The brilliant Maserati Ghibli seeks to attract customers from other premium E-segment models. And the S version with the Q4 all-wheel drive arrangement helps the cause along with a great handling experience
Sergio Marchionne’s big gamble with growth seems to have paid off for the conglomerate. Ever since the Fiat group bought into Chrysler’s operations, the integration has deepened to a level where it is no longer blasphemous to speak of platform sharing and badge engineering. Although that may not be entirely true when it comes to a brand like Maserati.
The catch with Maserati is that it is still seen as a purists brand. Let us put aside for the moment the fact that they are debuting the Levante SUV to get more fatcat owners into their stable. Maserati only accepts association with Ferrari, no other brand stands up to their ideals.
So it wasn’t odd when a couple of years back the Maserati product specialists took great pains to explain the originality of the Ghibli. We may see it as a shared platform, but for Maserati there was enough difference in the evolution to warrant an independent tag. They give credit to the Quattroporte as the platform’s origin and you can see the similarities, while there surely were learnings from the wider FCA.
You can however give Maserati designers due credit for spawning a creation that truly takes the place of the smaller sibling of the Quattroporte. Even the choice of engine made a huge difference. Admittedly the smaller displacement of the 3.0-litre V6 engine came as a bit of a surprise. But with the S tune, the biturbo engine output is above 400 horsepower and that combines with a quick shifting eight speed gearbox.
The Ghibli stands out from the crowd with its styling. Every bit the traditional Maserati, it takes the Trident brand’s ethos to every panel, with the shark like snout, cleverly crafted headlights and flowing side panels complementing the thrust out fenders. The pride of place just aft of the front wheels is hogged by the typical Maserati air-intakes. These are functional considering the turbocharged engine’s need for ventilation.
Modern day technology in terms of lighting (focus lights and LEDs) plays a major role in communicating this as a modern day car. And we must say that the rich blue of the test car is a stand out colour, going very nicely with the deep red and black treatment of the interiors. The interiors are a good mix of luxury and a performance theme. Scooped out sports seats, a steering wheel that just slips into your grasp and an instrument pod that wouldn’t look out of place in a Ferrari are all part of the equation. The Maserarti Touch control is a stand out feature of the car. It takes the logic and technology of the group’s interface to a unique level.
From this model year onwards, the MTC has a greater integration with Apple devices due to the chipset it features. Siri takes over the voice control and you can pair your phone seamlessly with the device.
Another small feature we really liked was the placement of the left and right turn indicators in the two separate dials of the IP. It doesn’t quite take you to Ferrari’s choice of the appropriate switch positions on their steering, but the feel is similar.
We aren’t too sure of how the optional Ermenegildo Zegna interior with its marriage of silk and leather would feel, but the chosen leather seats and dark interiors are completely to our taste.
The car is of course different to the regular Ghibli that you would buy. For its takes the purist rear-wheel drive characteristic of the Ghibli to a new level with the Chrysler engineered AWD arrangement. It may seem counter-intuitive at first to expect the AWD to make the car feel more Maserati-like. But that is what happens.
The fact that this is an all-wheel drive is communicated by the Q4 badge. The system remains rear-wheel biased with power transfer to the front-wheels achieved through a wet-plate clutch in the transfer case. When you start the engine and put the car in drive, the power split shows up as 50:50 on the panel in between the two nacelles of the speedo and tachometer. That would mean that you would expect the default mode to be an even split but that is not the case. The system is highly sensitive to accelerator input and measures weight shift as well as wheelspin and power delivery. Under quick acceleration the car shifts more of the power to the rear (we saw the 20:80 ratio settling in most of the time) and the second you relax and lift your foot off the pedal the power delivery shifts to 100% to the rear. That is D mode. But things change with your selection of other drive modes.
So, you have a system that plays to a lot of strengths – a phenomenal power delivery of above 400hp, the torque flatness that only a good turbocharged can deliver, undetectable (or almost) turbolag and a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox that is just as happy in full manual mode. The car even has a mechanical limited-slip differential that plays a handy role when you are pushing the car really hard. But that would be about par for a performance sedan that seeks to outshine the rest of the E-segment champions.
The Ghibli’s exhaust is also engineered to add to the excitement, with a variable baffle arrangement, wherein the valves stay shut upto 3,000rpm and then open to enhance the richness of the exhaust note.
So, as you thunder around a curve enjoying the suppleness of the Ghibli’s light aluminium double wishbone suspension, you not only feel the nuances of the road through the seat, you feel it through your ears as well.
We’re from that breed of people who love the Italian supercar just as much as we love their approach to performance sedans. That said, neither of these would really sell in today’s day and age without sticking to the highest standards of technology, design, engineering and product excellence along with reliability, all of which need to partner the latin flair of machismo and excess.
Yes, the Ghibli does take the equation to a realm of greater sensibility. To start with the car isn’t priced too far out from the rest of the benchmark premium E-segment. And it does bring a package to the table that makes for a compulsive nod to the affirmative.
Whether it is the option to buy into designer interiors, particpate in a personalisation programme or even to just choose between the standard 8-speaker audio systems, Harmon & Kardon 10-speaker or the Bowers & Wilkins Premium sound system with signal enhancement and 15-speakers and a 1,280 watts amplifier, you never had it so good with choices.
You definitely need to buy the S version over the regular Ghibli, even if it’s just for the extra bit of torque and power and the Q4 tries to take you a little bit further on that path. That may just be the bit you choose not to opt for if you are a rear-wheel drive purist. But in our opinion it’s worth having as a backup plan.