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A new Maserati? Well, almost. It’s update time for the Maserati Ghibli, the BMW 5-Series and Jaguar XF rival having now been on sale for three years. It’s a facelift in the mildest of senses: nothing has changed stylistically, save for a new carbon pack on the options list, while beneath the skin it’s all very subtle stuff. Prices start below £50,000 for the V6 diesel, with the range-topping twin-turbo V6 petrol costing £63,805. So what’s new? The infotainment screen is bigger, comes with a clearer design, and now incorporates proper smart phone link-ups, such as Apple CarPlay. There’s new sound deadening to improve refinement, a whole caboodle of active safety systems, and the mid-range V6 petrol now has 345bhp, a 20bhp rise on before. Yup, subtle really is the word.
But the car’s basics have always been decent. There’s 50:50 weight distribution, the ideal spread when it comes to satisfying handling, while mainstream appeal comes with a very sensible turbodiesel offering. The Ghibli launched as Maserati’s first diesel car, in fact, and with the majority of European buyers shirking petrol in this part of the market, the 272bhp/48mpg 3-litre V6 remains the staple choice in a car that takes over 75 per cent of Maserati’s overall sales volume. Until the (similarly diesel-powered) Levante SUV goes on sale, of course… Is the Ghibli good? Yes, to a point. First, it’s worth considering what the Ghibli is competing against. Test drive this after stints in a 5-Series, XF, E-Class, et al, and it will feel demonstrably more special. The doors are frameless, you’re greeted by a watch-face clock in the middle of the dashboard, and there are trident badges just about everywhere you look. It renders its rivals staid and there’s no doubt you’ll feel cooler saying you drive a Maserati. But you might not enjoy the actual driving more. On an interesting piece of road, where it feels natural to assess a Maserati, it’s a very surefooted car, one with which you can comfortably maintain large speeds without ever troubling the chassis. But it’s not an immediate firecracker of a four-door, and feels its 1.8-ton weight when really pushed. The Jaguar XF remains the most agile car in the class. It also rides significantly better than the Ghibli, which is fidgety on urban roads (even with the adaptive damping in Normal, rather than Sport) and makes more of a meal of motorway cruising. Those sound insulation tweaks do mean it’s nicely quiet at speed, though. How are the engines? The diesel isn’t inspirational enough to sit naturally in an Italian performance car, and its enthusiasm begins to wane far too early in the rev range. Leave the eight-speed automatic gearbox to its own devices, though, and the single-turbo V6 moves you along at a brisk enough pace, its claimed 6.3sec 0-62mph time feeling about right. But Audi and BMW make notably more satisfying sports diesel engines than this. Head to the opposite end of the Ghibli range, and the twin-turbo 3-litre powering the petrol V6 S feels immediately more comfortable behind a trident badge, and its 404bhp, 5.0sec 0-62mph time and 177mph top speed are more befitting, too. Sound actuators in the exhaust ensure it makes some mildly childish (but unashamedly enjoyable) noises when you’re flicking the steering column-mounted paddles, though doing so does show up the gearbox’s responses as slacker than rivals, some of which use the same, ZF-manufactured transmission. But it’s an impressive drivetrain all told. Well, until you consider a rather conspicuous in-house rival, chiefly the 99bhp-more-powerful Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Maserati insists it’s happy families within the Fiat group, and it has no issue with Alfa making a more potent sports saloon. But it’s hard to ignore the £5000 cheaper Giulia, which direct rival or not, is significantly more exciting. What about the Ghibli’s new technology? The infotainment setup is impressive, and feels far more premium than before. If we were to nit-pick, it’s all very plainly laid out, which is at odds with the more crafted aesthetics elsewhere in the car. But it’s a doddle to use. Less kind words are reserved for some of the active safety technology. Maserati is playing catch up rather than pioneering here, so it’s a shame that some of the tech simply isn’t as smooth as older setups elsewhere in the market. We experienced three incidents of an incredibly over-eager crash avoidance system, which heaved on the brakes without any obstacles or unfolding incidents before us. Way to shatter the calm of a newly hushed interior. Other ergonomic wobbles remain, too, such as the automatic gear selector, which is peculiarly tricky to use; it’s something which Maserati’s rivals keep simple, and get right. And that’s the Ghibli to a tee: quirkier than its competitors, but just not as accomplished in any key area. But then none of those wear a Maserati badge. If you’re overly familiar with its established foes (most of them German), and the Ghibli diesel is sitting on the company car list among them, it may prove difficult to resist its more superficial charms, no matter its flaws. Head further up the range, though, and it’s hard to escape that Alfa now makes a better fast four-door than Maserati.