Does the Detroit Auto Show matter anymore?

Recently a coworker of mine in New York expressed an interest in going to the North America International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit this year and suddenly I was reminded what time of year it was. Were it not for his reminder, the show would have passed me by without notice. How could I have forgotten about the largest Auto Show in North America? One I religiously attended for over a decade? Let me tell you.

The NAIAS has in the past been the Mecca for US car enthusiasts and exhibitors. A day trip (and I mean a full day) would allow the general public to see past, current, and future models from every marque you may or may not have heard of – and for many of these models, the exhibition hall of Cobo Center would be their first step into North America. A quick jaunt through some of my photos reminded me of the treasure trove of knowledge I would gain each year. Rumors and concepts like the R8, the LFA, or the Evo X were at the show years before production. The Rolls Phantom Drophead, Bentley Continental GTC, Aston V8 Vantage and multiple Ferraris were appearing long before going on sale to the public (undoubtedly much of the US allocation was being distributed at this show). And let’s not forget the services and perks offered by the dealers and exhibitors. Chris and I were invited yearly behind the ropes of some “off-limits” exotic displays, or up the stairs to the reception areas of the German Werke. In addition to climbing through most of the cars others would only look at, we would get the latest from the dealer owners and (at times) set up spring-time appointments to sample the cars that particularly caught our eye. Services like these made the NAIAS a special event, not merely a walk through the world’s biggest car dealer. There was so much to do, in fact, that Chris and I would have to carefully plan the day just to be able to see what we wanted.

But along came a recession and with it the horrible realization that Detroit was by no means king of the automotive world. In 2008 there were a few new and interesting things appearing, but not enough to get me on a plane from NYC for a day trip. In 2009, much of the exhibition alumni that Chris and I would frequent had drastically reduced their involvement with the show or simply bowed out all together. In 2010, the online floor plan of exhibitors is notably missing Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Nissan and Mitsubishi (save a stand for electric cars), Rolls Royce, Spyker, and Porsche – ALL of which have dealers present in the metro Detroit area. If you would like to see SOME of those cars, you can make your way to the MGM Grand casino and pay $25 a head for a gallery show of selected models (which I gather will be pulled from dealer showrooms or gracious local owners). Ironically, the reason some of these companies have given for removing themselves from the Cobo Hall floor: ‘we feel it is no longer economically viable.’

Really?! Not economically viable? I certainly don’t doubt their reasoning because the NAIAS is a true red carpet affair (Ford has been known to spend 9 figures on its pavilion). But it highlights a sad reality. Every one of these companies has respected, successful dealers a short hop from downtown Detroit. And isn’t the US still the biggest commercial market for all of these companies? Now I’m forced to travel to shows piecemeal from New York to LA in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the latest from the companies I care about?

No I’m not forced to do that at all. Because I can get an exclusive and personal tour of the 2010 exhibitors and the conspicuous absentees by simply driving to the Troy Motor Mall and spending the day in some showrooms. Starting at one end of Suburban Highline I can take in Hummer, Bugatti, Bentley, Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, and Maserati (while at the same time seeing some exceptional examples of Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Spyker). I can jump the hedge and walk into Aston Martin of Troy and get an up-close of their full range while sipping a Coke at the wet bar. I can take a train ride from my NY home to the Ferrari Maserati Showroom in midtown and see the latest from Italy before they hit the sales floor. I can cross the street to Mercedes of Manhattan and see the most exclusive offerings from Maybach and AMG. A little piecemeal? Yes, but it’s everything and (sometimes) more than the NAIAS offered and it’s free. The staff at all of these dealers (ok not Mercedes of Manhattan) have treated me with the utmost respect and they all thoroughly enjoy a good conversation among enthusiasts whether you are interested in buying or not.

Given this alternative, the largest automotive gathering in North America that I’ve been attending since I was a teenager no longer has anything to offer. And I’ve lost interest.

In short, the NAIAS is no longer economically viable for me.


