Tell me, do you Strictly? I have to admit to a particular addiction to the BBC Saturday night dancing extravaganza. Perhaps it's the fact that it eats up an hour of a long, dreary winter's night or maybe I just have a secret sequin addiction – whatever it is, I'm hooked.
What always impresses me most, though, is the way the dancers – the professional ones at any rate – seem to be able to compartmentalise their bodies. Depending on the dance, their feet, ankles and knees can sometimes be flailing about as if electrocuted (albeit by a current that has impeccable rhythm) while their upper body remains poised and steady, allowing them to shoot a twinkling smile or smouldering glare at the camera. It really is quite something.
This occurred to me, distantly, as we charged along a tight, twisting and predictably lumpy stretch of Irish tarmac in the Maserati Ghibli S. Now, as you would expect of a sporty Italian saloon deploying a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine with 410hp, the Ghibli S has firm suspension, big wheels and tyres that appear to have been fitted to the rims by smearing molten Pirelli fluid on with a small paintbrush. Therefore it should, by rights, be all at sea on challenging Celtic blacktop.
But it wasn't. Rather like those Strictly hoofers, the Ghibli was all action from the axles down, while up top everything was calm and composed. The stiff suspension was jigging and jitterbugging away to try and cope with the road, but the steering and the structure were merely swaying gently, as if essaying a Vienna waltz. It was quite the performance. Even Craig would have given it a 10. Well, a nine at any rate.
So, mark down the date because the fact that the Ghibli could put on a performance like that will be something of a watershed in the annals of sporting saloons. Hitherto, it was really only the Germans (with the occasional interloping from Jaguar and Lexus) who could produce a truly convincing sporty executive saloon. Italian invasions, whether from Alfa Romeo or Maserati, were invariably pretty and exciting, but generally never quite the full shilling in dynamic or quality terms.
No longer, it would seem. This Ghibli S, newly updated for 2015 and with more updates to come later this year, genuinely feels like it could be a proper competitor for the likes of an Audi S7 or a Mercedes-Benz CLS.
Those of you expecting Maserati to make only cars with the engine in the back and Fangio at the wheel have not been keeping up with the times. With Ferrari above it in the Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles hierarchy and Alfa Romeo below it, Maserati now makes only the one sports car (the GranTurismo and GranCabrio) but two saloons (this Ghibli and the larger, related, Quattroporte), and soon it will also have a big, Porsche Cayenne-rivalling SUV, the Levante.
Maserati is serious about taking on the Deutsch großen drei, albeit only at the very top end. With plans to expand to production of 75,000 cars a year by 2018, Maserati is clearly being ambitious for a company that until just recently was only making around 6,000 cars a year, but that
still pales in
comparison with the output of BMW or Mercedes-Benz. So, there will never be any 2.0-litre diesel Ghiblis, bought on preferential PCP rates, cluttering up company car parks, but that does leave space for someone else to do something
. . .
The structure which underpins the Ghibli is impressive in and of itself. It’s already under the bigger Quatrroporte and will also serve under the Levante, the next GranCoupe and the new Alfieri sports car. It’s
structurally stiff, something that you can really feel inside the car over a give-and-take road, and that’s the secret to the busy suspension/calm driver trick. The steering is well weighted and accurate (although oddly it has less direct road feel than the Quattroporte we drove over the same roads) and the whole car seems to move as one when and where you ask it to. It is
hugely impressive, and not a little Germanic in its demeanour.
That is until you come to the engine. The 3.0-litre V6 turbo could never be mistaken for anything other than Italian. It starts with a deep bark that makes you think of a sharply dressed bad guy in a Sergio Leone spaghetti western
. Rev it hard and it begins to sing, the bass giving way to an alto-soprano wail that would have the director of the Teatro alla Scala whipping out a chequebook and a hanky to wipe away tears of joy.
So what if you will struggle to break 20mpg when pressing on? This is a properly glorious engine, one that makes the Ghibli almost swift enough to bear comparison with the mighty BMW M5. Only a slight plateauing of power delivery as the revs rise speaks against it.
Fab engine is a box most, if not all, Italian wannabe super-saloons have ticked down the years, but the Ghibli goes several better when you start addressing its quality and comfort. Yes, there are some glitches. The seats are wonderfully comfy but the bulky gearbox installation means your left foot is constantly cocked to the right. The steering wheel feels great, and the chromed Trident badge defines “evocative”, but it doesn’t adjust low enough for comfort. And while there is sumptuous suede headlining, gorgeous instruments and beautifully finished leather stitching and carbon-fibre trim, it’s hard to get away from the fact that the rear seats are a bit tight.