The Ghibli moniker is nothing new to the Maserati brand having first appeared in 1967 as a 2+2 coupe. It celebrated great success during its seven year lifecycle but the Ghibli nameplate would go on a three-decade hiatus before its return from 1992-1997 with the twin-turbocharged V6 Ghibli Mark 2. The world would have to wait a further 16 years for the third interpretation to make a comeback but it appears to have been well worth the wait. The Ghibli has a huge amount of expectation resting on its shoulders in terms of sales success – after all, the company has invested innumerable man hours and capital developing the car with the goal of boosting sales to 50 000 units across the model portfolio by end 2015. This notion is far from a pipe dream given the Italian firm’s current sales form: the last 2 years have seen figures soar to over 26 500 units in 2014 alone.
With Ghibli, Maserati has targeted the executive saloon customer but whether or not it can live up to the BMW 5 Series, Merc E-Class and Audi A7 Sportback’s reputation for quality, reliability and resale value, only time will tell. That said there’s nothing overtly amiss with the Ghibli especially from a refinement point of view. Its body features a steel-aluminum hybrid construction and is manufactured at the firm’s Grugliasco plant in Turin, Italy. Not only does it ride on an abridged version of the Quattroporte platform (291mm shorter in fact) it borrows several mechanical appointments such as the steering, suspension and brakes.
Visually you can’t mistake it for anything but a Maserati. All the seminal cues are present such as the fender vents and trapezoidal grille complete with Trident logo. While some may find it lacks visual clout – especially from the rear – the lower central airdam at the front together with the tapered head-lamps and quad-pipe rear bumper arrangement does inject it with a sense of cultured malevolence. However it’s more the vehicle’s resounding sophistication that causes onlookers to break out in a synchronised rubbernecking routine. Just look at its balanced profile, underscored by a classical, never-ending bonnet, short front and rear overhangs and frameless doors. You can’t dispute its beauty, that’s for sure.
Inside the Ghibli boasts one of the most lavish interiors around. While the fit and finish isn’t as precise as its German rivals, Maserati has paid careful attention to detail and the result is one of the best cabins the firm has ever crafted. Space is something the Ghibli delivers in a big way – both for front and rear passengers. The quality and contemporary design interface of the controls, centre stack, facia and dashboard are very much in line with that of the Quattroporte and naturally reflect the same level of quality. The cabin looks best in customised two-tone leather upholstery; the Trident-embossed seats are beautiful and feature exquisite stitching. It’s not short on luggage space either with a 500-litre capacity trunk. Standard equipment comprises dual-zone climate control and rain-sensing wipers, and a pretty decent audio system including an SD card for audio input and USB and aux-in functionality.
Two engine configurations power the line-up which includes a 202kW/600Nm 3.0-litre turbodiesel and a 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbocharged petrol mill available in two states of tune. We sampled both the turbodiesel and twin-turbocharged petrols and came away thoroughly impressed. While the Ghibli diesel is undoubtedly the pick of the range when it comes to performance and economy it’s the Ferrari-built 3.0-litre twin turbocharged V6 that’s ultimately going to sate your performance thirst. Power is sent to the wheels through an 8-speed ZF transmission. It’s an intuitive and effective cog swapper that shifts as crisply as that of a double-clutch unit. Cranking out 301kW and 550Nm of rotational thrust this particular engine is available in both the S and SQ4 models. Sure it’s not as vociferous as the V8-powered Gran Turismo but it’s still pretty rowdy, especially in Sport mode. Considering the vehicle’s portly kerb weight of 1870kg you wouldn’t expect it to be a particularly quick performer but the Ghibli S Q4 does a phenomenal job of smearing all of its power down onto the road surface thanks to the all-wheel drive system and chunks of low down torque. Keep the throttle pedal pinned from standstill and the S Q4 will reach 100kph in only 4.8 seconds and go on to record a top speed of 284kph.
Behind the wheel of the S Q4 there’s a tangible step up from the lesser Ghiblis in terms of handling. It feels sharper and more playful requiring more concentration and input from the driver to extract the most from its chassis. The 50:50 weight distribution aids proceedings but the all-wheel drive system (derived from the Ferrari FF) remains rear-biased in normal driving situations. It’s only when slip is detected that the control module of the 4WD system apportions torque to the front – up to 50 per cent in fact. That said, the S Q4 will still hang out its tail if you’re too generous with your throttle inputs or carry too much speed into corners. The steering is excellent – the hydraulic system delivering a good mix of feel and feedback which allows the driver to connect with what’s happening underfoot. It’s as close to telepathic as you can get in a Maserati. The double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension configuration ensures the overall ride quality is good. Sure, some choppier surfaces can permeate the cabin but it’s nothing too concerning.
Regardless of the model designation the Maserati Ghibli is an expensive machine. More expensive in fact than the top-tier performance derivatives of its German rivals the BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG or an Audi RS7 Sportback. Yip, the entry-level Ghibli diesel will set you back R1 281 000 while the S costs a whopping R1 574 000 – the S Q4 is not available in SA for now. The fact remains even though the Ghibli lacks the ultimate polish of the segment frontrunners it’s still a superb offering. It still entices and it’s without a doubt the most rounded Maser ever made. The charm, allure and sense of occasion it evokes will undoubtedly tug at the heartstrings of those who want to stand out from crowd.
Maserati Ghibli S Q4
ENGINE 2979cc, V6 Twin- turbo, 305kW @ 5500rpm, 450Nm @ 4500-5000rpm
TRANSMISSION Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
SUSPENSION Double wishbone front, multi-link rear
LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 4971 / 2100/ 1 461 mm
PERFORMANCE 4.8sec 0-100kph, 284kph top speed, 10.4l/100km, 242g/km