2010 Buick LaCrosse review

As of this writing, GM has an ongoing marketing campaign called “May the best car win”. Basically, they’re inviting you to compare their wares to anyone else’s and are confident that you’ll choose their car. That’s a bold claim and a confident statement. They also offer a 60 day money back guarantee, granted with a lot of wiggle room in GM's favor. It would seem that if you’re inviting people to do that, you best bring your A-game. Your product had better deliver on all fronts. It shows one of two things: tremendous confidence, or incredible delusion.

One of the cars that they’re holding on a pedestal is the 2010 Buick LaCrosse. Significantly redesigned and looking sharp in a chiseled body, GM would like you to believe that Buick’s snore days are behind them. Recently, I had the opportunity to do exactly what they want everyone to do – test their car and compare it. Invitation accepted. Let’s see how the LaCrosse did:

First off, I’ll say that this is one of the sharper looking cars to come out of GM in some time, and certainly the nicest Buick of probably the last decade. While far from over-the-top, it is classy in a more subdued sort of way. To my eyes, it looked like a cross between a Lexus and the new Jags. The only oddity was the large chrome grille with a gigantic Buick badge so you can’t miss who makes this car. Oh well - Buick is not the only one to fit exaggerated grilles to their cars these days. In any event, it catches even my jaded eyes – the first few times I saw them running around and I did turn to look a second time. Positive points to Buick.

Move inside, and the slick theme continues. The door panels flow up into the dashboard, and agreeable lines continue from one side of the car to the other. Extra blue lighting brightened up the top of the dash and the sides of the center console between the front seats. The center console sweeps upwards, looking modern and futuristic. A pod in front of the driver houses a large tach and speedometer. There’s a large center screen whether you go with the navi system or not. My example did not have the navi screen – just the basic one. And basic it is. In fact, there’s a strong resemblance to the way that my old Atari 2600 made graphics appear on my TV and the display quality in the LaCrosse. Maybe kicking in the extra dough for the navi alleviates this problem, but I wasn’t given the chance to find out.

Material quality is generally ok, except the lower you go in the cabin. Then it quickly turns into the cheap brittle plastic that GM is known for. Seeing as how my test car clocked in at over $36,000, material choice begins to matter. And at $36k, you start competing with some pretty heady company.

Road test! The quick version is that it drives as I always imagined a Buick would. That’s not a good thing – to me. The steering is lacking feel and rather lifeless. The handling is definitely geared towards understeer and comfort than entertainment. That’s not my cup of tea, but Buick (as far as I know) hasn’t been pitting these against, say, a BMW 5 Series either. Power is adequate but not abundant.

But here are the biggest problems: First of all, take off. Pushing the gas gives a few moments of lingering doubt – both by you and the car. The car hesitates with a few moments of doing next to nothing. That in turn makes you wonder if you’ve stepped on the gas. Push it down a little farther and it darts away with unexpected urgency.

Secondly, GM has fitted a 6 speed automatic transmission. That’s a good thing, and competitive with its peers. However, they cheapened out when it came to programming the transmission. It will upshift early and often, then when pushed will hesitate to downshift. Once it finally does, it drops at least two gears, sending the tach spiraling towards whatever the (unmarked) redline is. That’s not acceptable. When I further questioned the programming I was told it is setup more for fuel economy. Of course when I asked why then is it only rated for 17 MPG in the city, all I got was a deer-in-the-headlights blank stare in return. Hmmmmm.

Look carefully at the pic of the interior and you might correctly point out that Buick has included a way to select gears yourself. That’s true. So during my drive I selected that mode to see if the car performed better. Thanks to the sleek styling and a designer somewhere not paying attention, the shifter - when in D - comes back almost to the base of the cup holders. The housing for the cup holders themselves curves upward at a sharp angle. Thing is, unless you have the wrist of a contortionist, it makes using the manual shift option simultaneously annoying and uncomfortable. Put a large size McDonald’s sweet tea in there and it’s game over for using the shifter.

