The hills are alive
Salzburg is probably the most beautiful city in Austria, if not the world, but I can't wait to leave it. On any other day I'd stroll around the 11th-century Festung Hohensalzburg castle, look down on the Salzach River and marvel at the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
But when you're about to drive the latest Maserati Quattroporte S through The Sound of Music country, reflections on the roar of a Modena V8 leave musings about the von Trapps or The Magic Flute for dust.
At least one motoring writer was salivating at the driver's briefing when Maserati's Ivan Capelli said: 'The most interesting part of the test route is through the German Alps - after Berchtesgaden - where you can feel the power of the new 4.7-litre engine.'
Maserati is proud of its new Modena 4.7-litre V8 engine. Built by Ferrari and introduced to the GranTurismo S only a few weeks ago, the engine is said to produce 430hp at 7,000rpm with 430Nm of torque. The maximum output is a fraction lower in the two-door GranTurismo S, enabling it to 'cope well with the six-speed ZF gearbox'.
The Quattroporte is beautiful inside with a distinctive leather-and-wood steering wheel. Maserati has made few changes in this latest edition's controls. There is still an analogue clock, albeit with new graphics. The instrument panel is in a blue, more Maserati-like finish and the test car's Bose multimedia system is easier to use with big round controls. It now offers a DVD player, a music library and many supporting functions such as Bose's uMusic playback system, an iPod interface and a 40-gigabyte hard drive - enough storage space for all the music you need.
At our motoring editor's behest we played Mozart as we left Salzburg and the audio quality of The Abduction from Il Seraglio is about as good as it gets in a car.
Holiday traffic clogged the road to Berchtesgaden on the German side and we spent a good part of an hour looking at the brake lights of the Quattroporte S in front, driven by our counterparts from Singapore.
The new Quattroporte S is bound to impress Hong Kong's elite at its Cyberport launch next Friday. Slightly longer and more muscular than its predecessor with new front and rear bumpers, this model also sports new side mirrors, front lights and a bigger grille (for more air intake) with vertical fins.
The suspension feels supple in the normal setting. If you're looking for a little firmer body control through the corners, you can press a 'Sport' button option on the front panel.
It is hard to say the suspension is class-leading, however, and it would amaze me if it coped as well on some of Hong Kong Island's twisty, undulating roads. Even so, the dark chocolate Poltrona Frau leather seats feel firm and comfortable for long-distance trips.
The Quattroporte S' six-speed ZF automatic gearbox is like the Guus Hiddink of football coaching: heavyweight and versatile. When the current generation Quattroporte was first introduced, it featured only a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox. It was quick but also noisy and harsh. Now the gearbox is much smoother and while the changes may be a fraction slower on paper it's hard to notice the difference.
Capelli was right about the route beyond Berchtesgaden. The 30km stretch snakes through the mountains - as smooth as an ironed shirt. The power of the V8 and swiftness of the gearbox really comes into play on the bends. The rev counter twitches like a conductor's baton and there is a temptation to turn off the Mozart just so that we can hear the sound of the block.
The car's gear change is sufficiently smooth, but not the benchmark for its class, even though Modena engineers have spiced it up.
Maserati emphasises that the Quattroporte S should not be seen as a direct competitor of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Lexus LS. It is in what Modena publicists say is a class of its own - the 'Luxury Sports Sedan'.
The upgraded perforated disc brakes work wonders downhill with dual-cast front discs and aluminium callipers.
Never feeling overly assisted, the brakes give you best-in-class stopping power as well as a pedal feel to match.
Back-seat passengers will be impressed by a quieter ride.
The Quattroporte S is a much improved version over the original - it keeps all the goodies of the first model and yet is more powerful and refined.
It's better looking, too. Mozart would like its new engine music.
AT A GLANCE: Maserati Quattroporte S
What drives it? A 4,691cc V8 engine and a six-speed ZF gearbox, rear-wheel drive with rack-and-pinion, power-assisted steering and ventilated discs on 19-inch alloy wheels.
How fast is it? The V8 is capable of producing 430hp at 7,000rpm and 490Nm at 4,750rpm, hits 100km/h in 5.4 seconds and tops at 280km/h, the marque says.
How safe is it? Eight airbags, stability programme and dual-cast brakes.
How thirsty is it? Consumes 15.7 litres per 100km in combined cycle, or around 7 per cent more thirsty than the 4.2 V8.
How clean is it? Emits 365g of carbon dioxide per km, or 14 per cent more than the 4.2 V8. Available: HK$1,738,000 from Auto Italia (tel.3521 0183)