I ONLY watched the brilliant French film Untouchable because in the opening scene the central characters were seen — and, more important, heard — tearing through Paris in a Maserati Quattroporte.
Almost two hours later, when the film was over and the credits had rolled and I’d gathered my thoughts, I was sure of three things: that the human spirit is fundamentally wonderful, that kindness is the backbone of everything that really matters and that I really ought to have a big black four-door Maserati.
Actually I’ve always wanted a Maserati. There are so many reasons. Because Joe Walsh’s one did 185. Because of Juan Manuel Fangio four-wheel-drifting his 250F to yet another out-of-sight grand prix victory. Because of the 3500 GT that lived near the back of my well-thumbed Ladybird Book of Motor Cars. And because of the Citroën SM.
My dad never wanted a Maserati. But he would dream often and out loud about employing a Swedish au pair who had one. He talked about it such a lot, in fact, that, according to Clarkson family lore, I could say “Maserati” before I could say “Mummy”.
Deep down I want a Maserati more than I want a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. Those two modern upstarts are a bit nouveau, a bit studied, a bit like one of those everything-with-a-bloody-logo stores that you find at the supposedly upmarket end of an indoor shopping centre. They’re red cars for orange people. Maserati, though, has been around for a hundred years. And that makes it a bit more Jermyn Street.
The trouble is that since I’ve been old enough to drive, Maserati has not made a single good car
The trouble is that since I’ve been old enough to drive, Maserati has not made a single good car. Oh sure, the Quattroporte that tore up Paris in Untouchable was a beauty, and its V8 wailed like a werewolf that had got a paw stuck in a bear trap. But no matter what gearbox you chose, you had time to go for a weekend mini break in the time it took to shift from second to third. And the depreciation was horrendous. And everything looked and felt baggy after a year or so. You wanted one a lot but you weren’t going to buy one. Not unless you were a drooling imbecile.
It was the same story with the 3200 GT and the Karif and the Shamal and the Kyalami and the original Quattroporte. It was even the same story with the Khamsin and the Merak and the Bora. And, as Maserati often liked to name its cars after winds, it should really have called the Biturbo the “Fart”.
In fact you have to go back to 1967 to find the last truly great, world-class Maserati: the Ghibli. Which is handy, because it brings us neatly to the car you see photographed this morning: the new Ghibli. I’d been looking forward to driving it for months, but when it turned up, it wasn’t as pretty as I’d hoped.
Before we can set off, we have to back the car out of the drive, which means selecting Reverse and, oops, that’s Drive, and no, Jeremy, you’ve pushed it too far forwards and put it back in Park. Easy does it. Nope. That’s Drive again. Gently, Neutral . . . dammit. It’s gone back into Park. Ooh, it’s tricky.
But soon we are moving backwards and the parking sensors are beeping like crazy. All four corners of the car are convinced they are about to be crashed, and with each passing inch they become more and more insistent. And it’s hard to turn them off. Indeed it’s hard to turn anything off, or on for that matter, because Maserati went for a simple, clean look, which meant putting most of the switches on the touchscreen central command system. Which means that to do anything at all, you have to go through 42 submenus.
Setting the sat nav, however, is easy. It responds immediately with a confident prediction about what time you will arrive, which will be wrong because it simply does not know about roads such as the A40 and the M25.
I’m not even out of my drive at this point and the Ghibli is being annoying. It is also being cold. And such is the feebleness of the heater, there’s damn-all you can do to change that. Set the temperature on high, put the fan on full and open all the vents and only then will you not actually die of hypothermia in it.
I’m not even out of my drive at this point and the Ghibli is being annoying. It is also being cold
Still, wrapped up warm, with gloves, a hat and a scarf, plus an old-fashioned map, I am eventually on the open road, wondering why all the components are held together by a committee that needs to meet to decide whether the increase in speed you’ve demanded is something it’s prepared to deliver. The steering, the throttle, the gearbox — it all feels woolly.
If you get really determined, then there’s a fair bit of oomph on offer. I am testing the top-of-the-range S model, which comes with a twin-turbo V6 and a top speed of 177mph. Not that you’d ever want to go that fast in a car that is operated by mechanical trade unionism.
And that is jolly big. That’s why the parking sensors go off all the time. In a car this size they’re always too near something or other.
There are other things you would find annoying. There’s only one column stalk, which means that if you try to flick-wipe the windscreen, you will activate the indicator. The radio controls are on the back of the steering wheel where you can’t see them, and at night the central control screen is either too bright or off. Oh, and the brakes are a bit on-or-off.
But then I go over one of those really stupid, very sharp speed humps, and do you know what? I barely feel a thing. At low speeds this car rides like an old Jaguar XJ, which means that on potholed city streets it is a dream. Apart from the beeping, obviously. And apart from the beeping, it’s quiet. Really quiet.
There’s something else. One of the most amazing things about the old Ghibli was the size of its boot. A mate of mine used to be ferried to and from boarding school in his dad’s, and there was enough room in the boot for his trunk. Well, in the new Ghibli there’s enough space to move the school. It is vast.
So it’s comfortable and it’s practical and it’s quiet and, I have to say, it’s also a lovely place to sit. Apart from the beeping. And on top of all that, it’s a Maserati. Which means you can say to your husband, “Shall we take the Maserati tonight?”, which will make you feel extremely warm and fuzzy. And that’s a good job because you won’t be warm when you’re in it — that’s for sure.
And that was going to be my conclusion. A great badge, nailed once again to a lacklustre car. But then I saw the price. You can buy the diesel model for less than £50,000. My all-singing, all-dancing twin-turbo S is £63,760. And that’s like being offered a box of chocolates for the price of a penny chew.
Yes, it’s not perfect — the heater is not even on nodding terms with perfect — but £63,760 for a 177mph Maserati? Go on: you’re tempted, aren’t you?
Clarkson’s verdict ★★★☆☆
A bleeping bargain
Maserati Ghibli S specifications
- Price: £63,760
- Release date: On sale now
- Engine: 2979cc, V6, twin turbo
- Power/Torque: 404bhp @ 5500rpm / 405 lb ft @ 4500rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Performance: 0-62mph: 5sec
- Top speed: 177mph
- Fuel: 27.2mpg
- CO2: 242g/km
- Road Tax Band: L