car’s price. The mirrors on both sides of the car created an undue amount of hissing wind noise that creeped into the cabin above 70 mph, which isn't great considering this is a car that tops out at 203 mph — maybe the noise goes away over 150, but we have a feeling it doesn’t.
It’s all a bit disappointing after falling so hard for the engine.
Maserati has found a fraction of salvation in the Quattroporte’s interior this year, though. As a member of the Stellantis empire (and, more accurately, the previous FCA one), Maserati gains access to the latest Uconnect 5 infotainment software for the 2021 Quattroporte. The system is quick, easy to use and pleasing to the eye – who cares if it's also in a Chrysler Pacifica?
The rest of this interior is an example of superb build quality and lavish materials. All of the leather is beautiful and soft to the touch, and just like the exterior, Maserati doesn’t hold back on the amount of carbon fiber it uses. As for complaints, there are a few. A bit of FCA/Stellantis parts bin sharing has the Quattroporte using the window switches, turn signal stalk and headlight controls that you’d find in a Dodge Charger or Challenger. It’s fine if you don’t know, but these are details that are impossible to miss, and they class down what is otherwise a rather classy interior.
What the Quattroporte Trofeo ultimately boils down to is a seminal engine fitted to a below-average car. The question for potential buyers then, is this: How much are you willing to look past to get a Ferrari engine? There’s certainly no four-door Ferrari sedan, and even if there was, what are the odds it would cost anywhere close to the Trofeo’s $142,890 base price?
There are, however, many other competitors we’d have before this Trofeo. A Porsche Panamera GTS squarely beats it in every category but sound. The Alpina B7 easily does the same. And just give Mercedes-AMG a second to get an S 63 Sedan up and running, because an S 580 already out handles and out does the Quattroporte in both luxury and tech. It’s a tough crowd as you near the $150,000 price point, and while Maserati has an argument for connoisseurs of Italian engines, most will be much better served by a four-door sedan not named Quattroporte.
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