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Driven: Maserati Ghibli to trickle in

Little brother: The Maserati mid-size Ghibli shares a lot of its architecture from the B-pillar forward with its larger Quattroporte sibling.

BMW 5 Series-rivalling Maserati Ghibli is a victim of its own global popularity

Maserati logo12 Aug 2014

MASERATI’S new Ghibli sedan will be supply constrained for at least 12 months, as the factory continues to struggle with rampaging global demand for the company’s first BMW 5 Series rival.

With only about 180 cars slated for Australia this year – and another 20 or so heading to New Zealand – buyers could face waiting times of up to three months or more, according to European Automotive Imports spokesperson, Edward Rowe.

“Sales will continue to be defined by supply,” he told the Australian media at the launch of the M157-series Ghibli this week.

“We hope that the number will grow as we get freer production supply during 2015.”

The result should see the number of Ghiblis arriving to Australia and New Zealand doubling to 400 units next year, making it by far the best-selling Maserati model offered in this country.

Right now approximately 3500 global orders are coming in each month for the Ghibli, the larger Quattroporte sedan, Gran Turismo four-seater coupe and Gran Cabrio convertible, putting Maserati on the path to push past 40,000 units for the first time in history.

By the end of 2015 the brand is likely to breach 50,000 units – a marked contrast to the 6300 vehicles shifted in 2012 and 13,000 cars sold last year.

Furthermore, Maserati hopes continue to increase its sales thanks to the Levante SUV – due in Australia next year – that is expected to account for one in two sales.

For now, in Australia, some 80 per cent of Ghibli buyers are set to settle on the V6 bi-turbo petrol variant (split evenly between the base unit and higher-powered S), with the V6 diesel accounting for the remaining 20 per cent.

The latter should grow in popularity as people become used to the idea of a Maserati offering a performance diesel variant.

Further engine choices are in the pipeline, including at least one more V6 diesel with extra power and torque, as well as two high-performance V8s.

However, with a starting price of $138,900 plus on-road costs, the base Ghibli V6 turbo will remain the least expensive version throughout the lifetime of the vehicle, Mr Rowe revealed.

“There won’t be a model coming in under the base V6,” he said. “No 2.0-litre turbos or anything like that.” While up-spec versions of the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF are the Ghibli’s immediate rivals, BMW’s 6 Series Gran Coupe, the Mercedes CLS, Audi A7 and Porsche Panamera are also targets.

Brand exclusivity, Italian design, performance heritage and a high level of personalisation are the bait the Italian car-maker is hoping to lure customers into showrooms with.

To that end, the latter includes three leather upholstery options, 19 choices of colours and trim levels, and eight wheel and tyre combinations.

The fact that the Ghibli costs $60,000 less than the next Maserati sedan – the recently released $198,900 Quattroporte Diesel – should also add to the range’s growing appeal.

“For the first time, it takes Maserati into a new market sector with significantly more sales potential,” Mr Rowe said. “Clients in this sector will, for the first time, have access to Maserati.”

Taking almost five years to develop, the Ghibli underwent over six million kilometres of testing involving more than 90 prototypes, with extreme heat testing in Morocco and South Africa and cold-weather testing in New Zealand and Sweden.

Fans of the current Quattroporte will recognise the drivetrains on offer. Each drives the rear wheels via ZF’s AT8 HP70 eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission with manual control mode. No manual gearbox is available.

The base engine is a VM Motori-supplied 2987cc 3.0-litre single-turbo common-rail direct-injection twin-cam 24-valve V6 diesel loosely related to the unit available in some Jeep models in Australia.

With a 16.5:1 compression ratio, it pumps out 202kW of power at 4000rpm and 600Nm of torque from 2000rpm to 2600rpm, to launch the Diesel to 100km from standstill in 6.3 seconds and hit 250km/h. Aided by idle-stop, it also registers a combined 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres and 158 grams/km of carbon dioxide emissions.

To help it make an evocative noise, the Diesel introduces the Maserati Active Sound actuator that pipes in a rawer exhaust note into the cabin.

Next up is the $139,990 ‘Ghibli’, powered by a 2979cc 3.0-litre direct-injection twin-cam bi-turbo petrol V6 with continuous variable valve timing, producing 243kW at 5000rpm and 500Nm from 1750rpm to 5000rpm, for a 5.6-second 0-100km/h run, 263km/h top speed, 9.6L/100km and 223g/km.

