MASERATI GHIBLI REVIEW
The new Maserati Ghibli is central to the brand's ambitious expansion plan. Is it good enough to help deliver it?
The new Maserati Ghibli really has to deliver the goods. You see, if I had a pound for every Maserati rebirth I’ve been to, I’d buy a round at the pub. Like some recalcitrant child on the naughty step, Maserati always promises that this time it will be good and this time the cars will be reliable/fine riding/spacious/big sellers.
That they are not is tragic, that Maserati is still here is witness to the strength of the marque with a name that rolls around your mouth like a fresh Chianti. Mazzaarateee. You don’t just turn up in a Mazer - sometimes you don’t turn up at all, but if you do you’ve most definitely arrived.
This time it is going to be different (natch), but the plan to sell 50,000 Maseratis by 2015 seems as feasible as invading Russia in the winter, especially when you consider last year’s global sales of just 6,200. This car is a big part of that plan.
The Ghibli name has previously been applied to a Giugiaro-designed two-door coupé and spider that sold a total of 2,100 in the late Sixties, and an eye-wateringly powerful two-litre two-door Biturbo in the Nineties.
So this is Ghibli Three and it’s certainly a looker, especially with a Tuscan dusk elongating the coachwork curves, undercuts and sinuous twists. Not in German standard silver, but in classy gun-metal greys and midnight blues that breath, “get it on,” in your ear.
Giovanni Ribotta, exterior design manager, tried to convince us it was all inspired by the Tipo 61 (aka Birdcage), Maser’s epochal 1959 racer, but he’s fooling no one. No need to pretend to plunder the plan chest, Giovanni, this is a very handsome car and a welcome change from the oompah-band brash of the Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 5-series and Audi A6, which are Ghibli’s obvious rivals.
Maserati’s history is littered with owners of various stripe, and considering how many times it’s been passed around within the Fiat Group, it’s not without irony that the Ghibli will be built at the new Giovanni Agnelli factory, which is in fact the old Bertone factory, to the West of Turin, purchased by Fiat in 2009. The Ghibli’s construction is similar to that of the Quattroporte's and it shares the same drivelines and suspension, steel monocoque and production line, but the Ghibli is a foot shorter, with all-new coachwork.
The doors are aluminium, as are some cross members, while the dashboard skeleton is magnesium. Even so, with a diesel engine the Ghibli still weighs in at a substantial 1,835kg. Suspension is via front double wishbones and a five-link independent rear using Maserati’s electronically adjustable dampers all round. The biturbo V6 petrol engine is closely related to the Quattroporte’s V8 and both are built by Ferrari. The V6 single-turbo diesel is a Maserati design, built by VM Motori, which is wholly owned by Fiat.
All Ghibli’s have an automatic gearbox - ZF’s brilliant eight-speed unit - and while all UK cars will drive their rear wheels, there is a four-wheel drive system called Q4, which will only be offered in left-hand drive markets. It’s a very expensive engineering job to swap to right drive.
Step in and the cabin is lovely, with close attention to stitching and brilliant contrasts in shade, shape and material. The leather hides aren’t quite as soft as Maserati’s of yore, but that Daliesque oval clock still sits in the centre of the facia. There’s lots of room around front-seat passengers and the seats are comfy, cosseting but with a slightly oversprung-armchair feel to them. There’s enough room in the back for two adults, but leg room is slightly compromised against the front seat backs. The seat bolster is also heavily shaped, so woe betide the middle passenger.
The instrument binnacle is clear, but the switches are heavily stylised so button functions aren’t always obvious. The fixed gearchange paddles are easy to find, not so the indicator stalk. In the centre of the dash is a clear and bright 8.5in screen for sat nav, radio and communications. The boot is a sizeable 500 litres.
