Sexy contours, snarly exhausts, the tang of leather and an elaborate dashboard clock set in its own plinth: everyone knows Maserati doesn’t do “meek”.
Take this new Ghibli saloon. It’s effectively a scaled-down version of the Quattroporte, Maserati’s flagship four-door. It’s 291mm shorter and 50kg lighter than its big brother, all the better for its sporting brief. It’ll go up against players such as the Mercedes CLS and BMW’s 6-series Gran Coupé.
It’s a good-looking thing with a gaping grille that could only belong to a Maserati. Side on, it looks most like its bigger sibling, complete with those trademark ports just aft of the front wheelarches. The rear view is least impressive, where it manages to look Toyota-ish.
Inside, the Ghibli offers up a cabin that splashes wood and leather liberally but a little less so than Maseratis of old. The finish looks convincingly well executed. The front seats offer all the adjustment you could wish for; they’re particularly good at getting you right down low in the cockpit, making you feel as though you should be wearing a five-point racing harness.
In the back, two six-footers can sit comfortably, even if the front seat occupants ahead of them are the same height. The boot’s a reasonable size, too, and the rear seats fold down so you can get longer bits of luggage on board.
The Ghibli, which can be ordered now for October delivery, is available with a choice of three, 3-litre V6 engines: a 325bhp or 404bhp petrol twin-turbo, and a 271bhp diesel.
I can hear the gasps from the galleries. For the first time in the company’s near century-long existence, it is offering an oily engine option. For many people, a Maserati with a diesel will sound about as right as a Rolls-Royce with a Rotax.
For Maserati, it was a no-brainer. The company plans to raise its annual sales from the 6,200 it achieved in 2012 to 50,000 by 2015. That is a simply massive target and one that can’t conceivably be met without a diesel in the range, particularly in Europe.
There’ll be a lot of bleating about brand DNA and the dilution of a passionate, sporting marque. Well, it didn’t do Porsche any harm to quietly slip an oil burner under the Cayenne and Panamera’s bonnets. The key is to get it right.
In the Maserati’s case, that means retaining enough of the car’s overtly sporting character. On that front, recruiting 271bhp to hustle an 1800kg car in traditional Maserati fashion is a rather big ask for the diesel engine. Feeding its power through a fast-shifting, eight-speed ZF auto box (with paddles), the V6 diesel manages to get the Ghibli to 62mph in 6.3 seconds. That’s brisk, rather than quick, which is forgivable if the experience contains enough of that soulful delivery that is so much a part of the Mazza character. I’m talking about that big, woofing baritone bark of exhaust, that rolling thunder on the overrun, that hammering Nascar sensation on a wide open throttle.
So Maserati has done its best to make this diesel sing like the rest of the family by tricking up the exhaust. However, from the first crank of the motor you’ll find this is less Pavarotti and more Olly Murs. Simply put, the engine’s dieselness hasn’t been sufficiently subdued or nuanced. The payback comes at the fuel pumps, though, with the Ghibli diesel returning a claimed 47.9mpg overall.
The new car handles a challenging road well, thanks in part to a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. And with the adaptive damping set to “sport”, the car feels much more tied down, and this without ruining the ride. In normal “comfort” mode, body control is a bit unruly.
Now climb behind the wheel of the 325bhp twin-turbo petrol Ghibli and that Maserati soulfulness comes rushing back with all the snarling, popping and redline caterwauling you’d expect. It’s very good fun but the best drive of all comes courtesy of the four-wheel-drive 404bhp Q4. It has the performance, sharp turn-in and pointy agility to be properly entertaining. Sadly, we won’t be getting the Q4 in right-hand drive but we will be getting that 404bhp engine in the rear-wheel-drive ‘S’ model, which costs £63,415.
The Ghibli really does make a refreshing change from the usual German crowd. But while the diesel version makes perfect sense from a corporate point of view, it is the petrol versions that really shine, particularly the more powerful S version. It’s the real deal, which is the reassurance you want when you say “I drive a Maserati”.
Diesel Ghibli is “interesting” but the petrols are real Maseratis.
Maserati Ghibli diesel
Engine: 2987cc, V6, diesel
Power: 271bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 443 lb ft @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Acceleration: 0-62mph in 6.3sec
Top speed: 155mph
Road tax band: G
Dimensions: L 4971mm, W 1945mm, H 1461mm
- BMW Gran Coupé 640d SE, £64,130
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(Check BMW Gran Coupé used car prices on driving.co.uk)
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