A pointer to the future, but needs sharpening
It’s taken a while for the penny to drop, but Maserati’s bosses at Fiat now recognise the company couldn’t credibly continue as an ultra-low volume manufacturer of charming but expensive, often infuriatingly flawed coupés and saloons. The name is one of the least polluted of all automotive brands, having been left untainted by the image of the outside-lane bully, the overpaid footballer or the ostentatious poseur. Its growth potential is enormous.
And this new Ghibli saloon, along with the forthcoming Levante SUV, is the car intended to transform that potential into sales. It’s started well: before 2013, Maserati had never sold a five-digit number of cars in a year. Last year, and despite the Ghibli only being on sale for some of it, sales rose to 22,500.
The car is based on an abbreviated version of the platform used by its Quattroporte big sister and comes with a 3-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 offering either 325 or 404bhp depending on whether you choose the standard or ‘S’ model, or a 271bhp 3-litre diesel that’ll account for almost all European sales. To give you an idea of just how inbred the global motor industry has become, this diesel is a Mercedes design made available to Chrysler during the DaimlerChrysler days, which is why it’s still used in now Fiat-owned Jeeps and therefore available to Maserati. It’s built by VM Motori in Italy.
The diesel is the only Ghibli I’ve driven and it’s intoxicating and irritating in approximately equal measure. It’s a tempting proposition because it looks gorgeous on the outside and, so long as you’re happy to spend more than £2000 on additional Poltrona Frau fine leather, the same can be said for the interior, too. It seems to work on paper, with convincing acceleration coupled to sensible fuel consumption.
On the other hand, it doesn’t feel as fast as these figures suggest, nor is the engine as smooth as I’d like. This is Maserati’s first stab at putting a diesel engine in one of its cars: the results are far from disastrous, but it shows.
The chassis is similarly flawed. At high speeds on open, flowing roads the Ghibli gets into a good rhythm, but on tighter, less well surfaced roads it’s not so self-assured. Ride quality is mediocre and – despite a standard limited-slip diff – traction in the wet is no better than poor.
The result is a frustrating car, largely because it’s easy to see how much better it could and should be. The design is sound because it combines those looks with a genuinely spacious cabin; the brand is ripe for exploiting and it is only the detail engineering that lets it down.
I think enough customers will feel inclined to forgive it, because it’s so refreshingly different to German premium brands. The real test will come a few years down the line when for those customers the novelty has long worn off and they have to choose whether to get another or return to something less imaginative but more effective. That gives Maserati a little time to iron out its bugs and, if it does, I think the Ghibli retains the potential to transform the brand. If not, it will signal the loss of the biggest, best opportunity to turn Maserati into the car company it could so clearly become.
Engine: 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 271bhp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 443lb ft @ 2000 rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 155mph