Test-Driving a Maserati

Imagine driving a sleek black Maserati Quattroporte GTS around Italy's rolling hills and narrow country lanes on a perfect autumn day with golden leaves wafting down from the trees and gentle breezes rustling through the vineyards. This, according to the brochures, is just what driving a Maserati should be. And, for all practical purposes, it is hard to beat. I know firsthand: after reporting a story about Maserati's comeback for NEWSWEEK International, the company let me test-drive their most popular model.

Behind the wheel you can't help but feel the thrill of the unknown and revel in the power the slightest tap on the gas pedal delivers. It's tempting to swerve, to speed up, to slow down and to go as fast as you can as quickly as you can. There is a strong temptation to slam on the brakes, to try to do a 360 on the asphalt and to push the "sport mode" button on the dash to see if it really does reduce the gear change time by 35 percent. But these are all just exercises, like playing scales on a piano. To really understand how the car feels, which is much of what the Maserati experience is all about, why not let an experienced hand play the whole symphony?

At Maserati they call a professional driver il tecnico, "the technician." During my test drive Paolo was sitting in the passenger seat, partly to make sure that I didn't wreck or run away with the car, but also there because he knows the machine intimately. After taking it for a short spin, I let him take the wheel. Being in the passenger seat, the experience changed from nervous discovery to sheer bliss.

What the car can do when it's being driven by someone who knows literally what buttons to push is beyond fabulous. Weaving around the lorries, Fiats and the occasional Mercedes on the autostrada at speeds that were more than a little brisk seemed effortless. Accelerating around tight corners didn't require any sort of body tension or bracing to avoid contact with the window. The only indication of any centrifugal force coming out of a tight curve was the spilling of the contents of a folder of documents in the back seat. The car we drove had a six-speed automatic gearbox that could easily slide into manual mode using the standard gear shift lever or the funky paddles behind the steering wheel. To a novice, these features can be daunting, but not to il tecnico.

When I drove, it felt much like trying on a fine Italian leather glove. Not exactly comfortable at first, but there is no question that it would be great if I could just keep it on for a while. A high-performance car is too complex to immediately feel comfortable or secure in, but there is simply no question that with some time, it could be a perfect fit.

The biggest advantage to driving the car myself was watching the faces of the people as we drove by. You'd think that the locals in Modena, where Maseratis are made, would be accustomed to seeing beautiful cars on the roads, and maybe they are—but they still stare when you pass by. You tend forget that everybody is looking at the car, not you: you become by association beautiful yourself.

I went away with a picture of the car with me sitting in the driver's seat. When I'm 90 years old, if I live that long, I'll probably be clutching this photo to my chest along with my rosary.

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