2500 miles ramble

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Active Member
Jun 1, 2002
Maserati Quattroporte : Brabus A200CDi D3 : E300TDT
The plan was - to drive from Cheshire to Llafranc in Northern Spain and back again in a week, leaving on Tuesday afternoon, and being back the following Tuesday. I'd recently got the Maserati QP Auto Sport GT, and had really only driven it to work and back, bar a couple of trips down the motorway.

I was taking the car down alone, meeting some friends at Girona airport who were coming out for a long weekend, then one of them was driving back with me. It was a trip I'd done a couple of times before in the E55 estate, so I was keen to see how the Maserati fared in comparison to the 2 flawless AMG trips...so this is my ramble :eek:

Well aware that Clarkson had slated the QP suspension in the Sunday Times recently, the reservations weren't far from the surface as I set off.

To make things worse, while I was away, I watched him again on Top Gear on the Sunday of our weekend [doing a test on the E63 estate against the M5 Touring] in which he came down firmly in favour of the AMG....had I really got out out of a great car into a duffer?

The first leg was from Cheshire to Kent, to spend the night there before going through the Channel Tunnel on Wednesday morning. I wanted to see if I could get from Calais to Lafranc in a day. I'd done it before in the Merc, but not on my own. Given the traffic, the drive down the M6/M1/M25/M20 doesn't tell you much about a car.

Next day the alarm was like an electric shock, but getting out of bed is much easier with the prospect of a cooked breakfast followed by a day in a Maserati. It was cold and fairly clear, but at least it wasn't raining. I still can't look at this car without pinching myself - I was really proud of the AMG, and I admired it - but with the QP its looks captivate me each time I see it. I know, I'm mad, :eek: but I still can't believe its mine.


Loaded onto to the train with all the care that unmarked 20" alloys demand, the tunnel crossing was very quick and efficient. Off in Calais, straight on to the autoroute, and it's like being in a different world, never mind a different country. There is very little traffic, and this being November, the added bonus of no holiday traffic. But its raining, and quite hard at times.

This trip reinforced what I had begun to suspect over the past few French trips - the Gendarmes are out in force on the northbound carriageway to catch the poor souls tearing up the A26 trying to get to their crossing back to England. There is very little interest in traffic heading south, apart from the fixed radar traps, which are well signposted - and if you use the Via Michelin route planner, it tells you where all the cameras are. No real chance to take advantage because of the rain.

First point in favour of Mercedes - I had to change Nav CDs going through the tunnel as the Maserati system is not DVD based...it doesn't play mp3 CDs either...and it doesn't have an AUX input for an ipod...and it only has a 5 CD changer. The fact that the changer is in the car might be thought to be a saving grace, but in fact it is inaccessible unless you stop the car - it's under the steering wheel, above your shins. Worse still, it doesn't have a CD cassette, so rather like the W211 system, you have to feed the CDs in one at a time, but unlike the Merc, you either bend yourself double in the driver's seat, or you try and squat nonchalantly outside the car with your head in the footwell. Not a cool look.


Sad I know - but I love journeys like this for a variety of reasons. One of many is that I can play the music of my choice at the volume of my choice. Over the years with the kids, we had Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine, and all sorts of nauseous singalonga tapes playing really loud - but now they've gone Mrs G seems to have developed over sensitive hearing. So on this trip, the only time I turn it down is to hear the engine - like on accelerating hard when leaving the peage station. The telepeage Transponder device is a must on your own in a car this wide. If you don't have one, you have to queue, and then get out [in the rain] to pay, or collect a ticket, and watch while everyone you passed gets back in front of you. With this device, after a beep the barrier goes up - you sail straight through virtually every time, and like the rest of your holiday spending, its there on your credit card when you get home.

I'd have to say there is lttle to choose between the sound systems - I had the HK in the Merc, this one is a Bose; both are good, neither is great. As to engine/exhaust noise, the AMG is good, but the Maser is great - an absolutely wonderfully addictive, real head-turning noise - not "what's making that noise?" more "what kind of car makes a nose like that?"

For the first few hours in Northern France in the heavy rain, I'm a bit of a coward. I'm always a bit sheepish in the wet, particularly in a car I don't know well. I've had a couple of frights over the years with aquaplaning - feeling first the drag on the steering as you hit standing water, then felling the steering going light - so it was very much slowish/steady progress. Happily, after a few hours -


The road was drying out so at least I now had the chance of some good weather before it went dark. The relatively restrained wet weather driving made for a good fuel consumption reading on the trip computer.