To use another word, it is useless. And nobody gets points for features that might sound nice, but are in fact, useless.

So you’re stuck with relying on the computer in the transmission to work things for you, and I’ve already discussed how unimpressive that is.

At the end of the day, while it’s good effort – for GM – it’s not world class. And bankrupt automakers with negative public perception and 30 years of mis-steps need to hit homeruns if they want to survive.

And that brings me to the final part of the story. Naturally, the representative wondered how their car compared. And I was honest and I was polite about it. I told him it did not. When he asked what I was comparing it to, the two closest cars that I’ve recently been in – in price – that I could think of were the Acura TL and the Hyundai Genesis. The rep proceeded to argue with me that those cars were actually not intended as competitors because they’re more expensive. Sadder yet, I had to explain to him that the standard TL and Genesis were in fact very close in price and content to the LaCrosse I was testing. (mid upper $30’s). I’ve already commented on his response to my observations about the transmission.

You see (and this is to GM) when you price a car at $37,000, it’s going to be compared to other cars priced at $37,000. That’s how it works. No amount of wishing or hoping will change that. So, if you’re going to invite people to come and compare your “world class” car against the competition, you better be able to bury them. And the LaCrosse just doesn’t do it. The representative went on to talk to me about the value equation and more for less, which is laughable because he must not have heard me mention the Genesis – undisputedly the king of more for less. Worse, any concern I brought up he dismissed as if I was the one with a problem. See, (again to GM) burying your head in the sand and refusing to listen or at least acknowledge that other’s observations might have some merit isn’t doing you any favors either. As much as GM preaches change, I see anything but. I still see the same old arrogant corporate slug that thinks they’re always right, everyone else is wrong, and at the end of the day wonders why they’ve lost market share for longer than I’ve been alive. While they want “conquest buyers” like myself to come in and give their products a try, they just scratch their heads when we don’t flock to their showrooms and leave with their cars, probably concluding that we’re the ones who “don’t get it”.

I for one do get it and it’s very simple. It’s about the product, GM. I found myself saying the same things I said about the CTS: it’s nice – for a GM car. But competitive, or game changing? Nope. But the few remaining loyal employee buyers who will only buy GM until the day they die will find a lot to like.

The best cars do win the only game that matters – sales and market share. As GM has painfully discovered over decades of mismanagement, it hasn’t been them. And if this and the Traverse review are any indication of where GM is going with their “world class” products, not to mention their attitude if someone doesn’t bow to them and tell them how wonderful their cars are, then they’re in far more trouble than they realize. In fact, we all are now that our tax dollars have purchased a majority stake in the company.


2010 Lincoln MKS Ecoboost review

Recently this site has posted a link and commentary to a Linocln-sponsored video called “6 vs 8.” link Because of the odd test conditions and glaring omissions of raw data in the video, many have questioned its legitimacy. I’ve driven the Quattroporte review, equal Jaguars to the XF, and the BMW M5 review, while Chris has driven the BMW 550i review; and if in any test a Lincoln can meet or beat one of those cars, it’s worth a serious look. In all fairness to Lincoln, I thought I should drive the MKS myself before writing my own comments about the video. So I went to a dealer to establish my own collection of hard data on the MKS.

I was privileged to find the exact MKS that was used in the “6 vs 8” test – an AWD V6 powered with Ecoboost. Now I’m still not entirely sure what “Ecoboost” means since I don’t really think a 355-bhp twin-turbo is economical, nor does the premium gas mileage suggest it is eco-friendly. But I did understand that I was looking at Lincoln’s current flagship, strutting its best stuff, base priced at over $47,000. Lincolns being Lincolns I didn’t really bat an eye at that. From the outside I can only echo Chris’ review of the MKS – a lot of “dis-“ combined with “proportioned.” I had really too much time to peruse the exterior as most salesmen did not seem inclined to help me. After some considerable time someone did come out (not one of the three standing at the door to the showroom watching me pace around the car), and this is what I told him in a nutshell: ‘I saw this video, the results surprised me, and frankly if this car is in any way better than the Euro-sleds it was up against, I will save myself $80,000 and buy it right here right now.’ (I did like the pearlized white paint). Now of course any salesman would be eager to hear such words and he immediately offered me the key fob. But he had not seen the video and was just as surprised at the results as I was. So to establish my first hard fact I asked him how many people come to his dealer in the first place to cross-shop a Maserati and Lincoln. The answer was as expected: “No one.” When I asked another salesman, the answer was, “I would say you don’t know what you want.” First bit of hard data. But it’s my money so I’m going to climb in.

