2014 Maserati Ghibli S Q4 drive reviewFri, 21 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700
What is it?
For those jaded by the prospect of yet another A6, 5-Series or E-Class, Italy proudly presents a pretty and powerful alternative. Although the new Maserati Ghibli is a conventional sedan -- an extra-curvaceous one, to be sure -- the trident-badge brand's leadership believes it can challenge the coupe-like competitors from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The Ghibli versions scheduled to go on sale in the U.S. in September wear prices covering a range encompassing Audi A7 3.0 TFSI to BMW 640i Gran Coupe, via the Mercedes-Benz CLS550. While Maserati is yet to announce exact base MSRPs, chief executive Harald Wester promises the basic rear-drive Ghibli will be $65,000 and says the more powerful all-wheel-drive Ghibli S Q4 will be a little more than $75,000. At least initially, the more expensive of the two is expected to be more popular with Americans.
A Maserati-designed but Ferrari-manufactured twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 will power both models. The Ghibli S Q4 has the same 404-hp and 404-lb-ft engine, eight-speed ZF automatic and all-wheel-drive system as the Quattroporte S Q4 on sale in August. The rear-drive Ghibli's engine is a softer-tuned, 345-hp and 369-ft-lb version of the 3.0-liter V6, again driving power through a ZF eight-speed auto.
Commonality with the Quattroporte extends way beyond drivetrains. The Ghibli's wheelbase is almost 7 inches less, it's nearly a foot shorter overall and weighs 100 pounds less, but much of its body structure and all of its chassis hardware -- suspension, brakes and steering -- are the same as what's found on the Quattroporte. While the A7, 6-Series Gran Coupe and CLS are all derived from lesser, lower-priced models, Maserati's engineers like to point out they've done it the other way around.
Like the Quattroporte, the Ghibli's body is a steel-aluminum hybrid shaped by Maserati designers. With a little more width and a little less height than its big brother, the Ghibli had great proportions even before the stylists went to work. Blending equal measures aggression and elegance, the Ghibli is both strikingly lust-worthy and unmistakably Italian.
Inside the emphasis is on craftsmanship and classy materials. Two examples; the instrument panel -- totally different from the Quattroporte -- has been designed to highlight the perfect stitching of the leather covering it and the column-mounted shift paddles are smooth and sturdy metal castings. Customization options for the Ghibli will be many. Six interior colors and 19 interior trim combinations will be offered at launch.
Ghibli is spearheading Maserati's aggressive global expansion plan, and the range of models offered will inevitably expand in the U.S. Wester says the Ghibli Diesel, with a 271-hp 3.0-liter turbo V6 made by VM Motori (51 percent Fiat-owned and 49 percent GM) might be added to the lineup.
More exciting is the prospect of a Ghibli with the same superb 523-hp 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 as the Quattroporte GTS. Although the Ghibli has a smaller engine compartment, Wester confirms it will fit.
What's it like to drive?
Maserati says the Ghibli is intended to appeal to those who really enjoy driving. Seems that way from the driver's seat, too…
The Ghibli S Q4 feels as quick as the 4.8-second 0-62 time Maserati claims and performs brilliantly through corners. At least partly because of the torque-vectoring smarts of its all-wheel-drive system, the car's steering is telepathically direct yet not at all nervous.
Selecting “Sport” mode for both the electronically variable dampers and drivetrain transforms the Ghibli into a rasping, crackling, popping, hyper-responsive corner-carver. The class of the chassis components is evident from the S Q4's unshakeable balance and stunning agility. It's a very different, and much more involving, experience from any of Maserati's competitors.
So far, so excellent. But calmer assessment at saner speeds, using the default “Normal” modes highlights some Ghibli shortcomings. There's a sometimes tiresome exhaust boom around 2000 rpm at light engine loads, and ride comfort isn't quite right. Maserati engineers say there's more difference between the Ghibli's “Normal” and “Sport” suspension modes than the Quattroporte's. The smaller Maserati does feel distinctly softer over large road surface irregularities. But small, sharp impacts -- bridge joints or potholes -- aren't sufficiently smothered.
In other respects the Ghibli S Q4 is very good. It's as quiet as it should be, with little annoying road or wind noise. The driving position and front seats are very good, and the man-machine interface -- especially the large touchscreen in the center of the instrument panel -- is user-friendly. Rear seat headroom is generous, but legroom limited, especially sitting behind a tall driver.
That last paragraph also goes for the rear-drive Ghibli. It, too, is a quick and characterful drive. Aside from its 60 fewer hp, the other obvious difference is the steering, which, while more consistently weighted, lacks the S Q4's amazing bite and accuracy.
Do I want it?
For both its looks and its sporty driving prowess, the Ghibli is a car to kindle desire. For those who want to stand apart from the conformist crowd, this Maserati makes a very persuasive case. Call it a case of beauty and the boost…
2014 Maserati Ghibli S Q4
ON SALE: September
BASE PRICE: $75,000 est. base MSRP
DRIVETRAIN: 3.0-liter, 404-hp, 404-lb-ft V6 twin turbo; awd, eight-speed automatic transmission
CURB WEIGHT: 4,135 lb
0-62 MPH: 4.8 sec (mfr. claim)
FUEL ECONOMY (EPA/AW): TBD
By John Carey