Say it out loud: Maserati. The very name resonates with romance, glamour and the promise of speed. Even if you don't know what a Maserati looks like - quite likely, because they are rare beasts - the implied allure of this very Italian name does not disappoint. Maserati once fought for supremacy with Ferrari on the world's Formula One circuits, but that was decades ago. The company subsequently concentrated on high-performance cars every bit as capable as Ferraris until the 1980s, when it unexpectedly produced a compact sports saloon the size of a small BMW, cost quite a lot, went very fast and went wrong even more. The Biturbo, and a bewildering number of variations on it, nearly withered the company. Eventually Fiat stepped in, before handing the company over in 1997 to Ferrari - which it owns - for a sustained rejuvenation.
Today, Maserati sells the exclusive V8 Coupe and Spider, a handsome but flawed pair that have speared a steady renaissance. Now they are joined by the rampantly luxurious new Quattroporte - that mouthful means four doors - a powerful, elegant and richly appointed four-door saloon that is Italy's only home-produced luxury car. And for this reason alone, it's a refreshing option in a class short of alternatives to the usual Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Jaguars.
But the Quattroporte deserves attention for more than the mere fact that it is neither German nor a Jag. It is, for example, exceedingly fast, almost shockingly so for a saloon that looks so formal, erupting to 62mph in 5.2 electric seconds and on to a deliciously illegal 171 mph. And the noises it makes while doing this will bring out the Schumacher in you.
Yet this is also a svelte, refined and sumptuously furnished saloon whose beautifully furnished interior will balm your troubles away.
This big car is surprisingly fleet of foot. Never mind the unlikely demeanour - it sounds magnificent, providing entertainment of a kind that you just don't expect from a luxury saloon. It's at its best on long, sweeping curves, where its striking agility allows you to let rip with the 400 horsepower in the irresistibly sonorous V8. That you can choose to change gear using a pair of steering column flaps, Formula One-style, only heightens the impression that you're driving a four-door GT. The DuoSelect gearbox also changes gear automatically, if not always with satin finesse. The foibles of this transmission need learning, and it's often less smooth than a conventional automatic, but on the right road it's fun to use.
Speaking of smoothness, the Quattroporte does not ride broken blacktop with the equanimity of a Jaguar - though you could hardly call it uncomfortable.
And the cabin is spacious, quiet and beautifully finished. So is there a major downside? Sadly, yes - this car is a dipsomaniac, consuming a gallon for every 15 glorious miles.
Still, at almost £70,000 this Maserati cannot be anything other than an indulgence, and never mind the three years' free servicing that comes with it. The Quattroporte does not deliver the precision perfection of a luxury German saloon, nor the subtle British refinement of a Jaguar, but its comfort, performance, exclusivity and Italian elegance make it highly desirable.
Max power: 400 bhp
Max torque: 342 lb ft
Max speed: 171 mph
0-62mph: 5.2 sec
Fuel consumption: 15.0 mpg
CO2 emissions: 440 g/km
BMW 760i: £76,775
V12 performance with luxury, but over-complicated electronics can make
for a frustrating drive.
Jaguar XJR: £59,950
The supercharged XJ is more modern than it looks. Good to drive, but not