Inside the car I was not any more impressed. The leather felt nice and a little cushy – I wouldn’t expect anything less from Lincoln – but it took some time to find a comfortable driving position. Despite the size of the rear mirrors the car was still too chubby in the body and too squinted in the windows to provide adequate views. The clear plastic gauges were interesting the first time I saw them if only because the LEDs in the needles provide an interesting effect. But get out and look at the badge and the sticker and you quickly realize clear plastic should not be anywhere on the instrument panel. As you get out, notice the “wood” trim on the doors. It is also plastic, and rather flimsy. A quick knock on wood so to speak answers a hollow, artificial response I would expect to hear on $20,000 cars. And the same “wood” is repeated across the dashboard. My MKS also had the dual sunroof but to access it, you must retract the motorized fabric shade. And the time required to do that is extraordinary. Thankfully, at the halfway point, the motor will finish the job itself, but it’s one more machine doing what I could do myself. And one more set of parts that can break.

I turned my attention to the onboard computer. Say what you will about iDrive (and I have), it is a much easier system to navigate than what was provided in the MKS. While Lincoln does not offer me hundreds of customization options, what it does offer is beyond my ability to know. The screen opens with the Lincoln logo and two “play” buttons on the screen. Touching the logo will take you to an interesting dialog… to organize your photos. My what? (Look further down the console to learn this computer is powered by Microsoft). The play buttons have no description whatsoever, but to save you the trouble: the left button opens the sat-nav screen, and the right will display two gigantic touchscreen icons. One says “Audio Off,” the other “Climate Off.” Both were already off in the car, so when I pressed one of buttons, it turned the respective system… on. And once both were on, the gigantic “Off” buttons disappeared entirely and I had to go to the dials on the console to turn them off. In fact, I later learned I can control both systems fully from the console buttons. So why do I have a touchscreen with cryptic and misleading buttons?

Last but not least, my MKS had a large section of the center console just under the climate controls that in any other car would open to some storage compartment for your change, sunglasses, ipod, or cell phone. On the MKS though, it was nothing. Pure, unadulterated wasted space… except for the “Lincoln” badge across it. If it did open, I never figured out how. Defeated again. In all, the interior design and functionality of the MKS is a far cry from the purpose-built attention to detail given to ALL of the European V8s it was compared to. Second bit of hard data.

But I was not deterred! The drive would be exceptional and all would be forgiven, right? That’s what the video suggests, right? I took the fob and went on my way.

Don’t think for a moment that the two paddles on the steering wheel went unnoticed – I’ll discuss those right now. Now I’ve driven a number of “paddle-shift” transmissions, everything from the gimmicky, slushy automatics to the dual-clutch F1 tranny from Ferrari. The MKS is as far on the “gimmicky” side as any car I have ever driven. The response time is the slowest I’ve ever seen and the shift itself is characteristic Lincoln – geared entirely for comfort and not at all for performance. The computer takes so long to shift from second to first you think the car is not even listening to your requests. In fact, the paddles themselves do not work as I expected. In all examples I have driven, the right paddle is pulled for upshift, the left for downshift. Let me say first that Lincoln made it near impossible to pull the left paddle. The turn signal stalk is directly and squarely behind the paddle and I could barely get my scrawny finger between the two to grip the paddle. Try that in the middle of a hard run. But as it turns out, none of that matters, because pulling the left paddle does not downshift the car – it upshifts. As does pulling the right paddle. Did I mention redundancy in the onboard computer? Downshifting requires you to PUSH either paddle. Again, Lincoln had to reeducate me on everything I’ve ever known on a car – more than once I was coming up to a turn, managed to pull the left paddle and ended up shifting into fifth. Add to that the paddles being mounted onto the steering wheel itself, meaning that in any corner the paddles move about the car. When you already don’t know how they work, moving them around does not help, though it does inadvertently solve the location problem of the left paddle. Here’s your tip kids: to use the left paddle in the MKS, turn the wheel.

