Automania

Quick fang in a Quattroporte

Maserati Quattroporte

I had the opportunity the other day to go in a quick fang in a Maserati Quattroporte. At a sneeze off 11 million baht, it’s not quite what you would call an “entry level” performance car, but against its stablemates, the Ferraris, it is half the price. So if you are interested in something Italian, fast and not too expensive (relatively) then a Quattroporte could be just the ticket for you.
Styling is always a personal matter, but I do not know of anyone who dislikes the smooth sweeping nature of the Quattroporte body. It is honestly one of the most ‘together’ motor cars I have seen. Every section looks right. The front, the sides, the rear. No add-ons, no flares, no wings or air dams. They designed the thing correctly, right from the off. It takes a few minutes for you to really appreciate that this is a four door vehicle, despite the fact the Quattroporte means four doors in Italian. And despite the smoothness of the styling, it certainly isn’t wimpy in any way whatsoever. Take a look at the open mouth, ready to gobble you up, and grandma and Red Riding Hood!

Inside, it is clothed in leather, as you would expect, with half a herd at least, plus a sensible dashboard layout, incorporating an LCD display screen as well as the usual instruments. Seating is adequate for five adults, with very good leg room for those in the rear chairs. The driver also gets a very snug hip-hugger as would be expected of a vehicle capable of cornering faster than most drivers would be tempted to try.
Transmission is six speed and can be controlled manually, via paddles either side of the steering wheel, or in fully automatic mode. The paddles themselves deserve a mention. These are not the silly small paddle-pop stick type, but substantial with on one side “down” and on the other side “up” in large letters. Up-shifting the wrong way because you have forgotten which side was up has been overcome with this Maserati.
The Quattroporte has a 4.2 liter V8 up front delivering 400 big ponies through the rear wheels, and any half decent stab on the go pedal shows that the 400 are ready to run. The nose lifts perceptively, the back tyres protest until the traction control comes in and you are away, leaving all lesser mortals in your wake.
What makes the Quattroporte very special in my book, is the fact that it is a real four door and real five place. You can dribble around like a family sedan, and then fire it up like a breathtaking sportscar. In many ways it has to be the best of both worlds. There are few drawbacks, but mainly, for me, it is 11 million drawbacks. But if price were not a factor, would I own one. The answer is yes. It is that good.


Safety – whose responsibility? The end user, or the manufacturer?

