Snarling Italian on the prowl

01:28, Apr 09 2014

You'll have four minutes, said the man from Maserati. And then the police will turn up and throw you out.

All I wanted to do was park my car on the side of the road in front of Parliament House in Australia's capital city of Canberra, and take a photograph of the vehicle with the building and its remarkable 81-metre, 250-tonne stainless steel flagpole in the background.

It's such a fascinating flagpole, you see - not the least because I've never been able to quite figure out how the Parliament House people get the flag to the top. How do they do it? Climb up one of the four giant spider-like legs that hold the pole in place? Lower the pole itself? Use a helicopter maybe? After all, the Aussie flag the pole flies is half the size of a tennis court and weighs 15kg.

And all I wanted to do was park my Maserati Quattroporte S on the side of the road in front of it and take a picture.

So early last week I parked the car, walked to the other side of the road and started taking snaps. Three minutes later a policeman arrived in a Ford Territory.

"You leaving?," he asked.


"Yep - going now," I replied.

"You've got exactly 30 seconds," said the lawman - and then he tailed us as my Maserati and I exited the 32ha grounds of Australia's seat of power.

So the man from Maserati was dead right. It did take exactly four minutes for the police to turn up and throw me out. He knew this would happen because he'd tried it before. And so we decided to head to another place where you are not allowed to do things - the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.

It was all part of a unique media launch of a V6-engined version of the new Quattroporte, a four-door Italian vehicle that is entering the New Zealand luxury market with a list price of $194,900 and which is expected to account for 70 per cent of all Quattroporte sales here.

The $258,900 3.8-litre V8-engined GTS version had already been presented to the Australasian motoring press in late January so there wasn't a lot more to say about plans for the sixth-generation model. So this latest media event, which is continuing this week, was all about one thing: the drive experience with the 3.0-litre V6.

Journalists were invited to choose any one of eight different one-day drive legs covering a selection of roads along a big tour between Sydney and Melbourne. I chose Leg 2 which started in Canberra and headed to the New South Wales coast via the centres of Braidwood and Batemans Bay, finishing in the seaside town of Moruya.

I enjoy the countryside surrounding Canberra - it's got some of the best secondary roads in Australia. So we headed out of the city and towards a lovely stretch called Paddys River Rd, where we could open things up a bit as we made a bee-line for the space communications complex.

And this Maserati deserves to be driven with enthusiasm. From the outside the Quattroporte S looks almost identical to the V8-engined GTS - the only real visual difference is that it has round exhaust pipes while the GTS has square ones. From the performance perspective the two are reasonably close as well. While the 390kW twin-turbo V8 can catapult the GTS to 100kmh in just 4.7 seconds, which makes it the fastest four-door Maserati ever built, the 301kW twin-turbo V6 can get there in an almost-as- exhilarating 5.1 seconds.

I quickly discovered that while traversing a serpentine section of tree-lined Australian tarmac the best thing to do was hit the Quattroporte's Sport button, which not only lets the car's eight-speed automatic transmission change gears with greater alacrity at higher engine speeds, but also opens up all the exhaust system's bypass valves and provides the shortest possible high-energy route for the exhaust gases - and that results in a great engine sound.

It probably isn't as good as the famous Maserati V8 bellow, but I still found that the V6 model's full-throated snarl to be a noise almost to die for - specially with the driver's window wound down.

It really is a good engine. Developed by Maserati Powertrain in partnership with Ferrari Powertrain and built by Ferrari at Maranello, it's also going to be under the bonnet of the Ghibli sedan due here around mid-year, and the Levante SUV, which is expected to be launched in 2016.

For the Quattroporte it develops 301kW of power at 5500rpm, and the twin turbocharging allows it to offer 550 newton metres of torque between 1750 and 5000rpm. This means that while the car's specific power output is slightly lower than the V8, its specific torque is higher at 183Nm per litre. And it's also the lighter car, weighing in at 1860kg which is a very good kerb weight for what is a large and powerful four-door vehicle with excellent rear legroom and a boot big enough to take two full-sized sets of golf clubs and trundlers.

It wasn't long before we arrived at the turnoff to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex. One of only three in the world - the others are in Spain and the US - it is nestled in a valley that shields the complex's tracking dishes from radio frequency noise coming from Canberra 20km away.

I'd no sooner arrived at a carpark almost in the shadow of one of the complex's tracking dishes when my cellphone rang, which prompted the man from Maserati to warn that the devices were all supposed to be turned off and that we'd now probably get thrown out of there, too. So we took our photographs and departed.

Actually, we got right out of Australian Capital Territory, heading into New South Wales on a circuitous route to the coast, part of along what is known as the Kings Highway. This was opportunity to experience a second very good feature of the new Quattroporte S - its ability as a luxury express sedan.

Driven normally, this Maserati offers an average fuel economy of 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres. The vehicle also introduces a new system called ICE (Increased Control and Efficiency) which is aimed at reducing fuel consumption even more by doing such things as delivering a softer throttle response, cancelling the turbocharger overboost function, and keeping the exhaust's Sport flaps closed until 5000rpm. ICE also adjusts the gearshifts to make them softer and slower and reduces torque at each take-up point.

Maserati says the ICE mode is also very useful for driving on low-grip surfaces, but in Australia last week there was none of that as we cruised the Kings Highway to the coast via a range called Clyde Mountain.

And somewhere in the middle of that pass we came across a small rock cave filled with soft toys.

The place is called Pooh Bear's Corner, and it is a family tradition for many Canberrans to drop off a soft toy there while on their way to summer holidays on the coast. There are dozens of the toys there, and I would have loved to have stopped to take a closer look. But last week the area was right in the middle of an area of road works - so we would no doubt have got thrown out of there too.

History tells us that Pooh Bear's Corner was the site of a munitions store during World War II that could be detonated to stop enemy passage from the coast to Canberra. And now it is filled with soft toys. Ironic.

Kings Highway is a nice drive, and it eventually terminates at Batemans Bay, a popular spot with an interesting bridge. Whenever a boat needs to pass under it, the centre rises up like a lift to create the necessary space. And another interesting piece of information about Batemans Bay is that during WWII a fishing trawler was attacked by a Japanese submarine just off the coast. So maybe the munitions store at Pooh Bear's Corner was a good idea after all.

As we exited Batemans Bay and cruised along the New South Wales coastline to our final destination, the airport near the small town of Moruya, I contemplated the importance of this new addition to the Quattroporte range.

There have been V6 versions of this Maserati sedan before - both the second and fourth generations offered the choice of six-cylinder power - but this time around, the twin-turbocharging is allowing the engine to offer performance figures that almost match those of the range-topping V8 version of the previous fifth- generation Quattroporte.

Frankly, the only thing missing is the hair-raising V8 bellow that has always been such a feature of Maserati cars. But the V6 snarl is pretty darned good all the same - I hope it is still reverberating amongst the trees on those roads on the outskirts of Canberra.

And most importantly, this new V6 version of the Quattroporte takes Maserati to a previously unavailable price point. Yes, at $194,900 it is still a very expensive vehicle, but it is $64,000 less expensive than the V8-powered GTS yet offers almost identical levels of luxury and specification.

Little wonder then that the New Zealand distributor is confident of a major increase in sales of this magnificent Italian four-door sports saloon.

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