While the Merc Comand system beats the Maser in some ways, the Maser steering wheel takes some beating. The F1 style paddles are infinitely better than the gearchange buttons my '54 E55 had. On the back of the Maser wheel there are rocker buttons too, but they change functions, or move you up and down within a function menu, or if you press them centrally, call up the Nav screen. It's a good system, and a nicer steering wheel too, IMHO.


Clarkson's principal complaint against the QP was about the suspension. He has a point. It is too soft except when you press the Sport button. That changes everything, including the speed of the gearchanges. The QP I had originally was a DuoSelect, which has a clutch rather than a torque converter. Its auto function is pretty poor - but if you stay in charge and get it right, the changes can be awesomely quick, so you can fool yourself into thinking you're really good. Then you get it not quite right, and reality sets back in... But that's not why I changed it for a full Auto earlier this year. My parking space at work is on a steep incline, and behind another car. Getting into the space is no problem because you can let the car roll - but getting out can require 2 or 3 manouevres uphill on full lock. It didn't like that at all - there was a smell of burning that made me think I'd need a new clutch every few thousand miles. Stratstone were excellent, and agreed to change the car.

The full auto QP also has a manual setting, just like the AMG does, but the changes are easier with the paddles, and definitely quicker in the Italian car. The Sport setting does make the suspension quite hard, and yet it can still feel a little jittery on poor surfaces. The 3 settings in the Merc were excellent - as was the ability to alter the height of the car. That's definitely an area where the Merc scores far higher than the Maserati.

The AMG supercharged engine is something you cannot help but miss - masses of low down torque, and bags of power. Combine that with all the allure of an estate car body and you have the ultimate wolf in sheep's clothing. It turns no heads, other than those who are in the know, those who spot the quadruple exhausts, the wheels or AMG bodykit. In the 3 years I owned it, I was approached twice by people who wanted to to ask about it, and once came across a teenager taking pictures of it.

The Maserati on the other hand - you have to make excuses about being late for the dentist or some such nonsense, in a polite attempt to cut the conversations short. Drive it as anonymously as you might, drift along the motorway slowly, it makes little difference, people slow down, look, smile, wave, give you the thumbs up, sound their horn - even to an English registered car in France. It restores your faith in a strange way, that people who often seem to treat each other as rivals or enemies on the road, can be really nice.

Overtaking half a dozen Mercs at once


The steering on the Maserati is infinitely more sensitive and communicative than the Merc - its almost too sensitive for a chap who's been driving Mercs for years - you really can't rest your right elbow against the window, with one thumb hooked into the wheel any more. Not that you ever should, but after a few miles in the Merc there was a tendency to "adopt the position". And it would still track straight and true. In the Maserati, you have to stay in charge, concentrate more, and it repays you. Bends, curves, tightening corners are an absolute delight - I had to scrub off far more speed in the Merc before a corner than is the case in the QP. Its weight distribution feels as near perfect as you could wish, and once you are used to the sensitivity of the steering, it seems to have limitless cornering power - I'm not talking track day stuff, just reasonably rapid motoring.

EVO magazine has the QP as the fastest big saloon round Bedford Autodrome - faster than an M5, M3, an SLK55 AMG Black [in fact all the AMG cars] and a Murcielago. Not that I can drive like that, but I can, I think, sense how much more capable the car is than I am - it promotes a great feeling of security. In fairness, though, they later said the changes to the suspension and the 20" wheels on the Sport GT have actually detracted from what was already an immensely capable car. All I know is, I'll never get anywhere near those limits on a public road.

I got a really good run on an empty piece of road just before dusk, and the car felt rock steady at more than twice the UK limit. That was my only real blast - its too risky for all sorts of obvious reasons - the radar detector, which had come out at the last fuel stop after the rain, was buried back in the boot and an indicated 135 kph was resumed - as so often it felt like 30 mph.

I reached my destination in Llafranc after a stop in Montpellier for a bite to eat, by about 11.30 pm. I'd been on the 9.20am train, which had meant leaving Calais at about 11am French time. I was pleased - 24 mpg overall, time hardly different from in the AMG, consumption slightly better, but that was due to the weather - and I didn't want the journey to end.


Next day, just to remind me I'd bought an Italian car, the front number plate dropped off. In fairness to Maserati, it was the dealer who had used double sided adhesive tape, and it must have taken a fair old battering in the rain and at speed, particularly as the GB marked plates had only been fitted the morning I left. When it came off I heard and saw it, retrieved it and got it fitted properly.


