August 14, 2014
Vehicle Style: Premium mid-size sedan
Price: $169,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 301kW/550Nm twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 petrol | 8spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 10.4 l/100km
For an Italian car company that has been around longer than Ferrari, it should be easy, you'd reckon, to muscle-in on a premium segment.
After all, Maserati doesn’t have to build a brand image - it already exists.
But Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz have made the mid-size segment their own. And they’re not going to give it up without a fight.
Maserati's premium mid sizer, the new Ghibli, is based on that 'coupe' styling principle.
It's aimed squarely at bringing driving pleasure back to the segment.
From the B-pillar forward, the Ghibli shares all of its architecture with the Quattroporte, the difference being slightly stiffer spring rates and having the double wishbone suspension lowered a further 17mm.
So does it feel just like a shortened version of the Quattroporte, or does it have its own distinct flavour?
That's what we set out to determine.
- Sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, multi-function steering wheel controls.
- Powered front seats, rear air vents
- Large 8.4-inch touch interface, Bluetooth audio and telephony, full-colour trip function display
Step inside the Ghibli and you first notice the beautiful leather smell of the quality hides used throughout. There's a choice of colours across the dashtop which can be independent of the seat leather.
The smoothness of the hide is evident without even running your fingers across it. The seats are very comfortable and nicely padded with enough bolstering to stop you sliding around.
Of course, there's quite a bit of parts-sharing with other cars in the Fiat Chrysler group, the most evident being the 8.4-inch touch screen in the middle, but it's integrated quite well.
There are no problems with the fitment, but some cheaper plastics do seem out of place.
We did have the Bluetooth drop out and reconnect several times, interrupting the music streaming. But, apart from that, the infotainment system works quite well.
If the Ghibli does suffer from anything, it’s packaging. The large transmission tunnel forces your legs to the right, giving a slightly offset seating position.
The rear-seat comfort is excellent (the leather and padding is superb), but legroom is lacking given the segment it’s competing in.
Adults will fit, but with a long-legged driver and passenger up front, it’s very tight. And while there's a middle seat-belt, don't worry about fitting in a fifth adult - view it as a four seater.
Ergonomically, the steering wheel's closest controls may take some getting used to, with four 'layers' to navigate.
There are the multi-function buttons on the face, audio controls on the back of the wheel, the shift paddles mounted to the column and then behind them the indicator and wiper stalks.
Boot space is fine, with the obligatory two sets of golf clubs fitting. In layman's terms, there's 500 litres of capacity, enough for everyday purposes.
If you’re looking for the active safety tech we’ve come to expect from this segment (blind-spot monitoring, lane departure, radar-based cruise) you won’t find it.
Maserati says that it has actively targeted keen drivers, meaning anything that takes the skill or control away from the driver is superfluous.
While it has a point, time will tell whether that will hamper sales. But it’s doubtful - Australia is having a hard enough time increasing its allocation, with most cars this year already spoken for.
ON THE ROAD
- 3.0 litre petrol turbo V6
- 301kW @ 5500rpm | 550Nm @ 4500-5000rpm
- Eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters
- Rear wheel drive
- 0-100kmh - 5.0 seconds, top speed 285kmh.
- Double wishbone front | Five bar multi-link multilink rear
- Hydraulic, speed sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion steering
- Fuel consumption (listed): 10.4 l/100km
Press the start button on the right side of the wheel and the twin-turbo V6 spins up quickly and settles into a muted burble.
Press the sport button next to the gear lever and exhaust flaps open up, with a much deeper growl.
Oh yes, there’s definitely intent here.
It’s strictly button first and then pull the lever - the split second of pulling in the button initially allows you to shift.
Otherwise you'll need a second go at it.
Sound confusing? Well, it caught us out a few times in three-point turn manoeuvres. Once we had that mastered, it’s as good as 'jump in and go'.
With two turbochargers mounted low, there's plenty of cool air rushing past, meaning enough grunt to keep the Ghibli properly motivated.
It'll hit 100kmh from rest in five seconds flat and punch the air onwards to a top speed of 285kmh. Of course, with two snails there is some lag, as you'd expect, but it's only really noticeable when setting off.
While on the move, the engine is pleasingly responsive and has one of the best six cylinder soundtracks on sale today. Only Jaguar's F-TYPE comes close and that's by virtue of its exhaust crackle.
The Ghibli's metallic symphony isn't nearly as loud as the Jag's but that induction howl is almost V12-like in note; it's nearly worth the price of admission alone. But there’s more than simply good sound to this beast.
With the proven ZF eight-speed auto (it just doesn’t put a foot wrong) backed up by massive paddle shifters which can be reached at almost any steering angle, gearshifts have been specifically mapped for the Ghibli.
Normal shifts are taken care of in 250ms while in Sport, they’re much snapper - 150ms. And the exhaust 'whump' which goes along with each shift is wonderful. It’s also smart enough to recognise road gradients and adjust accordingly.
The Ghibli's steering also deserves special praise - it is possibly the best in the segment. While BMW was top-of-the-pile for steering feel, the creep of electric assistance has dulled its appeal somewhat.
The Ghibli's true hydraulic set-up retains perfect weighting throughout the lock, and is speed appropriate - lighter at low speed, heavy at high speed.
It’s so communicative and responsive that it’s a breath of fresh air compared with the over-assisted, artificial steering we’re now having foisted upon us.
Call on the brakes and there's no fade, just excellent pedal feel and progressive bite.
While the suspension is firm and biased to handling, it retains excellent composure on the road. The test route, through northern NSW, threw up some shocking surfaces and not once did it stray from its line.
Despite those roads, the suspension never once felt crashy, just a well-controlled thump underneath as it coped with the patchwork of tar and filler.
Considering it was running on 19-inch wheels (the ride would be better on standard 18s), the spring and damper set-up is extremely accomplished.
And there’s optional Skyhook adaptive damping available as well.
The stability control allows you to step it out slightly, and if you’re on top of it, the Ghibli allows more and more play. Show the car you can drive and it’ll show you what it’s really capable of.
And that’s a whole lotta coin more.
Dynamically, the Ghibli is a step up from the current crop.
The way it combines its grip, poise and drivetrain brilliance really does make it hard to go past. Involving? Absolutely.
But the best part? There’s a V8 version coming. Please forgive my drooling…
EuroNCAP rating: 5-Stars (no ANCAP rating for this model)
Safety features: The Ghibli is fitted with seven airbags, electronic stability control (which allows some slip), ABS, brakeforce distribution, hill holder, I.C.E. mode (reduces power and torque) and reversing camera.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
We think Maserati might be right in that assessment.
While it is noticeably smaller inside than the cars it aims to compete with, that is actually one of its strengths. It shrinks around the driver which enhances the enjoyment at the wheel.
For those who want a pure luxury experience, it might be better to look to the Germans.
But for those who really love their driving, it's difficult to imagine a car that carries more cachet, has more ability and exudes more personality for this price.
The Ghibli was named after a hot wind coming out of the Libyan desert. We can confirm that it goes like the wind, and is one you'll really enjoy.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Ghibli - V6 Diesel - $138,900
- Ghibli - V6 Petrol - $139,990
- Ghibli S - V6 petrol - $169,900