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Car reviews - Maserati - Ghibli - D

Our Opinion

We like
Style, simplicity, diesel economy
Room for improvement
Compact cabin, vague steering

Maserati logo11 May 2015

By NEIL DOWLING

Price and equipment

THE dichotomy of Maserati is that it’s not on most buyer shopping lists and yet – in relative terms – it’s selling its socks off.

Never before has the Italian lorded over such an enthusiastic Australian audience.

Yet it’s not the stablemate sports-coupe range that is drawing the attention but its sedans, that includes the Quattroporte and the new, smaller Ghibli.

The entry-level Ghibli D (for diesel) sells for $138,900, plus on-road costs, $1000 cheaper than its identically-equipped petrol sister and a significant $31,000 discount to the $169,900 flagship bi-turbo Ghibli S.

In comparison, the long-wheelbase and more lavishly trimmed Quattroporte sells in a $198,800-$319,800 band.

Ghibli aims in price at the flagship, chairman express brigade from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But it more accurately competes in a less-expensive bracket against the Mercedes E-Class and CLS, Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series.

And here is where the value of Maserati lies more in its exclusivity and nameplate aura than in more substantial effects like equipment levels, performance and ownership costs.

It competes with the Mercedes E400 ($129,430), BMW 535d ($122,400), Audi A7 TDI at $136,750 and the hybrid Lexus GS450h Sports Luxury at $119,500.

Against this solid round of competitors, the Ghibli is austere, avoiding the garnishes of the Lexus, the electronic sophistication of the BMW and Mercedes and the clever all-wheel drive and practicality of the Audi.

There’s no advanced active safety systems but occupants get seven airbags, a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors, bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, heated and folding mirrors, a tyre pressure monitor and it is offered with a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

The central monitor with its upmarket connectivity, satellite navigation and touchscreen audio and climate-control functions is efficient and easy to use but all too familiar. It’s the same one in the Jeep Grand Cherokee and other Chrysler products – a cost-effective flow down from Maserati’s parent, the umbrella company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Standard equipment also includes a sunroof, the rear side and the rear windows have blinds, carbon-fibre trims the cabin, the upholstery is leather and the centre console incorporates a cool box.

The Ghibli sits on 18-inch alloy wheels but tick the 20-inch wheel option – and consider upgrading the leather to the same as used by Ferrari – and the sedan takes on an even more dynamic presence.

Interior

Read the spec sheet and the Ghibli sits on a long 2998mm wheelbase with short front and rear overhangs to its 4971mm length.

The numbers indicate a big car with a spacious cabin but that’s not the case.

The rear seat room is best described as adequate and the intrusion of the prop shaft’s centre tunnel limits the comfort factor to four occupants.

Part of the disappointing rear-seat room can be leveled at the exterior stylist who – successfully – made a four door look like a coupe. The pencil also made the waistline higher at the rear, narrowing the side glass and reducing the visibility of the rear passengers and promptly presenting a problem if they are children.

But there is beauty in any travesty. The cabin is cleanly styled, attractive in its simplicity and clinical in a way that only the Europeans can achieve. The rear seat armrest contains a 12-volt power outlet and there are twin ventilation outlets.

But while this minimalistic design will appeal to the motorist with less interest in chrome bells and woodgrain whistles, it somehow fails to relay the car’s status and price.

The cabin is predominantly black – but there are fabric colour options – with subtle highlights of carbon-fibre trim on the doors, satin-finished metal strakes on the dash and a bold, gloss-finished carbon-fibre centre console.

The seats are body-formed in fluted leather topped by head restraints with the Maserati trident logo. They are as comfortable as they are inviting, form-fitting for inner-city comfort and perfectly bolstered for enthusiastic driving through the winding roads.

The electronic architecture beneath the dashboard and centre console is heavily based on the Chrysler 300 and Jeep Grand Cherokee. There’s also sharing of the placement for the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) vents, minor switchgear and instrument cluster. That’s not a bad thing but indicative of the depth of the synergy of Chrysler and Fiat products. There’s clear sense that in the need to achieve economies of scale, this relationship will only get deeper.

The 8.4-inch touchscreen is comprehensive in its functions and the Garmin navigation is easy to use and has a bright screen. The map isn’t as clear and as detailed as most rivals – BMW in particular – but it’s certainly workable.

Entry and egress is helped by frameless door windows but the rear doors are short and passengers may be stymied by the intrusive rear wheel arch and limited seat legroom.

The boot’s lid is small but belies any hidden inadequacies with a decent 500 litre load volume and the ability to extend into the passenger area via the split-fold rear seats. By comparison, the BMW 535d has a 520 litre boot.

Engine and transmission

The word synergy reappears in reference to the Ghibli’s drivetrain. The 202kW/600Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbocharged diesel is from FCA-owned subsidiary VM Motori and the same base unit as fitted to the Grand Cherokee and 300.