I mentioned the steering wheel, so let’s talk about the handling. I became a little concerned before I even left the dealer as I needed to pull a U-turn to get the MKS to the dealer exit. I had a space not much less than the width of a suburban street and the MKS couldn’t make the turn. Oh well, a Mercedes SL Black would have similar trouble. My next surprise came on an exit ramp S-curve. I settled the MKS and gave it some power in third gear and I was rewarded with instant understeer. The car nearly went in a straight line though I was barely crossing 50 mph. I’ve taken a BMW 335i through the same corners at higher speed and had room for more. Or a better comparison: I’ve taken a Maserati Quattroporte review through significantly tighter turns at the same speed with 0 trouble – no understeer, oversteer, or cries of pain from the tires. How the Maserati “lost” a jaunt through a mountain road to the MKS I have no idea. But apparently neither do the people who made “6 vs 8.”

Steering the car in general became a matter of luck, not skill. In any exciting corner I was playing a guessing game – the wheel simply could not tell me where the Lincoln would eventually go. Whatever I had learned in physics class or in another car had to be unlearned in the MKS. There were no rules. Only panic, uncertainty, and a new definition of physics brought to you by Lincoln. Some have written that the Lincoln is “light and nimble.” Yeah, like a dog is light and nimble on a newly waxed floor.

But maybe I’m being too hard on the car. I mean, it’s a Lincoln, not a Maserati, right? Do you see a pattern developing?

Straight line performance was not much better. Sure I knew the car was going straight, but again, reliance on road communication or laws of physics was no help. After driving the top-of-the-line engine in the top-of-the-line Lincoln, I could care less what its performance numbers are. I have never been so bored and out of touch with a twin-turbo engine in my life. I don’t even recall the sound of the turbo whine if it existed. If robots simply needed to get from 0-60 in 6 some-odd seconds, then this is the car for them.

One thing that does require your attention and forethought, however, is the shifting. I found that flipping the paddle up had to be done nearly 1000 rpm prior to the expected shift to take place. I was pulling the up-trigger at 5000 rpm so the MKS would shift just short of the 6000 rpm limiter. And don’t dare pull the paddle near 6K, because this is what could happen: the engine computer will get scared knowing how long it takes to pull off a shift and attempt to shift the gears for you (it is an automatic). Then you pull the paddle near the same time and suddenly the computer is confused. ‘Do I shift one gear? Two gears? Where’s the tach now?’ So in the eternal seconds it takes the computer to sort itself out, the car hangs on redline in gear. Unacceptable. Try that on a high-speed run. Try that on a mountain pass with turns and plunges that will kill you. This is the final piece of data, or as I am now calling it, the nail in the coffin.

I’ve lost interest in the MKS at this point and have returned it to the dealer. Again, maybe I am being too hard on the car. Surely the dealer will have some insight, some wisdom, some gem I have not yet considered. I am welcomed with a smile and a question: “Did it pass the test?”

“No,” I say. And while you may think the story is over, I’ve come to the best part.

What followed my “no” was an acknowledgement from my salesman, “yeah that’s what some of us thought.” Really? I was escorted into the showroom and ended up having a lively conversation with him and one other salesman inside. I related to them everything I’ve related here to you. Regarding the handling: they agreed. Regarding the performance: they agreed. Regarding the transmission: they agreed. In fact, there was not one remark made to me in defense of the MKS. More shocking than that: one of the salesman I was talking to drives a BMW 330i coupe; the dealer owner: a Maserati GranTurismo. All in the conversation seemed more content (and better able) to discuss BMWs and Maseratis than the Lincoln. And once we started talking about European cars, Lincoln never came up in conversation again. Once the salesmen knew what I had driven and what I look for in a car, they were unsure of why I was even there. The 330 driver strongly encouraged me to look at the 550i review.