The reigning range topper is the Ghibli S from $169,900, featuring different software and a few other changes such as altered cam lobes, ECU and fuel injectors, to up the outputs to 301kW at 5500rpm and 550Nm from 4500rpm to 5000rpm.

The upshot is a 0-100km/h time of 5.0 seconds, a 285km/h V-max, 10.4L/100km combined average and 242g/km of CO2 pollution.

In fact, the Ghibli shares a high degree of its architecture (mostly from the B-pillar forward) with big-brother Quattroporte, including its rear-wheel drive chassis (all-wheel drive is available in cold-climate left-hand drive-only markets), double wishbone front and five-link rear suspension, crash safety systems and LED headlight technology.

Note that Maserati’s Skyhook adjustable damper system is available at extra cost, prioritising ride comfort, while a Sports suspension option on the Diesel lowers the ride height by 10mm and uses firmer springs and shockers to help offset the extra weight over the nose (which has a 51:40 – rather than 50:50 – weight distribution rating).

Keeping weight down was a goal, prompting Maserati’s engineers to employ a combination of steel (guards, roof, bootlid), aluminium (for most suspension components, the doors and bonnet) and even magnesium (dashboard cross strut) in the car.

Though maintaining the Quattroporte's 1945mm width, the Ghibli is 291mm shorter overall at 4971mm, 20mm lower to the ground at 1461mm, weighs some 50kg less from 1810kg (Diesel: 1835kg), and sits on a 2998mm wheelbase that has been curtailed by 173mm.

The 1635mm front and 1653mm rear tracks are actually 1mm and 6mm wider than the Quattroporte’s respectively.

Also unusual in this age is the speed-sensitive hydraulically rather than electrically assisted rack and pinion steering system (for “uncorrupted feel”).

Based on the bigger Maserati sedan’s helm, it uses reduced steering ratio for more immediate responses.

Brakes are 345mm x 28mm discs with four-piston fixed calipers up front and 320mm x 22mm discs with floating calipers on the back, except for the current range-topping Ghibli S’s 360mm x 32mm vented and cross-drilled dual-cast discs with six-piston Brembo calipers up front and four-piston Brembos out back.

An electronic park brake operates on all wheels, and features a hill-hold function. All form part of a suite of electronic driver aids including stability control, anti-lock brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Anti-Slip Regulation and Brake Assist.

Plus, each car includes ‘ICE’ – specific software for reduced consumption and improved vehicle dynamic behaviour in more challenging conditions. It is actuated via a switch besides the transmission lever’s Sport and Manual buttons.

Backed up by extruded aluminium crash bars at both ends of the car, a beefed-up passenger cell with hot-moulded steel components, special crash load path development that helps distribute forces away from the occupant area and seven airbags, the result sees the Ghibli achieve a five-star ENCAP crash-test safety rating.

Other safety related gear includes a rear-view parking camera, bi-Xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, and – on the Ghibli S – an automatic front lighting system with auto high beam.

Standard on all variants is a limited slip differential, as well as a host of luxury car items such as satellite navigation as part of an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, leather upholstery, electric driver’s seat adjustment, a seven-inch TFT instrument cluster display screen for car functionality, Bluetooth connectivity for audio and phone, cruise control with speed limiter, and a keyless entry and start system.

The boot can hold up to 500 litres of luggage, and is aided by a split/fold rear backrest.

Maintaining world-class quality has been high on Maserati’s agenda, with several “severe” controls implemented throughout the manufacturing process, resulting in over 700 checks, 60km of on-road testing and another 30-minute audit for every finished Ghibli prior to sale.

The large trapezoidal grille, aggressive headlight treatment, long bonnet/short boot silhouette, sleek window line, frameless doors and trademark Trident guard vents ahead of wide-tracked standard 18-inch alloys provide visual links with the Quattroporte while helping Maserati to forge a definite identity among the German-dominated E-segment executive class of cars the Ghibli is aimed at.

2014 Maserati Ghibli pricing*
Ghibli D (a)$138,900
Ghibli (a)$139,990
Ghibli S (a)$169,900
*Excludes on-road costs.

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