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Craving Italian?

A radical epoch springs at Maserati as they introduce a new sporting saloon for the aspiring middle class

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Fri 31 Oct 2014, 2:19 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 10:56 PM

Italy has had its clutch on global culture almost since the start of civilisation. But after the Roman Empire dwindled and the world outgrew fanciful continental invasions, they have yet again taken over the world, but this time from the kitchen, with their now-universal pizza, pasta, gelato and tiramisu. And it’s not just cuisine; they play inspiring football, make memorable social conversations that teeters on flattery and, well, they build some of the most exquisite sports cars ever.

Now when you think Maserati, you think utopian luxury, racing heritage; you also think jealous neighbours and a price tag that a 20-year mortgage won’t pay off. Well, some of that is about to change! The corporate overlords down at Maserati decided they want to make more money and the only way to do that is by selling more units…50,000 of them! And it all hinges down to this car — the all-new Maserati Ghibli.

But for the executive sedan buyer, all roads don’t lead to Rome. In fact, they lead to their neighbouring nation Germany, where resides the specialists in this segment and the current crop, namely the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and the Merc’ E-class — an unbeatable bunch. But we are liberal and we’d like to see what the Ghibli has to offer and whether it’s a good alternative.

Design & Aesthetics

For the first time in the company’s illustrious 100-year history they are selling two four-door vehicles simultaneously, one of which is the Quattroporte, which, in Italian, means ‘four doors’ and now we have the Ghibli — the translation of which I’m still trying to figure out.

Truth be told, the Ghibli is a bit like a mini Quattroporte. It borrows its core architecture, chassis, suspension bits and even power train from the Italian flagship. However, it has a wheelbase that is shorter by 173 mm, is 291 mm shorter overall and is 50 kg lighter, thanks to the four aluminium doors and bonnet — and a few magnesium parts. But it is not a small car by any means — the 4.97 m length is big enough to make an impression on the road and trouble you in the parking lot.

In certain lighting and some colours, like this blue car pictured here, the Ghibli looks properly stunning. This is the automotive equivalent of calligraphy if the German trio were an Arial font. I’m not so sure about some of the detailing, but it has been given a deliberately sculpted form that even Da Vinci would have been proud of, lending it a drag coefficient of 0.31.

The headlights converge onto the trident symbol that rests on the distinctive and gaping multi-bar grille, which is supposedly a throwback to the iconic A6 GCS of the 1950s. You get xenon HID projectors, of course, and under them are three-spot lamps that mimic the signature three-port holes in the front side fender. The side profile gets a swage line that runs from the mentioned air vents and terminates in the rear lights. The raked C-pillar merges with the truncated boot rendering a coupé-like stance, and it hosts on it the classical Saetta Maserati logo, a tradition dating back to 1963.

It gets rather simplistic at the rear end though. You have an illuminated ring running around the tail light cluster that incorporates the brake lights, the direction indicators, reversing lights and fog lights. It didn’t look so much different from the Nissan Sentra I parked next to at noon, but in the night when the lights come on, it looks dashing. Our prize for style in the car goes to the exhaust tips — quad tail pipes, two on each side with a circular cross section. It is so much more desirable than ludicrous trapezoidal fixed-to-the-bumper tail pipes — the kind you see on a 7-Series or S-Class.

So what you have is something special on the outside, but before we got to the insides, we noticed the key fob — a most elegant one. It is a good mix of plastic and aluminium, and weighs as much as your iPhone. Click a button on it and they unlock doors with frameless windows, which most will love.

Inside, the blue instrument dials are crisp and clear, and between the speedo and odometer is a 7” TFT display. Yes, the 8.4” Maserati Touch Control multimedia panel, placed at a convenient accessible and viewable position, is more than sufficient, but these days there is nothing such as IT overkill. And just so you know, to keep costs low, Maserati borrowed existing resources from Chrysler products, such as the screen itself and other switch gear.

In the interest of keeping the eyes entertained, the cabin gets dashboard surfaces draped in leather and a two-tone effect, of red and black, like our test car, with the usual hints of aluminium highlighting the centre-console and air vents. It doesn’t end there; you can have it completely decked out in trims of real wood or carbon-fibre even.

The seats are leather upholstered by master armchair makers Poltrona Frau. They have given it a ribbed quality that makes it appear decidedly mature and stylish. Most drivers and passengers, even those a little above 6 ft tall will find the seats comfortable with power adjustments ranging from 6-way to 8-way, depending on the model. And of course, memory setting allows you to reset seat positions, lumbar and mirror settings at the touch of a button. They say, this is a 5-seater but even with four, it’s a squeeze. There is enough head room but rear passengers will suffer from a lack of knee room and that is not excusable in an executive car.

As is the norm with Italian creations, you have plenty of quirks and missed opportunities — and I’m not just talking about Roberto Baggio’s penalty from ’94. The accept button on the touch screen is rather small, the volume and tuning knobs are not illuminated, inserting a disc when parked is a task and, more importantly, shift lever is very finicky. The Ghibli’s interior appeal is not quite as holistic as other cabins, but it is still very quaint and desirable.