Mission accomplished. Lincoln’s front line does not believe the “6 vs 8” test. Do you?

“6 vs 8” was bogus and Lincoln agrees. Not only does the MKS (in any form) not compare with the European V8s, it’s quality raises serious alarms about its lesser-bred sister, the Taurus SHO. If there is a gem in the car anywhere, you’re getting a LOT of baggage with it. In one aspect, though, the “6 vs 8” video does succeed. It got someone who would never have before considered a Lincoln to walk into a dealer ready to drop hard cash on its flagship.

Unfortunately for Lincoln, that was a very bad idea.

2007 Maserati Quattroporte Sport review

How would you classify a Maserati Quattroporte? I posed this question to a Maserati sales rep one day, and the answer was more difficult than either of us anticipated. The discussion that ensued spanned many topics ranging from her impressions to my experience behind the wheel. At first sight the Quattroporte looks like a full size Italian sedan built expressly to compete with the Germans and Brits. But does it?

Take for example the Mercedes S-Class. The Merc is big, comfy, full of gadgets, and in all the areas that I’ve lived, it has become an everybody-got-one status symbol. And the S is becoming outrageously overpriced. As of this writing, the MSRP for the S550 is $89,350. The bigger V8 of the S63 starts at $131,350 (!). The S600 - $147,450. And if you want the S that you won’t see on every city block, buy the S65… at $198,950 (!!). An almost $110,000 price jump on the SAME car – and this is with no options. The S is for status-minded people that would rather be chauffeured to work in a massage chair than engage in the art of driving. Hence it does not at all compare to the Quattroporte.

What about the 7-series? Much more reasonably priced at $80,000 – $85,000 base. While the design has improved from the 745 it still has a face only a mother could love. It sports the original and unabridged iDrive and doesn’t have the decency of including the M-button that made the M5 system tolerable (see review here). While I have not driven the current 7 I feel confident in saying that this adulterated technology has made the driving experience a shadow of what the car used to be. The Maserati is pretty and is not a living computer; thus not comparable to the BMW.

What do I mean by pretty? The QP marked a turn in recent Maserati design from Giugiaro and Italdesign to Pininfarina Design Studios. Not that the Giugiaro Maser Coupe was not pretty, but the body shape of the QP (and later the GranTurismo) pays better homage to the donor of much of what makes Maserati today: Ferrari. El Grouppo Ferrari Maserati was the partnership that spawned the QP, and this is readily seen inside and outside the car. The exterior has not changed drastically through the production of the QP, but subtle tweaks have only enhanced the appearance.

My ride was a 2007 model with a slightly more potent 4.3-liter Sport package (buyers can now choose a QP Sport GT “S” with the 4.7 liter V8). That’s a lot of oomph potential. Yet the engine is surprisingly light weight given the aluminum and silicon materials. The lighter engine allows for near perfect weight distribution – testifying to the true nature of the car. As do the red-painted valve covers. And did I mention this purebred Italian engine can scream to 7300 rpm? And I do mean scream. A neighbor of mine in Brooklyn owned one and I would often see him getting his cup of coffee in the morning. To get where he needed to go next usually involved cutting the block. An Italian V8 reverberating off the cramped buildings of the Heights will turn any head, but it seemed that this particular driver was always on the throttle, trying to make noise. I didn’t realize until I drove one myself that he was not abusing the car – this is in fact how it sounds even at low speeds and revs. I say turn it up!

