Who remembers that star of the silver screen, Gina Lollobrigida? In her heyday not only was she a fine actor but was also heart-stoppingly beautiful and very, very Italian. I’m delighted to say she is still with us today. This is the thing about Italy; the country staggers from one financial or corruption linked scandal to another yet consistently manages to turn out lasting things of beauty. It has always been so.
From ancient architecture to Twentieth Century film stars, through delicious mouth-watering food and fashion to delight the eye, they just can’t seem to get it wrong, unlike, say, British Leyland. This includes automobile design. As a former Alfa Romeo owner I can attest that their cars have always been gorgeous but, alas, frightfully flawed. It’s as if the lads down the factory have other things on their minds during the assembly process. In some ways it’s hard to argue with that.
Thankfully, these days it looks like the Italian blight has become a thing of the past and the current crop of cars with legendary names emerging from Italian factories are the equal of anything produced worldwide only still with a large dollop of what a bygone TV hero once described as ‘soul and passion’. However, am I letting the look of love blind me to the realities?
Apparently, parent company Fiat is spinning off that old Ferrari outfit later this year to fend for itself thus losing its top luxury brand. CEO Sergio Marchionne needs Maserati to fill the vacuum and play a similar role. The Ghibli is made in a new purpose-built factory in Turin. Maserati is adding an SUV – the Levante, here – and already offers the sporting GranTurismo and the superb Quattroporte (short drive test here). The Maserati Ghibli featured here today compliments the range as an entry point into the prestige e-segment car market, the challenge being to find a way to broaden its appeal at a competitive price whilst retaining the mystique.
The Maserati name has now been around for over one hundred years and started out making spark plugs for aircraft. The first car to bear the Maserati name was built in 1926 and immediately began winning races. In 1929, a Maserati set a world speed record – 153 mph – the first of many to come. The brand’s trident badge is a facsimile of the three-pronged spear brandished by a statue of the god Neptune in Bologna, Italy, Maserati’s original home town.
It is the company’s proclaimed intention to sell 75,000 units annually by 2018, a scant three years away. The range will be augmented by at least one further model represented for now by the stunning Alfieri concept (pictured), truly launching the brand into mainstream territory. It’s a big ask but, judging by the Ghibli, entirely feasible.
Well, see for yourself. Cue sharp intake of breath. It’s fully a four-door saloon with a very deep and well shaped 500-litre boot yet the body reflects a coupé-like philosophy of design with that long, sleek nose that can only signal Maserati. The dominant grille retains that historic classic styling with the ever present trident logo in pride of place. The front light assemblies make skilful use of LED technology to underline the car’s personality. It sports highly effective Bi-Xenon headlights that are combined with the daytime running lights function making the car immediately recognisable and head-turningly visible in all conditions.
Incorporated in the headlight units, the LED indicator lights replicate the distinctive motif of the three Maserati side air-vents. The side profile is dominated by a swage line that runs from those traditional side vents through to the rear lights. There’s that logo again on the C-pillar. Around the back the twin double exhausts belie the fact that our test car is in fact a V6 diesel. In fact, there’s nothing about the car that says diesel at all – the thinking presumably is that a Ghibli is a Ghibli and that’s all the observer needs to know; the only clue being upon start-up.
Under The Bonnet
As mentioned the Ghibli diesel sports a three-litre V6 motor that powers the car to 155mph (all too easily as you’ll find out later) and that achieves the traffic light sprint to 62mph in just 6.3 seconds. As ever with a diesel acceleration is a bit flat until a massive 600Nm dollop of torque kicks around 2000rpm, propelling the car forward with consummate ease.
The engine quietly purrs in that throaty diesel style even though the Ghibli’s porty nature is conveyed via an Active Sound system. Two sound actuators, fitted near the exhaust tailpipes, enhance the engine’s most attractive sounds. However, when the driver presses the Sport button on the central tunnel, this rumble becomes more vocal and rather reminded me of an old-school V8.
Buyers can also opt for a V6 petrol unit in two stages of tune depending on which model – Ghibli or Ghibli S – is chosen, either of which I can attest from previous drives deliver an exciting engine note. Obviously what the petrol engine won’t deliver is the economy of the diesel. Maserati reckon that 47mpg is on the cards, but just not in my world. Nevertheless, the informative dash readout did note that my 35mpg average was consistent. In a car of this class and power that’s pretty damn good.
