First Drive: new Maserati Ghibli
Is this new Ghibli good enough to lead Maserati out into the mainstream? TG finds out...
It's only taken Maserati 99 years to have a crack at the intensely competitive upper medium segment. With big expansion plans - 50,000 cars per year by 2015 - the Ghibli leads the company's valiant charge out of its cult cul-de-sac and into the mainstream. Do many BMW, Audi, Jaguar or Mercedes owners care, or will the Ghibli have to perform some sort of Mediterranean Jedi mind trick to persuade them?
There are three versions: a 3.0-litre, 272bhp V6 turbodiesel, and single and twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 cars, with 325bhp and 404bhp respectively. The diesel clearly fancies its chances at the business end - it's less powerful but pricier than Audi's brilliant biturbo V6, for example - and this VM Motori-developed unit is only going to be around as long as it takes Maserati to develop a more potent twin-turbo unit (that'll probably rock up in 2016). Still, 600Nm from 2000rpm is useful enough, and the combination of 50:50 weight distribution, a mechanical limited slip diff (the only car in its class to be so equipped), and a seriously good chassis add up to a package that has enough talent to justify the famous badge.
The hydraulic steering set-up is surprisingly meaty, the eight-speed paddle-shift ZF gearbox is as silkily responsive as ever, and though the ride - double wishbones at the front, multi-link rear, passively damped with the option of a ‘Skyhook' adaptive set-up - can be fussy on broken surfaces, it's good enough. Barely lighter than the full-size QP at 1835kg, the Ghibli uses a mix of steel and aluminium in its construction, but it feels pretty chunky most of the time, especially in diesel form, although its body control is impressive. Hundred takes just over six seconds, and Maserati claims 16.9kpl overall. Needless to say, if you drive it like you mean it you'll decimate that figure.
The base petrol V6 is a sweeter car, and unsurprisingly feels more like a ‘proper' Maserati. It's much rev-hungrier, sounds as fruity as any Italian car ever has - the Ghibli uses sound actuators and an exhaust bypass valve for the full Pavarotti effect - and is generally more fun to be around and in. The 404bhp Ghibli S at the launch was the all-wheel drive Q4 version that won't be coming to our shores, but proves that the chassis can handle much more power. It's terrific fun, and will most likely be even more entertaining in rear-drive form.
It's mostly lovely inside too, better and much less blingy than the Quattroporte. There's frameless glass in the doors, handsome leather seats, and a Maserati clock in the middle of the fascia. There's the option of a magnificent 1280w Bowers & Wilkins audio system, the satnav is clear and easy to use, and the dual zone climate control has hurricane levels of puff. The leather and wood in the various cars I tried was all very high quality, but the touchscreen multimedia system's graphics are less convincing, and the gear-selector is absolutely hopeless to use, with no decent demarcation between P, R and D. Rear cabin space is a bit tight, too.
It boils down to one simple question: should you? In isolation, the Ghibli is convincingly seductive and perfectly credible. But forget all that, and just imagine saying the word Maserati should someone ask what you drive. Sounds good, no?
2987cc, V6, RWD, 272bhp, 600Nm, 16.9kpl, 158g/km CO2, 0-100kph 6.3 seconds, 250kph, 1835kg