Words: Anand Mohan
Fifteen minutes up the climb, the racy Ferrari V8 was singing in my ears. I had passed a canyon as the wide snaking road meandered through two mountains and opened up to a dry crumbly cliff on my left and a steep drop on my right. The road straightened a bit before a bridge. I was far from the speed cameras of Dubai and the only car I had seen had passed me a few minutes ago. And so I came to a stop, turned the traction control off, stepped on the brakes and throttle for a bit and embraced some hooliganism in the following minutes. Maybe it’s not me, it’s the Quattroporte, or maybe us Indian motoring scribes are a bit loose in the head. But give us something Italian on a rare day up a winding road and you can bet your house and wife on it, we will drive it like a getaway car gunning out of a bank. Especially when there’s little fear of the law getting in our way. I was gunning for the Oman border at speeds I’ve never done before in something this long and big, it almost felt like I was making a dash for it, in well, what better way to put it – a mafia car. What was I doing on a desolate mountain road with a Quattroporte GTS? There need not be a reason, so I’ll make up something towards the end. But this is how it started…
The night before
It took a minute and 20 seconds to get to the 122nd floor to have dinner at Atmosphere, the highest restaurant in the world. The restaurant is in the 828-metre tall Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. At dinner, I was offered two choices by the good folks at Maserati who handed me the keys to the Quattroporte – to drive to Jebel Hafeet, as you could guess by now, the best driving road in the UAE (and by that, they probably mean the world), or Jebel Jais, the only place that was yet to be slapped with another such title. I had had enough of it. And so I picked Jebel Jais, the mountain for the simple man. Or so I thought.
Now ideally, the obsession with superlatives meant that I really should have been driving the best high-performance luxury sedan in the world for the job – a Panamera, but as you know, I had had enough of it, and Maserati doesn’t make Panameras. For once, I craved for something that’s just good at what it does, and does it at its evocative best. Sound glorious, be rear-driven, look beautiful as the tail steps out on a winding road, just these simple things. It’s best to let the Italian step in right about now to light up the front porch of the Armani hotel in downtown Dubai.
The road to nowhere
A V8 rumble warms the winter morning air as I try to find Jebel Jais on the sat nav. Jebel means mountain, the sort of landscape fairly alien to the desert-living locals. There was one mountain road till the beginning of 2015, the climb to Jebel Hafeet, and the Sheikhs didn’t wait one second to call it the greatest driving road in the country. How cute! Sometime in 2009, Ras Al-Khaimah (one of the seven Emirates in the UAE) found out that the Jais mountain bordering Oman on the north rises up to 6207 feet above sea level. If you haven’t noticed by now, that’s the highest mountain in the UAE. Why wouldn’t they build a road on that! The Emirati people are quite competitive. The road was completed a few months ago and hence, isn’t on the sat nav yet. What’s good about roads that aren’t on the map? No speed limits.
I was driving a Quattroporte with a restless Ferrari V8 up front, and one button away from lighting up the rear tyres. We Google mapped the route to Ras Al-Khaimah airport and weaved our way through a small town from there to get to the base of Jais mountain. The desert landscape changes as you drive from the wide highways out of Dubai through Sharjah to Ras Al-Khaimah. The dunes vanish into a hard desert, some gravelly bits whizz past and then the mighty Jais mountain welcomes you with a straight smooth stretch of asphalt drawing you into the mouth of the dry mountain.
The hill climb
It’s a little more than a hill climb. And it’s as dry and desolate as they come, but it’s far from gloomy. You get two lanes climbing up and one coming down, and the traffic is sparser than the number of Maseratis you can spot in India. Long story short, you can play with the paddles, access the deep torque reserves, and balance the Quattroporte GTS on its throttle. Feed in a healthy amount of petrol into its eight cylinders, let the tiny turbos work up some low-end torque, turn in early and hard, and balance the long stepped out tail with a fair bit of countersteer. It takes a little time to come to grips with the big guy’s length and weight, and the effort required for the hydraulic steering (in Sport mode), but the 3.8-litre Ferrari block more than makes up for it. It’s best at an even dose of part throttle, with the tacho firmly in its mid-range and the wheels putting all their power to the tarmac. Don’t try unsettling the car too much or it will show its annoyance. That’s if you want to keep things smooth. Feed the power in early as you enter the corner, use the overboost (that gives 710Nm of torque up to 3500rpm) to kick that tail out, be quick to catch the slide as you exit the corner and throttle out and you will light up with a wide smile like the tortured rubber lines on the tarmac. As the engine revs past 5000rpm, the exhaust flaps open, and instigate a landslide on these dry mountain cliffs. You can really be up to no good at the wheel of a Quattroporte.
And before I forget…
Give us a winding road and a rear-wheel drive V8 and it doesn’t take long to forget that there’s more to it than just the drive. This I was told is the new Quattroporte, relaunched for 2017, and that meant I had to find something new in it. And so I got back to the hotel, visited the press site and put two pictures of the new one and the old one together. Turns out, the bumper is all new, with wider and stretched inlets, and the grille protrudes more, gets plenty of chrome, and with both cars side-by-side, looks a lot more menacing as a mafia car. I could tell that it is plusher inside. We had the GranSport trim that comes with sportier seats, leather all round and a more aggressive stance, courtesy a gorgeous set of 21-inch rims. I reckon ride will suffer a fair bit and in India, you’d be better suited with the GranLusso’s 20-inch rims, but oh my, these wheels look delicious.
The GranLusso comes with Zegna silk interiors, that feel extremely rich and are in the seats, doors, headlinings and sun visors. Both trims come standard with the Quattroporte GTS. The QP also gets a new 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system which is now compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Because you need a reason
Well, fuel is cheap and a V8 is just about right in this part of the world. Not convinced? How about feeling like part of the cosa nostra or Honoured Society, driving like a getaway driver and coming close to driving a Ferrari? This usually should do. But there is more, because the QP is beautiful, the road was one of the best roads I have ever driven on. I could drive with the kind of uninhibited enthusiasm that reminded me of the M4 drive on a rally stage in Portugal a few years ago. Driving up to the Jebel Jais summit was the motoring experience of a lifetime in the Quattroporte GTS, simply because it drew parallels to an epic drive from the past. And that’s an unending quest for a motoring scribe – bettering your most memorable drives. In the search of superlatives, if you are an automotive enthusiast, pursue a drive you will remember for a lifetime. There is nothing better than that, and with the Quattroporte GTS up Jebel Jais, I just added another one to my greatest hits.