All engines drive through an eight-speed ZF automatic box which was fine, if it a tad slow, when left to get on with it, occasionally being augmented by kick-down. A press of the Manual button brings the big paddles into play. Certainly, using these made everything more urgent and hurried up the shifts but mostly I was content to sit back in auto mode.
On The Inside
On entering, my eye is always drawn to the little jewel-like clock on the dashboard. I don’t know why I am so fixated on this; I guess it is because it is as much a part of the legend as the trident logo. The interior is, as you would expect, superb. Mrs DriveWrite didn’t care for the tan leather which she felt was not the best choice to go with the gorgeous ‘Blu Emozione’ paint. Being a man I was too busy pressing stuff to worry about such niceties but I guess I would choose another hue myself; there are options.
The seats are very comfortable and supportive with a wide variety of electronic adjustment which, when complemented by the steering wheel reach and rake made for an ideal driving position. There’s room for four – and at a pinch, five, if the rear centre arm rest is raised – in the car but the rear compartment is not the biggest in class thanks to the aggressive coupé design. Rear seat passengers were generally content though. Isofix is standard and the seats split for extra storage.
A large centre tunnel sits between the front seats with various compartments for storage and cups plus housing for the Aux and USB points. There’s a cigarette lighter type 12v socket and a further power socket under the longitudinally split armrest that opens to reveal a handily deep well. The door pockets are on the tight side though.
The 8.4” Touch Control screen is excellent. Functions are easily acquired and actioned, the navigation works well with readouts on screen and in the driver’s eyeline on the dash between the big dials. The voice guidance was too quiet and despite my best efforts I never did find out how to increase the navigation volume.
Most of the Ghibli’s equipment is controlled from the touch screen including climate, front seat heating and ventilation, wifi, radio and Bluetooth which provided my fastest first-time connection to date plus great sounds from the 8-speaker system. In reverse the screen displays the view from the rear-mounted camera so there’s no excuse for backing into lesser vehicles. The heated steering wheel offers some controls and the cruise function.
On The Road
I have seen elsewhere some criticism of the Maserati Ghibli’s on-road performance as against some the more familiar European competition but I think these German car lovers are missing the point. No, the Ghibli does not provide the most cushioning ride available but that is to overlook the sporting credentials inherent in the brand’s history. Yes, the suspension is firm. Fitted with the optional Skyhook suspension (all four dampers electronically controlled independently) the priority is comfort, stiffening up nicely when the Sport suspension button is selected.
My opinion is that in both modes the Ghibli handled securely on the road on its 18” wheels (larger options are available) with minimal body roll aided by the limited-slip diff and Maserati’s Stability Programme. I don’t like a car that feels as if it is riding on a sponge. I prefer to feel what the car is doing although – and this has become almost a standard grumble in my car reviews – the steering is too light for a car with sporting credentials. Please give it a bit of weight Maserati.
Power is effortless and this could be a bit of a worry. When I say ‘could be’ I mean ‘actually is’. Any day now I am expecting a stern telephone call from the lovely people in Maserati’s press office to the effect that they’ve had a speeding ticket and that I am to be hauled up before the beak in short order. Honest Guv, it was unintentional. The problem is that the Italian car simply whisks you up the road and if, say, you are engaged in lively conversation, you simply don’t realise that on dual carriageways or motorways you are suddenly exceeding the speed limit, so smooth is this car. Be warned, that’s all I’m saying.
The Maserati Ghibli is a car for all reasons. In diesel form it is a mile-muncher that won’t let you down when you pull into a client’s car park. They’ll want to go out for lunch with you and such is the luxury of the interior they’ll probably settle for some M&S sandwiches so they don’t have to get out. Emissions are a reasonable 158g/km so VED won’t break the bank – under the present rules at least – and BIK just now is 29%.
For non-business users it’s all about style. Of the e-segment cars currently available the Ghibli has to be the best looking and a very good deal, especially with the range starting at around £49k for a basic car. Obviously, going mental with the options list will crank up the costs but, well, it’s hard to say no. You can have it with two or four-wheel drive as well. You know, the really tough thing about this job is that, like an Italian holiday romance with a sultry beauty, sometimes it is hard to say addio bella amore .