Vehicular safety is an integral part of the automotive business these days, and with the publication many years ago of the book, “Unsafe at Any Speed” by Ralph Nader and the following up and hounding of the auto industry by Nader’s Raiders, there is no manufacturer who is not aware of the safety factor. Most countries have either testing facilities, or rely on results from national testing organizations, to even allow production vehicles to be registered in that country. Numerous vehicles have been sacrificed to the immovable concrete block, in the quest of vehicular safety.
On the surface, it would seem that the legislators have decreed that it is the manufacturer who has to carry the responsibility. However, the end user should also shoulder some of the responsibility, or even blame, for road fatalities.
For example, read a BMW handbook, where it will go into detail to explain their version of electronic skid control, braking control and aids to road-holding, with all the very latest electronic gizmos and gadgetry to assist the driver stay on the bitumen; however, right at the end the driver’s manual will point out that despite all the electro-trickery, physical laws still have to be obeyed. If the corner can be taken at 60 kph and you enter it at 120 kph, centrifugal force will overcome ESC, ABS and all the other acronyms that the manufacturer can throw at the car. And centrifugal force is that physical law which must be obeyed. Yet surprisingly, until you stop to think about it, that physical law called centrifugal force is actually under the control of the driver. The entry speed is controlled by the human being, not by the manufacturer. The end user must take the ultimate responsibility!
The vexed question of drink driving comes in here too. We know that alcohol is involved in many car accidents, injuries and fatalities, and there are many “Don’t Drink and Drive” promotions all over the world, but the simple fact is that the human element falls down at the last minute. Drunk people have lost their sense of judgment, so it should not come as a surprise that drivers make the wrong decision and get into their cars to drive home.
The manufacturers have undoubtedly given us safer cars to drive home drunk in, but that is about it. Here’s your padded box, it has no sharp edges, it’s got airbags so you won’t hit the dashboard, even though you forgot to wear your seat belt, the doors won’t fly open, it won’t catch fire, the glass won’t slash you to ribbons and many other secondary safety features, but what is better – an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, or a fence at the top of the cliff? Preventive features win every time, in my book.
I recently came across a report of some preventive features being trialed by Volvo. These include a breathalyzer, integrated with the seat belt and a speed limiting ignition key.
The breathalyzer unit needs the driver to perform a two step safety check before the vehicle will start. Just to do that will weed out several would be “just going to go home slowly” drivers.
The way the Volvo system works is that the driver must first blow into the built-in breathalyzer lock and the driver must also fasten the seat belt. When the breathalyzer detects alcohol or if the driver does not fasten the seat belt, the engine will not start. The breathalyzer will illuminate red when it positively detects alcohol, and the breathalyzer will illuminate green when it does not detect alcohol.
International statistics also show that youngsters are clearly over-represented in car accidents, even taking into account that many of them are behind the wheel more often than their older counterparts. The risk of 18 to 25 year olds being involved in an accident is more than twice that of people aged between 26 and 50, according to EU statistics. The accidents often result from high speed combined with inadequate experience. If speed is a factor, combined with inexperience, just how do we get drivers, and young drivers in particular, to slow down when driving the family car? The answer, according to Volvo, is a special ignition key. This key can be programmed to limit the car’s speed to a predetermined limit such as 80 kph. This is also a technology that lends itself to implementation in different types of commercial traffic. A distribution truck that never leaves the urban area, for instance, never needs to exceed 70 kph.
Volvo’s special ignition key can be pre-programmed to any speed limit. In certain European countries, there is already a “youth license” whereby the driver is not allowed to exceed 90 kph for a pre-determined period, indicated by a “90” sign on the car. With the speed key, implementation of this rule would be much easier to ensure, and free police personnel to go on with other duties, not just sitting there hoping to catch speeding youngsters.
There will be many who will say that Volvo are on the right track with this development. While they have not taken away the personal responsibility from the driver, they have certainly made it easier for drivers to meet their personal responsibilities.


What did we learn from the Spanish GP?

Well, for starters, we learned that no matter how “perfectly” a race can be won, at record breaking speeds, and no matter how much ground-breaking history is involved, a high speed procession is mind numbingly boring.
The Spanish GP was won in fine style by Fernando Alonso, but it was a giant bore. If I were not such a dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead, I would have turned it off and watched the cricket instead (a sport I normally also find mindlessly boring).
What else did we learn? We learned that Juan-Pablo Montoya can turn his brain off at 300 kph and then fall asleep. With all the speculation going on about who will be at McLaren Mercedes next year, do not put your money on the Colombian being on the payroll.
We also learned that Fisichella may be able to get a good qualifying lap together, but he cannot keep up that level of concentration. The commentators have obviously become tired of the lack of performance of the Roman. Imagine what is being said behind closed doors in the Renault motor-home? The only real yardstick of a race driver is your team mate. Fisichella finished 30 seconds behind his. Do not expect Fisi at Renault next year.
We also saw a spirited first lap from Raikkonen which saw him drag the McLaren Mercedes into a credible fifth, but that was it. As for the rest, we were lucky if we saw them, the Spanish TV director being enthralled with Alonso’s efforts, to the exclusion of all else.


Autotrivia Quiz

Last week I asked which car company called their first car the Model 92? It was produced in 1949 and was based on a German design, though the car company was not German. The correct answer was Saab, and the car was based on the DKW. Peter Eades was first in with the correct answer. Well done, Peter!
So to this week. Since I experienced a Maserati, a Maserati question. Two of the Maserati brothers had the same name. How did this happen?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email [email protected]
Good luck!


Musical chairs

With the fact already established that Alonso is going to McLaren-Mercedes next year, where will all the other drivers go? Raikkonen wants to be world champion, and the obvious place for him would be to take Alonso’s seat at Renault. A well-run, winning team, with all the runs on the board (I’ve been watching cricket too much). This would make much more sense than his going to Ferrari, especially as I believe Michael Schumacher will continue, and Massa has been doing a good job as the back-up. Why should Ferrari take on the Finn? If they are to give Massa that heave-ho, then taking Valentino Rossi on board would make more sense than Raikkonen.