By: Denis Droppa in Siena, Italy
Suddenly it’s raining Maseratis. After occupying a very quiet corner of the sportscar universe and trickling out just 6200 cars worldwide last year, the trident now aims to puncture some market-share bubbles with the launch of new model ranges and raising its volumes to an annual 50 000 units by 2015.
The model offensive started with the unveiling of the new Quattroporte flagship sedan a few months ago, was followed up by the just-launched Maserati Ghibli sedan, and will culminate in the Italian brand’s first SUV in 2015. With its new product offensive the Italian firm is targetting bigger profits without wishing to water down the exclusivity that’s at the heart of owning a Maserati, and points out that 50 000 units is still only a third of what Porsche sells annually.
We drove the new Ghibli at its international launch in Italy’s scenic Tuscany last week, ahead of its introduction in South Africa by Viglietti Motors early next year.
It will boost Maserati’s local line up to four model ranges, the other three being the GranTurismo coupé, the GranCabrio, and the recently-launched Quattroporte. A little smaller than the Quattroporte (which means four-door, in case your Italian’s a little rusty) which competes against the likes of the Porsche Panamera and BMW 7 Series, the four-door Ghibli is an alternative to practical “character” cars like the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupé and Audi A7 Sportback.
PRETTY DARN SEXY
The Maserati Ghibli’s styling doesn’t make you go weak at the knees quite like the GranTurismo coupé, but for a car built with the functionality of roomy rear seats and four doors, it’s pretty darn sexy. That striking trident-badged grille alone ensures an arresting road presence for the Italian sports sedan, but its head-turning appeal is enhanced by its long-nose, short-tail design which creates proportions more akin to a grand tourer than a sedan.
Heritage – of which there is plenty to pluck from in this 99-year old brand – comes from the twin-hump fuselage which was inspired by the famous Maserati Birdcage racing car of the 1960s. Overall the Ghibli’s a car that oozes sophisticated aggression.
Beneath the showy sheetmetal is a cabin that blends Italian styling chic with genuine four-seater roominess, and a spacious 500-litre boot that can be expanded with folding rear seats. The seats, dash and doors are all elegantly bedecked in leather available in 19 different colour combinations, and the traditional designer-clock forms part of the automotive jewellery alongside a new giant-sized multimedia touchscreen. Seven airbags, ABS brakes and stability control all form part of the safety package.
V6 TURBO POWER
The Ghibli is offered with three turbocharged V6 engines at launch, with an M5-rivalling V8 turbo likely to join the range at a later stage as a flagship. The direct-injection petrol 3.0-litre twin turbo, co-developed with cousins Ferrari, comes in two power outputs: 243kW and 500Nm for the Ghibli, and 301kW/550Nm for the Ghibli S.
For the first time in its history Maserati offers a diesel engine, a 3-litre single turbo unit producing outputs of 202kW and 600Nm. It was the first version I drove at the launch after being lured by a recording of its very rorty and un-diesel-like exhaust sound during the pre-drive press conference. Courtesy of two sound actuators in the exhausts, the diesel engine’s been given a petrol V8-like voice. Sadly the guttural roar turned out to be more for the enjoyment of bystanders, as from inside the cabin the sound’s pretty muted.
The diesel Ghibli felt muscular and torquey climbing the mountain passes near Siena and never felt short-changed in the power department, as attested to by its claimed figures of 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds and a 250km/h top speed. It’s also the choice if you want to save fuel, with a factory figure of 7.6 litres/100km.
Still, for a true sportscar experience a diesel’s lowdown grunt can seldom compete with the high-revving thrills of a petrol, and my drives in the two petrol versions delivered more of what I expected from a Maserati.
STAR OF THE SHOW
The 243kW Ghibli shunts to 100km/h in 5.6 seconds and tops out at 263km/h, while the 301kW Ghibli S is good for 4.8 secs and 284km/h. Not surprisingly the S was the star of the show with its lusty acceleration and even lustier engine roar, and the memory of its raunchy rasp still raises the hair on my arms as I write this.
All Ghiblis are eight-speed automatics with rear-wheel drive, while the Ghibli S is also available in an all-wheel drive Q4 version. The Q4’s the only derivative South Africa won’t be getting, as it’s made in left-hand drive only.
Extensive aluminium is used in the Ghibli’s body to keep weight down, but it’s still not a light car at around 1.8 tons. For a sizeable 4.97 metre long sedan the Ghibli has excellent handling manners and with the aid of its limited-slip differential and multi-link suspension it slices through serpentine roads with superb traction and minimal body roll. My one whinge is that the speed-sensitive hydraulic steering felt somewhat unnatural, with too much artificial assistance.
The Ghibli’s major feat is how its roadholding doesn’t come at a spine-jarring cost, and it has an impressively plush ride for a sports sedan. With the optional Skyhook active suspension fitted, you get to choose Sport and Comfort modes at the press of a button.
Maserati’s new Italian stallion’s a car for people who seek space with sizzle, or leg room with lust factor if you prefer. It hits the mark as a spacious car with luxury, meaty performance and that all-important Italian passione. -Star Motoring