The Ghibli sedan takes Maserati into more affordable territory and places some premium Germans on watch
The Maserati Ghibli takes the Italian marque into new territory that you might call, if you dared, ‘mainstream’ luxury.
After years of serving up prestigious limos and GTs, Maserati’s revival of the Ghibli nameplate brings a more compact four-door sedan that will give buyers in the Mercedes-Benz E-Class segment pause for thought.
And to confirm the Maserati Ghibli is something quite different from the brand with the Trident badge, there’s even a diesel engine powering the model that starts at an unprecedented point for a Maser: below $140,000. The Italian company believes the Ghibli is a more natural rival for the sexier variants of the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and E-Class, meaning the A7 Sportback, 6 Series Gran Coupe and CLS.
The Ghibli certainly has suitably handsome looks, even if its body style contradicts earlier versions. The original Ghibli – released in 1967 – was a beautiful, swoopy two-door GT. It was an icon of 1970s styling in an era of some of the truly great supercars. Performance-wise, the original Ghibli wasn’t at the summit at the time, but the styling was unquestionably beautiful.
There was a brief return for the Ghibli nameplate between 1992 and 1997, and that car was also a two door – although it definitely wasn’t pretty.
While it’s debatable a four-door sedan stays true to the Ghibli’s heritage, at least this new version is a return to form – in both senses. The new Ghibli is aggressive and sporty with a coupe-style profile thanks to the clever deception offered by the chrome window trim. The line cheats a lower profile than the roof actually has and draws the eye to it. The low front end and wide stance are also both strong Maserati design cues.
Maserati expects the diesel to account for 20 per cent of Ghibli sales, though we’ve tested the $169,900 Ghibli S petrol that will share the bulk of sales with the petrol V6 at 40 per cent apiece.
Three models will comprise the Ghibli range in Australia – at least initially. Maserati tells us more models including a higher-powered V6 and potentially a V8 will be arriving in 2015.
The Ghibli D is powered by a 202kW/600Nm V6 oiler and will cost $138,900. The diesel is also on sale locally from launch. The entry-level petrol Ghibli is priced at $139,900 and is powered by a 3.0-litre Ferrari built V6, which generates 243kW and 500Nm. The same V6 engine that motivates the Quattroporte S, which generates 301kW and 550Nm, powers the Ghibli S. The maximum torque figure is available between 1750 and 4000rpm, which is right where you need it for daily driving chores
A higher performance Ghibli GTS model and an even more hardcore version will head to Australia sometime in 2015.
Safety is taken care of by seven airbags, ABS, ESC, and a reverse camera as standard equipment. Strangely given the segment the Ghibli will battle in, there are no advanced safety inclusions such as lane departure detection, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring or low speed collision mitigation.
The Ghibli S weighs a not inconsiderable 1810kg but still sprints from 0-100km/h in 5-seconds dead. Top speed is limited to 285km/h and the official ADR fuel claim is 10.4L/100km. Depending on model and wheel choice, Ghibli weighs between 50 and 90kg less than the Quattroporte.
The Ghibli S gets larger Brembo brakes (360mm front and 350mm rear) than the lesser models as well as bi-xenon headlights, auto high-beam, LED daytime running lamps with washers, and an electric driver’s seat that is eight-way adjustable.
There’s a bewildering array of wheel and interior trim options across the range that will allow Ghibli owners to personalise their vehicle. The standard rims measure 18-inches, but you can order 19-, 20-, or 21-inch wheels. Each size is available in two different designs, taking wheel choice out to eight. Three interior leather configurations, carbon fibre or wood detailing and no less than 19 different colour combinations mean the interior can be truly customised to suit each owner.
Back seat space is tight for taller passengers. Especially if the front seat residents are long-legged. The Quattroporte by comparison has an extra 173mm between the wheels. The boot – despite its 500-litre capacity – isn’t massive either.
The Ghibli is also more expensive than its direct competitors depending on how you slice up exactly what it will go head to head with. In addition, the gearshift control is also difficult to get used to. It has a ‘joystick’ feel to it and can be tricky to negotiate quickly between R and D when you’re working a three-point turn, for example.
From the driver’s seat there are swathes of sumptuous leather trim and we sampled both wood and carbon fibre highlights on the two cars at launch. There’s a premium, exclusive feel to the interior. Little details like the analogue clock atop the centre of the dash add a touch of old world charm. The large (8.4-inch) central infotainment screen is easy to see, easy to navigate and pairs quickly to a Bluetooth device. Audio streaming worked seamlessly for the duration of our test-drive.
The seats are comfortable and sufficiently adjustable for drivers of varying heights, and storage space abounds. Hidden console connections for mobile devices are a smart move too.
The Ghibli S is a vastly different car to drive – despite the similarities – compared to the Quattroporte. The V6 engine is perfectly matched to the sensational eight-speed gearbox and even in ‘Normal’ mode, shifts are snappy enough to satisfy most drivers.
Opt for ‘Sport’ mode though and shift speed drops from 250-milliseconds down to 150-milliseconds. Steering column mounted paddle shifters come into play in Sport mode and allow the driver to hold the revs right to the 6000rpm redline if desired. The sensational engine note ensures that desire will be strong. The exhaust note changes too as soon as you opt for Sport mode, thanks to the electronically controlled valves in the exhaust system.
Quiet around town, there’s a nasty (in a good way) urgency to the idle when you open the system. The engine bellows to redline under load, meaning one is tempted to leave the Ghibli S in Sport mode all the time. The low inertia twin turbos spool up rapidly and have almost imperceptible lag. The wide torque band means the Ghibli pulls like a train up to 110km/h without so much as a hesitation from standstill.
The term ‘sports sedan’ has rarely been more apt. The chassis balance and handling combination is also top notch. A perfect 50/50 weight distribution obviously helps here, but the Ghiblis on test had the entry-level suspension system too. The entertainingly named ‘Skyhook' adaptive damping is an optional extra. That said the standard suspension is no ancient cart-like design. The front end gets revised double wishbones, while the rear end gets a multi-link system.
We tested Ghiblis shod with both 19 and 20-inch wheels and tyres and there was a subtle difference in outright bump absorption but the Ghibli was never uncomfortable. It’s on the stiff side on poor roads, but the flip side is the composed handling at speed. In most cases we’d struggle to recommend that buyers opt for the Skyhook damping, so competent is the standard set-up.
Bump absorption is genuinely impressive given the on-the-limit ability of the handling overall. The chassis dynamics present a largely ideal balance between driving enjoyment and performance and comfort and luxury.
Bucking the recent trend, Maserati has opted for a traditional, hydraulically assisted powered steering system and the response at any speed is excellent. Pick your line, turn in and the feedback through the wheel is a perfect balance between response and control. Mechanical grip is a feature and we couldn’t work hard enough to get even a squeal out of the tyres.
Despite the lack of some equipment we think should be standard and a price that sets it above the various competitors, the Ghibli is a special car that oozes Maserati DNA from every pore. Only 180 will get to Australia before the end of the year and they are already snapped up. Maserati is now able to appeal to a new cross section of buyers too, which is exactly what the Ghibli is supposed to do.