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Good vibrations: Why the Maserati Quattroporte's engine is music to drivers' ears

We live in the age of the turbocharger and the all-electric Tesla, a machine that ghosts down the road in silence. The natural music of internal combustion is slowly disappearing. Some manufacturers now pipe synthesized engine sounds into the cabin through the stereo. But then we come to the Maserati Quattroporte, the most beautiful-sounding machine I've driven in a long time. The Quattroporte rolled up like a four-wheeled Pavarotti, singing an internal-combustion aria through stainless-steel tailpipes.

I never got tired of listening to the Quattroporte. Accelerating onto the freeway was worth it just to hear the Maserati's mechanical music as the engine climbed up through the gears. Clicking off a downshift yielded a crescendo worthy of a philharmonic horn section.

The Quattroporte is an interesting study in automotive acoustics. Making a car engine sound great calls for serious engineering chops, plus the finely tuned ear and exquisite taste of a top-flight music producer. It starts with mechanical design: cylinder layout, firing order, crankshaft geometry, metallurgical choice… the list goes on. And then come the intake and exhaust systems, which must be shaped with the care that goes into a fine musical instrument.

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Most cars have no more acoustic allure than a heavily muffled lawn mower. But there are some memorable four-wheeled singers out there. A well-tuned, non-turbocharged Porsche 911 has an angry, Germanic rasp that makes you dream of days on the autobahn. A V-12 Lamborghini makes a spine-tingling yowl. Then there's Ford's Shelby GT 350 Mustang, which comes equipped with the most aggressive-sounding V8 I've ever driven on the street. (My road-test conclusion: If you tied down a Bengal tiger and gave it a proctological exam with a red-hot fireplace poker, it would probably sound much like the Shelby at redline.)

The Quattroporte has all the aural appeal of these cars, but in a package you can live with every day. You hear the motor, but it doesn't wear you down. The Lamborghini and Shelby are thrilling, but it's like sitting next to the speakers at a death-metal concert.

A classically beautiful car, with tasteful detailing and a body that strikes a perfect stylistic balance, the Quattroporte is more voluptuous than a BMW or an Audi, yet avoids the cartoonish excess that afflicts some Italian designs. (Ferrari has made some beautiful cars, but the F50 is an overdone travesty, and so is the Lamborghini Vereno, which resembles a mutant fish that has been equipped with headlights and a windshield.) Beautiful as the Quattroporte's shape may be, though, its defining feature is its mechanical soundtrack. And Maserati knows it. The company prides itself on the fact that its cars can sound this good without the fakery and digital intervention that other manufacturers resort to. One Maserati executive described the Quattroporte's acoustic design as "mechanical organic." Not bad.

According to a study conducted by a British insurance company, the sound of a Maserati engine is an aphrodisiac. (No word on whether the study was paid for by Maserati's marketing department.) The authors of the study played a series of engine recordings to test subjects, and found that females exhibited higher testosterone levels in their blood after listening to recordings of a Maserati engine (elevated blood testosterone levels can be a sign of increased libido). Not surprisingly, Maserati began offering engine-sound recordings as downloadable ring tones after the study came out.

The Quattroporte's sound has helped it earn a cult following. Youtube is chockablock with videos of owners recording their exhaust notes for posterity. Many have modified their cars to make them sound even better. Personally, I would stick with the factory setup, but it's interesting to watch the hard-core buffs blowing the price of a Toyota Yaris on aftermarket header pipes, resonators and custom mufflers.

After testing several setups, one Maserati modifier settled on a Larini cross-pipe and standard mufflers, and cautioned others not to mess up the Quattroporte's beautiful acoustics: "You can keep some raspiness in the exhaust so it doesn't start sounding like a Camaro." I saw his point. The Quattroporte is an elegant, high-performance sedan that carries five in comfort and style. Its competitors include BMW, Mercedes and Audi. They're all fine machines. But the Maserati is a car you drive with the windows down, so you can listen to that Italian music.

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