Any chance to drive a Maserati is a chance worth taking, that’s especially true of the new Maserati Ghibli S Q4. You could be dicing with rush-hour traffic in one of the most congested cities on the planet. You might be touring through sleepy villages in the Italian Alps at the tail end of ski season. Whatever the scenario, it matters little—the point is, you’re driving a Maserati.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when piloting any car with the trident logo was not necessarily a badge of honour. Those times are long gone: Armed with a rejuvenated line-up that includes the recently introduced Quattroporte, the dead-sexy GranTurismo/GranCabrio tandem and, now, the Ghibli, the Italian brand is stronger than ever.
Last year was a landmark one for Maserati: The company set an all-time global sales record on the strength of the all-new Ghibli and the latest-generation Quattroporte, a pair of saloons that are available with all-wheel drive (a first for Maserati) and turbocharged V6 engines from Ferrari.
As we learned last year, the Maserati Quattroporte has grown in size make room in the fleet for the Ghibli and to give the brand a stronger foothold in executive saloon-obsessed China and elsewhere. In terms of size, the Ghibli is a mid-size saloon, meaning that it’s slotted against the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Three different versions of the Ghibli were available on its release: a 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 (205kW; 600Nm) and a pair of turbocharged V6 petrol engines. The less powerful of the pair develops 250kW and 500Nm; the more potent churns out 310kW and 550Nm. This latter engine can be linked to the manufacturer’s all-wheel drive system and this car, the Ghibli S Q4, is at the very top of the performance heap for Maserati.
First impressions were gathered in and around the Los Angeles area, followed by an ill-timed, dog-slow commute to Palm Springs, a trip that would normally take two hours stretching on for three. This trip serves to remind me that people drive cars for all sorts of purposes, not just the glamorous ones found in car commercials. But if your drive time is confined to such mundane activities, there are worse places to be than in a Ghibli—far worse, in fact.
In terms of driving enjoyment, though, it was restricted to little bursts of power from the twin-turbocharged V6 as I joined the end of the queue. And the next queue. And the queue after that. The snap, crackle, pop of the exhaust while using the paddle shifters to move from first to second gear provided an exclamation point on the entire, five-second affair. It was the new definition of “fun while it lasted.”
A few months later, a more sustained piece of driving was on offer—the chance to drive the Maserati Ghibli S Q4 in its, shall we say, intended environment, the snow-covered Italian Alps. In fact, the AWD versions of both the Ghibli and the Quattroporte were on hand for the spectacularly snowy event in the ski resort of Cervinia.
Although the two cars are very closely related from a mechanical standpoint—they share chassis, engines and suspension architecture—yours truly elected to focus on the smaller, lighter and more nimble Ghibli for this particular exercise. This proved a wise decision as the more compact Maserati showed a genuine willingness for easy drifting without being saddled by an overly weighty moment of inertia. In fact, the car was a genuine pleasure to drive on an ice track that was carved into what appeared to be access roads and parking lots in a valley nearby.
With all the driver aids switched off, the Ghibli maintained a very prominent rear-drive bias. Under normal driving conditions, all the power is sent to the rear wheels; under extreme conditions, half of that is sent to the front. The result is a saloon that offers the inherent fun of a rear-wheel drive layout combined with the added traction and safety of a quickly reactive AWD system when things start to spin out of control.
Can an Italian saloon perform a Scandinavian flick? Yes, brilliantly.
The other key aspect of the Ghibli S Q4 is this—it’s a quick car. The saloon sprints from 0 to 100km/h in an estimated 4.8 seconds, an entirely respectable time for this class of car. Without question, even on snow- and ice-covered roads, where traction is at its worst, there’s a definite forward thrust to be felt when the Ghibli is under power. There’s also a genuine visceral thrill to hearing the exhaust wail and the rear wheels spit out winter weather with reckless abandon.
The twin-turbo V6, developed in conjunction with Ferrari, is the star of the show—but the AWD system is a close runner-up.
As far as other qualities of the car are concerned, there is much to praise. The exterior design, for one, has been described with near-universal acclaim. The Ghibli may not be as drop-dead gorgeous as the GranTurismo, but its looks seem to have struck the correct balance between Italian sensuality and everyday practicality. The back seat and the boot on the car are not expansive, but you could say the same thing about any number of mid-size saloons out there.
The interior is a comfortable and luxurious environment that is not as radical in terms of look as the latest Quattroporte. The Maserati steering wheel is stunning. The leather seats and trim piece are sumptuous. The shift lever and centre console are, as expected, designed for reasonable ease of use. The navigation screen is given too much prominence, but that’s the way things seem to be going these days.
All told, there’s a lot going for the Maserati Ghibli S Q4—certainly more than enough to keep the average German saloon driver entertained. Still, the car’s unique selling proposition is a powerful one—it’s the least expensive new car in the world with a Ferrari engine. In many ways, you can’t even put a price on that.