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Maserati Quattroporte (M139) | The Brave Pill

Pill starts its second year with a car that celebrates the synthesis of its first

By Mike Duff / Saturday, February 22, 2020

Hang up the oil-stained bunting and slip a Greggs discount voucher into the whip-round envelope: it's Brave Pill's first birthday. To celebrate this milestone of millstones - and for one week only - editor Nic has approved a radically different approach to candidate selection, with some low-rent statistical analysis that's more scuzzball than Moneyball.

All of the first 51 Pills have been loaded into a creaky version of Microsoft Excel in search of our ideal candidate. In many categories, choice has been agnostic - especially when it comes to body type. There have been 21 coupes, 17 saloons, six SUVs, four roadsters, two estates (both Audi, natch) and a single hatchback (Alfa 147 GTA). But in other categories it's fair to say that Brave Pill certainly has a type: 49 of our contenders have run on petrol, 41 have had their engines at the front, 33 have been naturally aspirated and the same number rear-wheel drive; hence the decision to stick with all those majority choices for this week's Pill.

But what to pick? That's where the fashionable data-based journalism comes in, with our first year's average Brave Pill having 8.25 cylinders, a 4.8 litre engine and 387hp. This 2004 Maserati Quattroporte isn't quite a perfect match, but it's pretty close thanks to a 4.2-litre self-breathing V8 producing 395hp and proper wheel drive. It even gets a roboticized manual gearbox that pretty much encapsulates Pill's divided loyalties on matters transmission - 18 manuals and 33 autos of various sorts.

But all that is secondary to the Quattroporte's most important quality, and one it's impossible to quantify with numbers: the sort of obvious yet hugely compelling risk that keeps casinos rich and sports matches streaked.

Improbably, this QP is only the column's second Maserati - the first being Dwight Yorke's one-time 4200GT last March. The Coupe was up for just under ten grand and widely acclaimed to be a Pill bargain. This one is considerably cheaper - £7,999 if you don't haggle - and is also considerably more practical thanks to both the four doors promised by the name and an impressive amount of cabin space. This is an Italian thoroughbred the entire family can enjoy - or the perfect candidate for a high-speed departure from a four-man bank robbery.

Maserati has been building Quattroportes since the early 1960s, but the arrival of the fifth-generation in 2003 - usually distinguished by its M139 type code - caused a serious splash. For a start it proved Maserati had the confidence to return to a part of the market that it seemed to have quietly given up on in 2001, when the fourth-gen QP died on the back of near-total market indifference. But it also looked absolutely superb, especially when compared with the risk-adverse conservatism of the rest of its segment - by the early 'noughties this was a part of the market where the Lexus LS was starting to look radical and daring, purely for not being German. The QP had a gangsterish swagger, yet also the gravitas that comes from serious dimensions and well-tailored sheet metal.

Having been criticized for the too-tight packaging of the fourth-gen Quattroporte, Maserati went the other way with this one. At just over five metres it was almost exactly the same length as a regular wheelbase Merc S-Class, with enough room in the back to transport Italian government ministers (and their mistresses) in comfort.

Cabin materials might not have been quite as plush or exactly fitted as those of the German mainstream, and some of the ergonomics show definite signs of the "eh, Luigi - where are we gonna put these buttons?" approach. Yet the Maser's interior is both practical and characterful, with our Pill having been given what looks like a full options workout including heated rear seats, power blinds and a sunroof. Scrubbed up, it should still be a thoroughly nice place to spend time.

The star feature was, of course, the engine. The Ferrari-developed dry-sumped 4.2-litre V8 was closely related to the one in the 4200GT, but with a marginal increase in power with 395hp delivered at 7,000rpm. It sounded predictably awesome, too - without quite the vibrato and timbre of the 4200GT on its sports exhaust, but still louder and more musical than any obvious rival. As with the motor's other applications, there's more excuse note than torque at low revs, the peak 333lb-ft arriving at peaky 4,500rpm. But that gives more excuse to listen to the engine sing, and also to avoid the need to change gears quite so much.

Which brings us to the David Croenenberg sized fly in the ointment - Maserati's DuoSelect gearbox, which all early QPs got as standard. This was the era of the automated single-clutch and there are plenty of owners who will assure you that you get used to the snappy reactions, limited refinement and even occasional burning smells at manoeuvring speeds. Which is doubtless true, especially if the glasses are rosy enough - but if you are coming to a car like this fresh and having only experienced more modern autoboxes it is going to feel like a return to the middle ages.

It doesn't help that the DuoSelect is also responsible for much of the risk that comes with a Maserati of this era. It likes to munch clutches, which typically last between 25,000 and 40,000 miles, and is also prone to hydraulic actuator faults of the sort that get mechanics upgrading their holiday plans. On the plus side, the car can estimate what percentage of its clutch life is left, which is well worth asking it to do on any example you might be considering buying.

But it's not like the Quattroporte was the only car saddled with a rat trap single-clutch back in the day, and it needs to be balanced with the scale of the experience delivered by the rest of the car. The Maserati is on the comfortable side of firm, handles well and has chatty feedback at real world speeds. It's also got a properly serious amount of road presence, even now: an Audi S8 or even W211 Mercedes E55 AMG is almost invisible next to a Quattroporte. This has to be one of the cheapest ways to get posh hotel valets shuffling the velvet ropes so you can leave it out front.

Our Pill is being sold by a dealer in Kent who seems to specialise in more mainstream stuff, yet the Quattroporte appears to be fairly priced for what it is, which is definitely not pristine. Interior trim is bearing some scuffs and marks, with the soft-touch spray that Maserati applied to easy-upmarket the plastics peeling in places. Several of the wheels are showing kerb rash, and all are wearing Maxxis tyres rather than something posher; the seven owners have also possessed it for, on average, just 12,000 miles each. Yet the ad also lists plenty of services, the most recent just 3,000 miles ago. The MOT history shows plenty of red, but little of it particularly serious beyond a since-rectified strike by the rear brakes in 2017.

So it's not perfect, but you didn't expect it to be. It is, however, all the things a good Brave Pill should be: well-priced, interesting and courageous. What do you think - a good start to year two?

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