The rest of the car is well suited to handle this power as well. Though the transmission is in reality an automatic, it is very quick to respond and adapt to your right-foot indulgence. There is a manual “mode” that transfers control of the gearbox to your hands via paddles on the wheel. I still believe you are driving an automatic (the GranTurismo S review actually had the real Ferrari-designed F1 transmission), but the car still responds quickly and confidently to the flick of your wrist. The ASR traction control is phenomenal, keeping the car solid through the tightest turns, and Maserati has only improved it with the Skyhook suspension system (unfortunately not on the car I drove). Brakes are by Brembo, “as they should be” to quote Maserati. For some extra money, paint your calipers.

The purposeful design and quality is also carried through inside the car. Maserati went an interesting direction with the doors. For many years, the luxury brands (especially in America) had a faddish desire to include systems on the doors and trunk to cushion closing. You do half the work, and the car would gently close the appendage the rest of the way. Maserati thought differently. They believed it would be more practical to ease entry into the car, not exit out of it. So merely run your finger over the latch (which you will find on the backside of the handle) and the door will open effortlessly. A nice touch when your carrying shopping bags or luggage. Oh yeah, make sure to check out the fitted luggage available. I would never check it at an airport, but the weekend driving getaway will enjoy a new level of style.

Inside sweet-smelling Poltrana Frau leather covers all seats and much of the dashboard and console. You’ll find the driver seat to already feel mostly adjusted for good driving, though all seats front and rear can be adjusted electronically. Trim packages appeal to the businessman and sportsman alike. The Executive series offers fine natural woods while the Sport packages use aluminum, ebonized wood, or carbon fibre. A larger computer system is available to the rear passengers, but this effectively limits the seating capacity to 4. The gauges are simple and easy to read, almost a sophisticated understatement. And with all of the customization options available, you can be sure never to buy the same car as your neighbor. Though the Germans may throw more gadgets inside their cars, Maserati makes it plain that they are not interested in tech-heads and college preppies. Sit in the Quattroporte and you will feel like someone special, a cut above the mainstream. You will feel like you have transcended the monotonous playground antics of “my Merc has this” or “my Bimmer can do this.” You answer simply, “I drive a Maserati.”

And boy does it drive. I already mentioned what others will hear as you drive by, and though the QP is well-insulated from road noise, you can enjoy plenty of the engine even with the windows up. You can click off gears with ease and, similar to the GranTurismo, if you think you are approaching redline, you probably have almost 2000 rpm to go. What I enjoyed most about the Quattroporte in a straight line is that you could indulge your adolescence quite well before you start breaking laws. Don’t get me wrong – the QP will break laws faster than most other luxury and sport sedans (the current QP S will reach 60 in a meager 5 seconds), but the journey to felonious speed will be a pleasure from start to finish. And in a land full of S-class Mercs, you will stand out proudly from the rest in looks, sound, and performance.

Put the Quattroporte into a corner and you will again be well rewarded. It does not have AWD, but the suspension and traction control will keep the car in perfect control around the tightest bends. I would say that it corners as well as the stiffest 5-series though it is the size of a 7. In fact, it was in a tight bend that I realized what kind of a gem of a car I had found. It was surprisingly good despite all of my expectations of driving a Maser. Sadly this revelation came close to the end of my drive and I would not experience that joy again until I drove the GranTurismo S. For all of you that want a 2-door sport GT but out of necessity must have a family car, this is the car for you and you make no compromises.

To my utter misfortune, though, I feel I wasted my drive in the Quattroporte. I got in this car right on the heels of the Bentley Continental GT and Aston DB9 review. Having had my senses assaulted by the Aston, I was a little less enthused about the QP than I should have been. As I mentioned, I did not realize how good this car was until the end of the drive, and I found there was so much more it had to offer me. I would welcome, even look for any other opportunity to drive it again. And for you prospective buyers, a very nice example one or two years old is very accessible. 2005 to 2006 QPs can be gotten all day long in the $40 - $50,000 range. 2007 to 2008 may cost you $70 - $90,000. For an MSRP of over $130,000, that’s not bad at all. Consider also that you will drop $80 - $100,000 on the most basic 750i or S550 – and you are guaranteed to see 4 others just on your way home from the dealer.

