Car reviews - Maserati - Ghibli - range
Overtly sporty character, Italian design, V6 bi-turbo, interior packaging, sharp dynamics, sharp steering
Room for improvement
Not cheap, fuel consumption, lack of adaptive cruise control, some ergonomic flaws, firm-to-hard ride on some surfaces
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14 Nov 2014
GERMANY, you’re officially on notice. United Kingdom and Japan… the same applies to you too.
The Maserati Ghibli is not some flawed Italian supercar with flaky quality, tetchy reliability, ridiculous ergonomics, jerky transmission or exorbitant price tag.
What we have here, folks, is a fully functioning five-seat grand touring sports sedan that makes the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Audi A7 Sportback and BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe look like jumped-up versions of their respective C-Class, A4 and 3 Series smaller siblings.
Fiat-owned and Ferrari-controlled Maserati’s decision to Xerox the full-sized second-generation Quattroporte luxury sedan down to a 5 Series-friendly 85 per cent sizing has created that rare thing – a properly unique feeling medium-sized sedan that looks, feels and drives like something special.
Simply put, the Ghibli exceeded our initial scepticism to leave us wondering why buyers in the $180,000 to $200,000 sports sedan segment would not put the Italian marque on their short list.
Let’s start with the facts.
Since debuting earlier this year, the M157-series – the company’s first-ever car in this class – has blown away initial sales forecasts around the world, tapping into the zeitgeist that Maserati says is all about consumer reaction against the relentless mainstream drive of the German luxury marques.
Apparently Mercedes E63 AMG owners are sick of seeing three-pointed stars on the rump of scores of Golf-priced A-Classes. Valid point.
Consequently, there won’t be smaller and cheaper Maseratis coming. Ever, we’re promised. We’ll believe that when we see it.
Of course, taking on the might of Mercedes and co. isn’t the work of a moment, with Ghibli development taking half a decade, millions of kilometres of prototype testing involving nearly 100 cars, and – the company promises – an almost fanatical approach to quality control.
Furthermore, the Italians have attempted to create a vehicle that combines the practicality of a 5 Series with the sportier flair of the 6 Series Gran Coupe, while taking into consideration affordability, drivetrain variety and personalisation options.
That’s why there is an entry-level V6 bi-turbo petrol as well as a torquey turbo-diesel.
On the Australian launch program around Byron Bay, we could only drive the range-topping Ghibli S V6 bi-turbo petrol starting from $169,900 plus on-road costs.
Ours wore options that probably bumped up that price by around five per cent – 19-inch rather than 18-inch alloys, a sunroof, and fancier leather upholstery – but even without these items it is clear that the Ghibli looks and feels more special inside (as well as outside) than its competitors.
Leather and suede-like material swathes the seats, dash, pillars and roof, to create a sensuously opulent environment backed up by elegantly crafted metallic and wood highlights as well as the cosseting fat centre console, that helps create a cockpit effect.
There is enough space for four adults to sit in sufficiently roomy quarters – though the rear bench is tight for under-seat legroom while six-foot-plus people may find headroom a little tight – thanks to ample seat adjustment.
Praise is also merited for the superb steering wheel, driving position, climate control layout, massive central touchscreen and storage choices.
But a series of rattles and squeaks from the rear undermined Maserati’s quality claims. The buttons that control the transmission settings next to the gear lever (which takes a little time to get accustomed to though it does work well – especially in manual Tiptronic-style mode) are awkward to access and that trademark Trident analogue clock set high on the dash-top looks like a cheap afterthought.
Speaking of which, the rear-seat armrest’s cupholders are tackier than fairground show-bag tat, the rear headrests are fixed and so not to everybody’s height, and there is quite a lot of exhaust rumble coming through to the rear.
The latter point is not a criticism from our point of view, however, since it nicely feeds into the Ghibli’s superior sports-sedan aspirations.
And, believe us, they’re realised soon enough.
With over 300kW of power and 550Nm of torque to lug the 1810kg sports sedan around, off-the-line acceleration is strong but not jackrabbit instantaneous the revs need to soar past the 6250rpm red line before things really start feeling properly fast.
Once on the move, however, and accompanied by that glorious twin-turbo V6 soundtrack, the speed then just keeps on coming, revealing the Ghibli’s true horizon-reeling capabilities.
Whether in normal or Sport mode, the ZF eight-speed transmission shines, reacting almost intuitively to the driver’s inputs and outside environment with towering insouciance, getting you where you need to be quickly and without fuss.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that Ferrari builds this engine, but the real shock comes with just how sharp and poised the steering is.
At low speeds it feels weighty and a tad remote, but once those velocities kick in the helm tightens right up, turning in with a dedication and precision that might catch out the uninitiated.
With a wide track offering limpet like road-holding, the Ghibli on those optional 19-inch alloys suctions itself to the road surface, pointing exactly where the keen driver desires it to go.
Even through tight turns, the S shrinks around you, carving through the corners with an alacrity that belies the sheer size of this four-door sedan. This is an intimate and exhilarating handler.
On the flipside, rough roads do make themselves felt, though not to the extent that it becomes uncomfortable note also that there is quite a lot of tyre drone on some of our coarser bitumen surfaces.
Finally, the big Brembo brakes wash off excessive speed brilliantly, completing the Ghibli S’s unexpectedly athletic dynamic repertoire.
Yes, it can feel raw and rumbly and at times even droney, but the Maserati is truly a sportscar first, albeit one that does the luxury sedan thing better than we had hoped.
About the only thing we felt was missing from the specification is radar-based adaptive cruise control – a feature that we feel would complete the car.
Unfortunately it is not available.
Nevertheless, for a first time effort, the Ghibli S charmed us far more than we had dared to hope. It looks handsomely muscular, offers exhilarating handling, stirring performance and credibly inviting accommodation for four adults and their gear.
And all for the price of an equivalently powered Mercedes CLS, Audi A7, BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and Jaguar XF… wonderful.
If we worked for one of this car’s rivals, this would be very bad news indeed.
Well done, Maserati.
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