But it’s not a simple shoe-horn exercise. The Maserati-tuned oiler cranks out 18kW more power and 30Nm more torque than the Grand Cherokee thanks to exhaust tweaking, different fuel pressure and a higher engine compression ratio.

As expected, it’s a more responsive unit but the biggest change is its uncharacteristically muted idle note. It sounds more like a petrol engine than a diesel.

Maserati also remembers one of the marque’s most endearing qualities – its magnetic exhaust note. The diesel sings with a baritone unlike its peers and, thanks to the “sport’’ button on the console, achieves an even gruffer, more aggressive note that alerts onlookers that this is a car with an enviable sporting heritage.

With this background, the Ghibli diesel’s performance is brisk, rewarding and sporty without a sense that the drivetrain is being whipped into duty. It’s a power delivery that perfectly suits its prestige role.

The engine bolts to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The floor lever operates similar to a BMW shifter, with the vague feel of a PlayStation toggle controller and a desperate need for the driver to concentrate on the shift action.

Drive is to the rear wheels. Maserati claims the Ghibli diesel averages 5.9 litres/100km which is brilliant for a 1.8-tonne saloon. On its highway cycle, it clams 5.0L/100km to give a possible fuel range of 1400km. This is precisely where Ghibli fits into the European lifestyle, offering a rapid intercity commuter with maximum fuel efficiency.

Ride and handling

Rumours that the Ghibli and big sister Quattroporte sit on a modified Chrysler 300 platform are not true – it is the latest E-size platform developed for the Ghibli and the new Quattroporte that lobbed Down Under early last year.

It has been trimmed in wheelbase and length for the Ghibli and is likely to be further modified for the future Alfa Romeo 166 replacement and then the next-generation Chrysler 300.

Standing up to the Maserati legend is no small deal. The handling is sure-footed and accurate, instilling confidence in new owners.

The weight balance of the car is claimed at 50:50 and that aspect promises perfect poise through the bends. True to its word, the Ghibli is a very well-balanced machine with almost neutral handling and no hint of any understeer at legal speed limits.

But it has an Achilles heel. The steering wheel diameter feels overly generous and the steering ratio a bit slow, unusual inclusions in such a car.

There is a rubbery feeling and, just off centre, the impression that the front wheels had yet to bite so causing the driver to prematurely add more steering input.

While it felt like a medium-spec electric-assist unit, it’s actually a hydraulic system. More time behind the wheel will ensure this steering feel will become familiar.

Ride comfort is excellent. There is some mild choppiness at low speeds on uneven pavement but mid-speed and especially high cruising, this is a sumptuous machine that always feels connected to the road, displaying no wallow or excessive body roll.

It’s also very quiet with almost no engine noise and little wind roar.

Australia’s coarse-chip bitumen does produce some muted howl on the standard 18-inch rubber. Buyers opting for the 20-inch set should consider the potential of increases in road noise.

Safety and servicing

The Ghibli comes with a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating, in which it scored an impressive 36.47 points out of a possible maximum 37.

Its list of safety equipment ranges from seven airbags to a reversing camera, tyre pressure monitor and heated and folding mirrors. It also has a compressed spare wheel, an inflator and a can of aerosol puncture repair.

In the face of rivals with lane-keeping sensors, blind-spot monitors and collision avoidance radar and cameras, the Maserati pulls up well short.

The Australian distributors provide the Ghibli with a three-year or unlimited kilometre warranty with a corresponding roadside assistance period. There is no capped-price service program.

Glass’ Guide expects the Ghibli D to retain 48 per cent of its value in three years time, a figure which is quite high in its category.

Verdict

Exclusive and with a rich history that’ll keep the neighbours amused for hours.

The Ghibli diesel makes a lot of sense as a fast, comfortable and very frugal four-door saloon but its rich list of rivals dents its potential.

Despite its name and Italian heritage, it doesn’t stand out in the crowdRivals

BMW 535d $122,400, plus on-road costs
The mid-size diesel sedan packs a load of features and is roomy enough for five. It is a superb intercity cruiser with a host of safety gear, better fuel economy than the Ghibli and a quicker acceleration time. But it can’t match the Maserati’s exclusiveness.

AUDI A7 3.0 TDI quattro $136,750, plus on-road costs
Versatile five-door Sportback shape offers a lot for families and leisure seekers. The all-wheel drive and extensive safety kit are entrusted features. It has almost identical acceleration times and fuel consumption as the Ghibli.

MERCEDES-BENZ CLS400 $139,900, plus on-road costs
The only petrol rival here. The CLS exceeds the distinctive Maserati design with its low-slung profile. It has similar cabin and boot space as the Ghibli. Its bi-turbocharged engine is more powerful but thirstier than its main rival.

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