Powertrain & Performance

The joy of owning a Maserati is one thing, but knowing that the engine is manufactured by Ferrari is another. Yes, the twin turbo 3.0 L V6 is put together by the same hands that build the 458 Italia and others, figuratively speaking, of course. And helping those two blowers maintain operating temperature are two intercoolers. Power production is helped along by direct injection and variable valve timing. A running motor will make as much as 326 bhp at 5,000 rpm and 500 Nm of torque between 1,750 and 4,500 rpm. That’s a healthy dose of zing.

There is a 9-speed auto employed in the Cherokee but Maserati chose to equip the Ghibli with the tried-and-tested 8-speed automatic from the Quattroporte. One thing is for certain: no German sports sedan sounds this good. Rev it up and let your neighbours be damned — in Sport, the pneumatic valves open up and out comes an aural symphony mostly associated with V8s. Deriving a rich burble from a turbo 6-cylinder car is a labourious thing! The righteous driver wouldn’t mind, but all others have access to a 0 to 100 km/h capability of 5.6 seconds and a 263 km/h top speed. That is plenty of poke for anyone of any age!

But if your heart craves “MORE POWER!”, get the boosted ‘S’ model. That one has 404 horsepower and 550 Nm of torque to go along with the heftier price tag. It will do a 100 in five seconds and push the top speed to 285 km/h. But we think the speed difference between the models isn’t much and the base model’s speed is just fine.

The Gran Turismo Coupe we drove a while ago was a reserved beast, until we opened up the floodgates. Everything just got better when you buried the gas pedal — the steering feel, the speed and the sound. This one, however, is slightly different. There is ample power to get off the blocks and burn muscle cars on the highways, no doubt; the traction from the rear-wheel drive setup and standard mechanical limited slip differential is exceptional, but the electro-hydraulic steering is as wooden as reality TV these days. You get almost no road feel or feedback.

You have five drive modes to choose from, by which you can alter throttle response, shift speed, use of paddles and economy. We stayed happy between Auto Normal and Auto Sport. There’s a double wishbone suspension at the front and a five-bar multi-link system rear. Even with the independent Skyhook adaptive damping system, ride quality is not its strong point! Let’s just say cabin quietness and travel comfort are rated just a satisfactory 7/10.

If you need to halt, the Ghibli’s 4-piston 345 mm front brakes and 320 mm rear rotors will clamp down on speed easily and effectively. When measured, it took no more than 115 ft to halt from a ton. The brakes can come across as touchy to some but they operate with a confidence uncommon. The S model gets larger 360mm rotors all around and red blue or silver callipers. Maserati, traditionally, are big drinkers but this new Ghibli does an efficient job of burning fuel and there won’t rain a storm of ash like in Pompei. The claimed fuel economy of 9.6l/100km and C02 emissions of 223 g/km are impressive but difficult to achieve owing to its sporting demeanour.

Features & Functionality

The Italians are high on style and so-so on functionality but, strangely enough, the Ghibli has a boot as big as 500 L and rear seats that fold down and split in 60:40 fashion, if required. You have plenty of large centre console door pockets and a ventilated glove box. You also have ISOFIX mounts in the rear seat for a child seat, making it the perfect little family car.

If you are accustomed to the voices and noises from your home’s Bose or Harman Kardon audio systems, opt out of the standard 8-speaker or the optional 600-Watt 10 speakers “premium” system. The right cure for you would be the available 15-speaker, 1280-Watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system with Kevlar tweeters and woofers. Bet that the last time you heard Kevlar was in a Batman movie, right? It simply sets the right mood, en route to a party or just to simmer down from work. The central compartment has a USB port and aux-in jack, if need be.

A lot of car memes are of crashed Italian exotics, but that shouldn’t deter your decision. There is plenty of stuff to keep you out of trouble like ABS, Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, ASR, MSR, hill hold, a speed limiter, a reversing camera and a whole lot of abbreviations you may owe your life to. And in case you do meet with a fellow traveller’s bumper, systems are in place to deploy seven airbags, anti-whiplash front headrests and seat belt pre-tensioners. Navigation is relatively easy to use, but graphics are average. The Ghibli also comes equipped with the WLAN based Wi-Fi system, in case your family wants to browse while on the go. I haven’t seen too many people use it but it is there for those who want it.

Verdict

If your heart’s been craving Italian but couldn’t afford it previously, the 2014 Maserati Ghibli is the one for you. It has a few quirks, which make it all the more Italian — things like the finicky gear lever and the indifferent steering feel can be forgiven, but the lack of rear space can’t. But, if you consider the positives such as curb-side appeal, pace and the sheer novelty of owning a Maserati, I’d suggest it. Just don’t ask me to pick it over a German rival.



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