– Sporty driving experience
– Cabin trim and features
– Fairly comfortable ride
– Pricey with options
– Average fuel economy
– Some ambient highway noises
Luxury brands are increasingly moving downmarket nowadays, pimping out their heritage in a cheap attempt to increase sales. At a time when BMW is peddling ugly little electric cars and Mercedes-Benz is pushing front-wheel-drive hatchbacks, Maserati has also launched their very own entry-level offering — a 330 horsepower midsize sports sedan that slaps the “upmarket” competition silly. This is one instance where “entry-level” still looks pretty darn premium to us.
With the rise of swoopy styling trends in all sorts of random low-budget Korean offerings, the Ghibli may not impress if you’ve only seen it in pictures. But in person, the cohesiveness of the aggressive design becomes all too apparent. That angry nose is pointed very low, to the point that there isn’t an obvious front bumper, while the profile view reveals a long bonnet and a short boot, like how sports cars look. It’s a pity that the rear-end, while handsome, isn’t as spectacular as the nose. Even then, the Ghibli attracted a fair bit of attention from those with the slightest interest in cars. Nobody gives generic Mercs and Bimmers a second look any more, even when they’re fresh models.
Inside, we were pleased to see that the Italians simply didn’t lift the Quattroporte’s cabin design and plugged it into its smaller sibling. The Ghibli’s dashboard design is completely unique, with generous chunks of wood and leather making up the dash and door panels, and slivers of metal used to finish it off. While there’s no hard plastics in sight, they did use very firm “soft-touch” materials in the lower reaches of the cabin, to distinguish it further from the cushier Quattroporte.
Space up front is excellent, while there’s just about adequate legroom and headroom in the back too, well within class standards. The front seats are well-bolstered, although it takes a bit of work to position yourself correctly in them, especially around the shoulder area. There’s a whopping four covered cup-holders just for the front passengers, but all of them are somewhat shallow! There’s two more for the rear, aside from a couple of covered storage cubbies as well as several other storage pockets on the seatbacks and on all the doors. With a split-folding rear seat and big boot, it can carry a sizeable amount of cargo, even if the boot-lid’s big hinges take up some space. All in all, it’s a very practical car, more so than a Lexus GS350 or a Porsche Panamera.
Centrally located is the 8.4-inch touchscreen that’s obviously sourced from Chrysler. It’s an excellent system, better than most, with good response and big icons to play with the navigation, stereo, phone, climate control and other settings. There are redundant buttons for the strong CD/MP3 USB/AUX Bluetooth audio system, as there are for the good dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents. Our mid-optioned car also had a sunroof, rear electric blind, power front seats, basic cruise control, smart keyless entry, remote start, lots of airbags, adaptive HIDs, electronic parking brake and a rear camera, with a few other options left on the table, but nothing as fancy as a panoramic glass roof or a heads-up display that some rivals offer.
Having only started experiencing Maserati cars recently, we’ve come to realise that it’s the engine that’s central to their unique driving feel. The standard Ghibli is powered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged direct-injected V6 making 330 hp at 5000 rpm and 500 Nm of torque from 1750 to 4500 rpm. It basically feels like a toned-down version of the 410 hp turbo V6 we experienced in the Quattroporte S, obviously, but it is by no means a slouch. For our 0-100 kph test, we did a conservative run and got a wheelspin-free launch thanks to its grippy tyres, giving a time of 6.6 seconds in cool January weather with only 400 km on the odo. No doubt it can be quicker with a harder launch once it’s broken in. For even more speed, there’s the Ghibli S with that 410 hp V6 option.
All Ghibli versions come with an 8-speed automatic. In sport mode, it’s fast and responsive, especially when using the big metal paddle-shifters. It feels a bit lazy in normal mode though, and our occasional use of the economy mode didn’t bring down our 16.4 litres/100 km fuel consumption average any further.
Indeed, this car errs towards the sporting side of the equation a lot more than any of its ilk. The exhaust note sounds like that of a Porsche 911, if a little subdued, with the random pop on downshifts to give off a race-car vibe. The feedback through the chunky steering wheel is decent, with good weightage and sharpness. And the brake pedal has a weighted action as well, to accurately control the powerful brakes. All this armed us with the confident to push that immensely competent chassis to its limits.
Except that the limits are so high that they’re hard to reach most of the time. It’s one of the last cars in its class to use an honest-to-goodness mechanical limited-slip differential, and when combined with firm suspension tuning that makes body roll barely perceptible, even the drive down to the store becomes more special.
Throw it into a corner at a decent speed, and it turns in with very little understeer. There’s no shortage of mid-corner grip from the 245/45 front and 275/40 rear tyres wrapping the 19-inch alloys. And with the ESP off, you can either do a clean exit or pump the sensitive throttle in sport mode to throw the tail out for a wide powerslide, before easily reigning it back in line for a straight getaway. There’s more than enough power to do that, even with all the available grip.
Going back home, the Ghibli rides somewhat firmly, but still very compliantly on most road surfaces, even though our car lacked the optional adaptive suspension system. Our decibel readings also indicated a reasonably quiet cabin, but we could still hear a hint of wind noise from the side-mirrors, a bit of road noise from the tyres, and a mild hum from the engine, even when we’re doing under 1800 rpm cruising at 120 kph. As we said, there are compromises to having a car as serious about its sporting intentions as this one. It’s akin to driving a 4-door Porsche 911 that thankfully doesn’t look like a Panamera.
Decades ago, the Ghibli used to be exclusively a 2-door sports coupe. The new Ghibli is now the sports-sedan for the sports-car driving set to grow into. Even in this base form, it is so much more characterful to pilot than cars like the BMW 535i and the Mercedes-Benz E350, so for proper enthusiasts, giving up that last ounce of silence may be worth it. As the Quattroporte has now grown to a limo-grade size, the Ghibli fills in the gap perfectly.
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