The Maserati experience that's so exclusive money can't buy it

Bombolini and machiatto are not the usual ways to kick off a drive day of sports car exotica.

But this is Maserati, and while the location may be de rigueur – we're at Sydney Motorsport Park at Sydney's Eastern Creek – the Italian brand likes to do things differently, reinforcing its heritage at every garage, bathroom and corner of the race track.

Buying power

One significant difference is that the Maserati Ultimate Drive Day Experience is only for people looking to shell out six figures-plus on a Maserati or for those who've already done that.

"You can't pay to be here," says Maserati Australia general manager Glen Sealey. "You have to be invited. It's part of the brand and it's part of the way we like to do things."

It's about exposing people to the niche range – Ghibli mid-sized sedan, Quattroporte limousine, Gran Turismo sports car and Levante SUV – and allowing them to experience them without having a radar gun threatening them.

Slide theory

As well as theory and practice on tackling a corner at speed on a race track, there's fun time.

The wet skid pan activity that shows off the benefits of stability control – hauling the car back into line if you get too enthusiastic – is more about creating broad smiles.

It ends by switching off all handling aids and allowing a Ferrari-made V8 to vigorously spin the rear wheels, resulting in some spectacular slides.

Get it right and you can hold a lairy tail slide around a tight circle. Or you could end up spinning out backwards.


Down and dirty

Maserati adds one curveball to the day – an off-road course.

In one of the small hills surrounding the track is a basic four-wheel drive track, designed to demonstrate some rough road basics.

The course isn't tough – most soft-roaders could tackle it – but it's a neat demonstration that the Levante will likely venture far further than most owners will expect.

Maserati is proud the Levante tackles the course on the same Pirelli P Zero tyres we're using on the same cars on the race track.

But the reality is those tyres are likely to be the weak point for anyone doing proper off-roading, especially considering there is no proper spare.

Flat out

On the track the Levante shows its SUV roots.

It handles terrifically for an SUV, but like all SUVs there are compromises.

The most obvious of those is having the weight up high, that tendency to lean countered by firmer springs and adjustable dampers, all of which do a great job – but none of which do nearly as good a job as the same tech in a regular passenger car with the centre of gravity closer to terra firma.

Switching into the Gran Turismo is a very different experience.

Four into two

First launched in 2007, it's still a gorgeous two-door, its sweeps and curves characterised by a long bonnet proudly displaying that trident badge on a suitable toothy grille.

But the two-door four-seater that's focused as much on comfort and space is starting to show its age, something most obvious once you wind up the pace.

It's the only Maserati still powered by Ferrari's naturally-aspirated 4.7-litre V8.

It's never going to be as quick as a Ferrari because it's carrying around plenty of weight, but it's still brisk – claimed to top 100km/h in 4.8 seconds.

Approach its limits and the stability control gets overly aggressive, making it trickier to utilise the full 338kW and 520Nm. The front end also wants to run wide, or understeer, countering the tail-wagging low speed fun of the skid pan.

Sizing up

The largest Maserati on the market is the aptly named Quattroporte, one of the elder statesman of the limousine market.

Utilising the newer 3.8-litre twin-turbo Ferrari V8 it makes 390kW/650Nm, enough to make for one brisk four-door.

While it's no sports car, it's a fast and comfortable way to lap a track, surprising with the way it deals with 1.9 tonnes at 220km/h-plus.


But it's the smaller four-door in the Maserati lineup, the Ghibli, that impresses most.

It's the freshest car in the range, albeit one first seen in 2013.

And while there's no V8, the 301kW/550Nm from the twin-turbo V6 provides hearty thrust for a car that relishes a thrash.

Its rear-drive dynamics are always on show, the handling electronics allowing just enough slip and slide to have it squirming on the limit.

More firmness in the suspension would tie things down better, although as Maserati's Glen Sealey points out, "Maserati is not that hard-core sports car brand … Maserati is a brand about getting somewhere in style…"

Price guide

Size up a Mercedes-AMG or Audi RS and you'll likely get more bang and more features for less money.

But Maserati makes no apologies for its price premium, one that came down recently on many models with a price readjustment, in some cases reducing the price by tens of thousands of dollars.

Sealey points to exclusivity and the use of high quality trims and finishes, including Zegna silk and pieno fiore (full grain) leather.

Sign here

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sealey says the Ultimate Drive Days have a high hit rate in terms of how many people go from being prospects to being buyers.

While the experience isn't wildly different to others offered by performance brands, there's enough of the Italian flavour – an insight into the 'family' Maserati tries to create – to lure those wanting more than a car.

Plus, depending on where the event is held you're likely to be treated to a lunch rarely seen at a race track.

Ours was prepared by Maserati ambassador Giovanni Pilu, a car lover and the creator of (delicious) authentic Italian cuisine as his Sydney beachside institution Pilu.

Sans the prosecco and Barolo…