Maserati takes a gamble with its new Ghibli

Maserati plans to increase its sales by 700% and win over owners of BMW M5s with its new executive coupe

Tue, Jul 2, 2013, 18:03

Spot the difference between these numbers: 7,000 and 50,000. The first is roughly how many cars Maserati sells each year. The second figure is how many cars Maserati wants to sell each year. The difference between the two figures is the difference between dancing on the boundary of irrelevance and becoming a solid, profitable luxury carmaker.

The Ghibli is the first big gamble Maserati has taken in its efforts to find 700 percent more customers. It’s the first time in its 90-plus year history that Maserati has had two four-door saloons at the same time (to go with its two-door GranTurismo coupe and GranCabrio convertible), the first time it’s had a competitor for the likes of the E-Class, the 5-Series and the A6 and it’s the first time it’s had a diesel, too.

Admittedly, with prices likely to touch €90,000 when it arrives in Ireland, the Ghibli might not be priced to compete with the 520d SE, but it is planning to take on the likes of the M5, and has the brand kudos to really challenge the upper end of these German rivals.

Clearly, there was plenty of opportunity for things to go wrong with a car designed to sell, by itself, triple the company’s yearly average. But they got it right. What they’ve done instead is design both the Ghibli and the Quattroporte at the same time, sharing about 50 per cent of their parts. The Ghibli is about a foot shorter and 50kg lighter than big brother and doesn’t use (for now) its V8, preferring two versions of its twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6, plus a 3.0-litre turbodiesel.

Maserati is deadly serious about its ambitions, with both the rear-drive and all-wheel drive versions of the Ghibli S capable of hitting 100km/h in 4.8 seconds and stretching out to a 284km/h top speed, thanks to 301kW of power and 550Nm of torque.

Its power peak arrives at a relaxed 5500rpm, while the torque hits hardest from just 1750rpm (surprisingly, lower than the diesel) and stays on station until 5000rpm.

The all-wheel drive Ghibli S Q4 has the same 10.5 litres/100km combined fuel economy figure as the rear-drive Ghibli S, even though the all-wheel drive system adds 60kg to the overall weight up from 1,810kg to 1,870kg. The diesel adds only 20kg to the register 1,830kg, yet all Ghiblis claim 50:50 weight distribution.

The base Ghibli delivers exactly the same engine hardware, detuned for 243 kW (330 CV) of power at 5000 rpm and 500Nm of torque at a peakier 4500rpm. It’s still a fast car, sprinting to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds and delivering an NEDC figure of 9.6 litres/100km.

Most efficient ever
While it’s no match for its petrol brethren in a straight line (it reaches 100km/h in 6.3 seconds), it uses just 5.9 litres per 100km – easily the most efficient Maserati of all time. That, and its 158g/km of emissions, let Maserati shrink its fuel tank to 70 litres, 10 less than the rest of the range.

The Ghibli S will deliver much, though there are some omissions (such as radar cruise control, any number of electronic safety systems like lane-change departure warnings and remote boot opening and closing) that are just startling. Fortunately, it features an intuitive touch-screen multi-media system that provides the biggest touch screen on the market.There is a standard two-zone climate control setup, though a four-zone system is optional, as is a 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system atop the stock 10-speaker system.

It’s a proper mid-sizer, too, with a 2998mm wheelbase delivering a relatively compact (4971mm) overall shape that still has plenty of legroom in both the front and the back. There is a split-fold rear seat to extend the 500-litre boot when needed but it’s not tall, at 1461mm, meaning it will happily fight with the four-door “coupes” of Germany for style.

Maserati promised the Ghibli would have all the manners of the Quattroporte but with a harder, more aggressive edge. They were right. We’ll take a short cut: the Ghibli S Q4 is very, very good. The V6 is just as smooth as we remember it from the Quattroporte but more sonorous and the whole thing feels more athletic.

The interior is a superbly comfortable and stylish place to be, with a fat steering wheel, column-mounted shift paddles and a classy gearshift lever, even if that area of the car is the source of its only real ergonomic niggles. The engine starts calmly and, driven gently, the 19-inch tyres ride smoothly. The engine is smooth, strong and flexible at low revs and the 8-speed auto transmission so faultless it becomes invisible.

There were some situations on our drive where the Ghibli didn’t shine. Every now and again over particularly broken ground, the chassis jiggled. This jiggling felt oddly inconsistent and, thankfully, was comfortably overshadowed by what the Ghibli does well.If you recall the very first six-cylinder BMW M5, you will understand how the Ghibli feels. It prioritises balance and poise and grip and driver enjoyment above raw power. It’s so balanced and poised, in fact, that even with its extra (almost) 100 bhp, it would take a very good driver in a current M5 to reel in the S Q4 over a mountain pass.

Understeer is an abhorrent concept to the S Q4 and it steadfastly refuses to be dragged into so undignified a stance. It can whip through corners so quickly and with such poise that it can leave its occupants feeling like they’re inside a tennis ball being whirled around on the end of a string. The engine is there chipping away, too, softly holding the limiter in Manual mode, punching hard from low revs and generally feeling ultra strong, rather than a free-spirited spinner.

Good handling at the edge
At the end, it’s the handling at the edge that stands out in this car and it does it all without destroying its tyres or giving the driver a single “oops” moment. Why it has skid-control at all is beyond us. It’s just hard to imagine it will ever need it.

After driving the Quattroporte, we almost expected the Ghibli to be this good. What wasn’t expected was that the Ghibli Diesel would feel almost the same. It sure doesn’t sound like a diesel. There are stronger motors out there (the tri-turbo M550d xDrive, for starters), but this one sounds maritime and V8-ish altogether, then switches to a deep, bass rumble when you attack it. But it does not handle like a diesel, with added weight up front. Sure, this one is only 20kg heavier than the rear-drive petrol motor, but its only issue for harder driving is that its 2,000rpm effective range makes it a bit pointless running it in manual mode. Just leave it in drive and you won’t notice.

It is quiet and calm when you cruise and enjoys a more comfortable ride on the stock 18-inch rubber. But the way it moves into corners and hustles through them is astonishing. It’s more athletic than the M550d xDrive, even though it’s rear drive, and that old-school hydraulic steering, with a touch more weight over it, is delicately responsive once you accustom yourself to its light weighting.

Maserati may be right on all fronts. The S Q4 is a worthy flagship. If its goal was to poach serious numbers off the Germans, it had to be credible, but not necessarily better in every area. And all the Ghiblis are, at the very least, a lot more than a credible threat.