Fire her up and the diesel has a flat industrial drone, the petrol an abrupt wail. There’s a sound modifier button, but on the compression ignition engine, it merely sounds as if a small Lego cement mixer has been started up in the boot. The diesel will be the biggest seller and is Maserati’s first-ever oil burner. There’s not much going on below 2,000rpm, where the unit sounds growly and industrial, but after that there’s a more interesting ‘beat’ to the exhaust note and plenty of go. The eight-speed ZF ‘box is a proven and excellent unit, and with software tweaks from Maserati it changes faster, but there’s a worrying amount of shunt in the driveline when you change gear.
Having driven the petrol models first, we were expecting to find the diesel’s ride quality sadly wanting and so it proves, although 20kg more kerb weight helps a bit. Even with the dampers in maximum soft, on straight and smooth Italian autostrada, the body never settles, but continually pitches diagonally and uncomfortably from side to side and passengers’ heads toss about like heavy metal fans playing air guitar.
Push the Sport button and this movement is more restricted, but it’s still there, along with noisy vibration and a fizzing sensation through the major controls. Someone stepping into the Maserati from, say the Jaguar XF, might wonder if the delivery blocks had been left in.
The handling is partially affected by this imprecise body control and the Ghibli’s electronic steering system, which has inconsistent weight and feel, doesn’t help. I got quite annoyed with it at one point and threw the car up an open stretch of road, whereupon the one great handling trait became apparent - the Ghibli likes to be driven with a rough hand.
Treated thus it’s a road smoker of considerable menace and star of its own road movie as it spins up the inside rear tyre and steers on the throttle while wagging its tail like an eager pup and howling defiance at any and everything. Indeed, turn off the traction control and the Ghibli is so old-school driftable you wonder whether they did any chassis development outside the race track. What a test programme that must have been.
Sure I was grinning at the end, so much so I went back and did it all again, but that’s really not enough to get this car on the same shopping list as its German or Coventry-created rivals. Maserati oozes glamour and the Ghibli looks great and seems well made - although only time will tell there. The engines are powerful, but the diesel is far from mellifluous and its ride is terrible. Sure, it responds if you drive like you stole it, but in everyday motoring that’s not enough, even if it has a Maserati badge.
ENGINE/TRANSMISSION: 2,987cc V6 turbodiesel, ZF eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive.
PRICE/ON SALE: Range starts at £48,830 for the turbodiesel as tested, £52,275 for the standard 330bhp Ghibli and £63,415 for 410bhp Ghibli S. On sale in October.
POWER/TORQUE: 270bhp @ 4,000rpm, 443 lb ft @ 2,000rpm.
ACCELERATION: 0-62mph 6.3sec
FUEL ECONOMY: 36.2mpg/47.9mpg EU Urban/Combined.
CO2 EMISSIONS: 158g/km
VED BAND: Band G £175 for the first year, £175 thereafter
The allure of this exotic Italian marque is undoubtedly strong and the Ghibli looks the part. Its cabin is lovely, too, while the diesel engine ticks the right boxes for fuel economy, CO2 emissions and power and the handling is enjoyably old-school.
The diesel engine is noisy, however, while rear seat space is tight and the ride quality is appalling.
TELEGRAPH RATING: Three out of five stars
BMW 535d M sport from £48,000
Powerful and charismatic, 313bhp straight-six diesel, 155mph, 0-62mph in 5.5sec, 50.4mpg and 148g/km. Spacious, good looking and fine riding as long as it’s not over-tyred. Expensive, well made and covetable.
Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI AMG Sport from £54,240
The car with which Maserati would like the Ghibli to be compared, an angular, four-door hatchback oil burner: 265bhp, 47.1mpg, 162g/km, 155mph and 0-62mph in 6.6sec. It just doesn’t seem the same sort of car, though.
Jaguar XF 3.0 V6 diesel S from £56,025
Expensive, but Ian Callum’s exterior and Alistair Whelan’s interior are attractive, different and witty and Mike Cross’s ride/handling compromise is unsurpassed; 275bhp ‘Lion’ V6 gives 155mph, 47.1mpg, 159g/km and 0-62mph in 6.4sec.