There’s only a few drawbacks to owning the Maserati. The nav system and electronic toys are admittedly behind the times (but who cares when you’re lost with that engine noise?). Service areas are few and far between – a reason that one of my friends passed on the Maser. You may not make friends with the ecologists either, though your next best option for a German sedan has a twin-turboed V12.

So to answer the question “How would you classify the Maserati Quattroporte?” The sales rep and I discussed all of the above about the car – the quality, the performance, the sensation. If you enjoy these things and hate the one-upmanship that springs from Deutschland marques, the QP is leaps and bounds beyond all other European executive cars. And even buying it new, it’s a fraction of the cost of the some of its competitors. In the end, the rep and I came up with the same answer to the question at the same time: “It’s a Maserati.”


6 vs 8 - Lincoln MKS takes on Euorpe's best

6 vs 8 video

Perhaps you’ve seen this video comparing the Lincoln MKS to some hefty Euro competitors. This video was referred to me as having a ‘surprise’ ending. To save you the trouble of reading and watching the video, my conclusion is that the video is one of the sorriest advertisements I’ve ever seen in my life.

The video is presented with a known racing driver driving the MKS, a Mercedes E550 (erroneously referred to in the video as an ES-550 – you guys can’t even get this right?!?!?) a BMW 550i, and a Jaguar XF to see if the MKS can “beat” the European luxury rides. Prominent editors from Motor Trend and Automobile magazine are, I guess, supposed to give credibility to this ‘test’.

Skipping to the end, the results are:

5th place – Maserati Quattroporte
4th place – Jaguar XF
3rd place – Mercedes ES(sic)550
2nd place – Lincoln MKS
1st place – BMW 550i and, I quote, “by 8/10th of a MPH”.

Where to begin?

Just for the record, this is not to specifically bash Lincoln and claim that they cannot make a world-class product. Ford’s strides over the past several years have impressed me the most of any manufacturer. Even though I was not impressed with the MKS in my review, that was of a first year model with a weak engine review. I’ve actually been impressed with other recent Ford models (Mustang review and Flex review specifically) and enjoyed my time in a Lincoln LS review.

First of all, it is never once mentioned what the criteria was for ranking the cars. How does the BMW 550i win anything by 8/10th of a MPH? The ranking wasn’t based on top speed – it is said later the Lincoln achieved the highest top speed on the course of 109 MPH. OF COURSE it did. Running a twin turbo motor against normally aspirated ones way up in heaven at 12k ft will give a decided advantage to the turbo motor, while at the same time be a tremendous disadvantage to a motor like what is in the Quattroporte – one that lives to rev up high.

So what was it based on? Who knows.

I’m not even going to get into all the reasons why someone would (and should) pick a 550i review or Quattroporte over the Lincoln. Those cars have high prices for a reason. And when you’ve been in them for some highly spirited driving like I have, you just can’t help but raise your eyebrow after watching this video.

This has got to be one of the most retarded, thinly disguised advertisements I’ve ever seen. And for Motor Trend and Automobile to lend their names to this test – well it just seems to me like they’re interested in sucking up for Ford for continued advertising dollars. They should be ashamed of themselves. At the end they’re congratulating the Ford engineer for the MKS’ showing in this ‘test’. Please. As supposed professional automotive ‘journalists’, they of all people should know better than to sell their journalistic soul and their integrity to a sham like this.

Notice how many times the film is cut and changed at the end when the Lincoln’s second place finish is being discussed. I’d love to hear what words and bits of conversation where swept into the dustbin on the cutting room floor.

Here’s a better idea. Run all of these bad boys at the Nurburgring. A REAL track at a normal altitude. Let’s see who finishes where then. Oh, and throw the CTS-V and Audi S6 in there just for fun too since you want to compare all high-end models.

Ford, you’re making some nice cars now. You’re making all the right moves and improving rapidly. This was completely unnecessary and insulting.

Do better.
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