We were immensely lucky with the weather - it was a beautiful weekend to walk by the sea. The car is truly massive inside - 4 adults in complete comfort, even with the driver's seat fully back [I'm 6'2" with long legs]. The 2 who were flying back said they wished they had known how comfortable it is in the back - they would have driven back too, but maybe that has something to do with Ryanair.


Having driven down on the A7, driving back we chose to use the A75 for the fun of the bends and the thrill of the Millau Viaduct.



It was great fun too - it was fascinating for me to sit in the passenger seat, to sense how the car felt from there and to learn of someone else's reactions to driving it.

It is not as fast in a straight line as the E55. It's got a ludicrously small boot for such a big car with such a spacious cabin - there was plenty of room for 4/5 squashy weekend bags for this trip, but you can't begin to compare it to the boot of the E class saloon, let alone the estate. The Comand system is better, the Merc suspension is better. So why am I so happy with this car? I feel like James May who on last Sunday's Top Gear introduced the "Italian car cliche swearbox". It is hard to put into words without resorting to the "clinical efficiency of the AMG" and the "bewitchng" nature of the Maserati. I don't think I stopped to refuel it once while I was abroad without at the very least a nod of appreciation - even here in England I've had complete strangers come over and talk to me about it. Maybe I'm sad, and it makes me feel special, or maybe I'm just enjoying the attention after all these years?

At the moment, I'm not missing the Merc, but I've only done 4000 miles so far. The 3 years free servicing deal will help to keep me feeling good, no doubt, but only time will tell whether the novelty wears off.

And if it does, AMG beckons. ;)
To reveal to the world the sheer primordial power of this engine, all you have to do is touch the accelerator in neutral. Sleeping dogs ***** up their ears, serious men spring up from their desks, homely housewives reapply their lipstick and pat their hair, while little children press their noses to their windows. Even mere passers-by realise that something extraordinary is happening.

Auto Motor und Sport, 1969, on the Maserati Ghibli.

I remember seeing it with my dad at the Motor Show, and for a few exhilarating minutes, I believed he might buy one. He got a Jag instead - nice car, but not quite the same...

Thanks for your kind comments.

PS - It would seem we have an auto-edit so that dogs can no longer ***** up their ears... :(
Here are some slightly sunnier pics of driving over the Millau viaduct taken this July. We stopped at the viewing area but it was so packed with people climbimg the hillside to take pictures we gave up. It is worth the trek up to the top to get a shot like the one in the first post above, but be warned - it is mighty windy and cold up there at this time of year.


Cheers Guy.:rock: :rock:

Great write-up and the trip sounded awesome, pity about the rain, does slow you down some 110kmh in rain [68.75mph] and 130kmh normal [81mph]+10% only, to avoid being stopped.:rolleyes:

I have driven in France many times and you just cannot beat their motorways, for good surfaces and low volume of traffic. You can really eat the miles, and their are plenty of comfort stops too.
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Cheers Brian - good to see the spate of watery jokes is receding at last [sorry :rolleyes: ] - your new motor looks awesome.

I don't think there was anything that went past me on my trip that wasn't a diesel, every one with only a fraction of the oomph/style of yours... :)
Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your experiences. I really admire your taste in vehicles and if the AMG had to be replaced, then what a car to replace it with.

Jeremy Clarkson is a great entertainer but who cares what he thinks. Your car looks stunning and I for one am very envious.

Thanks again

Thanks John, and Robert,

Just glad you enjoyed reading it. :) Writing it was a great relaxation after getting back home and returning to work, plus it keeps the memories fresh too - at least until the next time.


Fantastic write up Guy...I for one, appreciate French motorways; they're unbeatable, even their service stations are good...!

I want to do the same sort of trip in my E34...if it lasts that long...:eek:
I want to do the same sort of trip in my E34...if it lasts that long...

I just read about your new job on another thread - congratulations! - no doubt a replacement car will be along in due course...:)
I just read about your new job on another thread - congratulations! - no doubt a replacement car will be along in due course...:)

Hopefully Guy, God and Finances willing! :)

I love the QP...Its just something about them, about all Italian cars...easiest way to put it is, a mechanic I know has an Alfa 159...and he says he'd rather be driving that than with his missus...!
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I thoroughly enjoyed that post Guy.
It's a trip I have done a few times and I always enjoy it, next time I might make my own little documentary too.
Cheers Guy.
great thread and must of took ages to post what an experience good to see you back in one piece the miilau viaduct must of being awsome thanks for posting regards jon ps must of spent some money on fuel
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