Maserati, one of Italian auto racing's most storied brands, celebrated its centennial last year. The Bologna company founded by brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto is now owned by the massive Fiat Chrysler conglomerate, along with its Italian brothers Alfa Romeo and Ferrari.
That makes Maserati an in-between marque, far more glamorous than the most exalted Fiat or Chrysler but well short of Ferrari.
Maserati's 2015 Quattroporte GTS rides the middle in other ways too — not as luxe as the highest end Mercedes, nor notably more capable than a less-expensive BMW or Audi.
Even in its styling, this full-sized sport sedan is difficult to distinguish. With its subtle badging, gently rounded contours and muted grigio, nero and bronzo color schemes — there is no bright paint option — the Quattroporte might be mistaken for almost any European or Japanese luxury car.
But this four-door, four-passenger sedan still offers large measures of comfort and speed. The 3.8-liter, twin turbocharged V-8 engine — designed and built by Ferrari in Marinello, but tucked into its housing at the new state-of-the-art Maserati facility in Grugliasco — makes 523 horsepower and 524 pound-feet of torque.
It will drive the GTS from zero to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds on its way to a top speed of 191 mph. A fluid eight-speed transmission switches seamlessly from automatic to manual with a pair of intuitive paddle shifters.
Around town, the car is smooth and quiet as a bank vault.
The interior is minimalist and masculine, more like a Milano man cave than the driver's compartment in a sports car, and the rear passenger area is like a suite at the Ritz Carlton. The seats are electronically adjustable, and ventilated, and face two 10-inch entertainment screens. There ought to be iced compartments to chill the champagne and caviar.
The model I drove included a $5,700 "Luxury Package," featuring four-zone climate control, ventilated leather seats, custom brake calipers and a suede-like Alcantara headliner, and a $5,200 Bowers & Wilkins stereo system.
On a high-speed road like the Angeles Crest Highway, the Quattroporte puts the S on that GT, and turns from grand touring car to sports car.
Agile and aggressive, with its sport engine and suspension buttons illuminated, it carves canyons like a knife shaving a Parma ham.
All that power doesn't make much noise. The Quattroporte's interior sound-dampening materials are so effective, and the sound system is so lush, that I had to mute the Montovani and lower the windows to even hear the delightful music coming from the GTS' signature trapezoidal exhaust pipes.
It also isn't very efficient. The Quattroporte gets a combined fuel economy rating of 16 miles per gallon, and comes with a $1,300 gas guzzler tax.
The car stops as well as it starts — almost too well. The hypersensitive Brembo braking system is effective in negotiating fast rollers on the Crest, but annoying in stop-and-go traffic.
And at a time when most in-dash information and entertainment screens look like something out of "The Matrix," the GTS' system looks like something out of a Toyota Matrix — fine for an economy car, but quite out of place in a $150,000 automobile.
For a lot of potential buyers, the price point may be the whole point: The Quattroporte is competing for consumer attention with some compelling automobiles, particularly those made by Mercedes, BMW and Audi. If performance mated with luxury are the main requirements, who's not going to buy German?
Maserati, since being folded into the Fiat Chrysler family, has apparently been told to mainstream its product line. To that end, the company two years ago debuted the Ghibli, Maserati's first modern "affordable" vehicle. Starting at under $70,000, the Ghibli was meant to compete with the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series vehicles, and to create higher volume sales for this historically niche brand.
That has worked. According to the auto data company TrueCar, Maserati sold 2,046 Ghiblis in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2015, out of a total of 3,234 vehicles sold in total. During the same period, the company sold only 660 Quattroportes.
For the Quattroporte, which costs more than twice as much as the entry-level Ghibli, will potential buyers view this Italian stallion as just a bargain-basement Ferrari? Or, just as bad, as the almost-best Fiat Chrysler product money can buy?
Maserati has been a respected auto brand for more than a century. And Fiat Chrysler has deep pockets.
For now, test drivers should slip into one of the most comfortable interiors on the market, roll down the windows, turn off the Sirius XM and take in the exhaust-pipe aria of a fine Italian motor.