The Maserati brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto were all involved in motor racing in the early part of the 20th century, winning back-to-back Indy 500’s in the 30s and going on to worldwide fame in the 50s when Juan-Manuel Fangio won Formula One championships with the team.
It wasn’t until 1946 that the company started focussing on road cars, with the beautiful A6 marking their first effort. Wind the clock forwards more than 60 years and the company is going through something of a renaissance, with the GranCabrio and Quattroporte pulling in the plaudits, but it’s taken 99 years for them to have a crack at the sports saloon market.
Which brings us to the Ghibli being tested here. With all that history, you might be expecting something that pops and bangs its exhaust before burbling loudly up the road, tyres smoking and passengers pressed back against their sports seats.
This is nothing like that. First of all, the high-revving noisy petrol engine has been replaced with an efficient diesel unit, while the admittedly sleek bodywork is also pretty hefty. This is no lightweight sports car, but a proper executive saloon that’s targeting top-end BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E Class owners with a uniquely appealing proposition.
It’s a master class in Italian style. The sharp-edged yet curvy bodywork looks fast before I’ve even walked out of the front door, while its sheer bulk combined with a front end that drops aggressively to the tarmac is almost intimidating.
Step inside and it’s clear that there is no German heritage in the Ghibli. Instead of clinical lines it’s all very flamboyant, swooping around a central touch screen with an elegant clock sitting atop it all. In two-tone leather it looks magnificent, although that is an £810 option.
Press the Start button and the drama that’s been built up sadly disappears. As muted as the engine is, it’s still a rattly diesel that jars somewhat with the image that’s given off by the famous trident logo on the steering wheel.
Pull away and most of that is forgotten though. The gearbox, an eight-speed automatic unit, can get a bit lost when left to its own devices, but a pair of aluminium paddles behind the steering wheel allows you to choose the gear ratios yourself. The gearbox reacts quickly enough to the requests too, allowing you to make the most out of the huge levels of torque on offer from the engine.
Put your foot down and, once on the move, the diesel rattle disappears, replaced by a deep rumble while you’re pressed backwards in to the seat. You almost forget that you’re actually driving something quite efficient and tax friendly as you reach 60 miles per hour in just 6.3 seconds.
Start exploring its capabilities and the sheer weight of the Ghibli starts to show. Eventually the 1.8 tonne car will push back against your commands, but it’s extremely well-balanced until that point. Switch off the computers that keep it on the straight and narrow and it’s possible to slide the back-end out in an antisocial drift at will, the limited slip differential that’s fitted making it a piece of cake to hold.
Slow down to speeds you’ll normally be doing and the ride quality is mostly good, although it gets a little fidgety at times over small expansion cracks and road imperfections.
Normal speeds will also help economy, something you can’t overlook if you’ve chosen the diesel option. An official figure of 47.8mpg is impressive, although the Ghibli only managed 37.0mpg over the Cambridge Magazine test route. It’s light years ahead of the petrol powered models though, with taxation benefits too; car tax is just £180 per year, thanks to a CO2 figure of 158g/km, while company car drivers will be pleased by the 27% benefit in kind rate.
It seems that Maserati has come up with the goods on their first attempt, the Ghibli almost being all things to all men, but there’s a huge elephant in the room in the shape of BMW’s 530d.
In almost every measurable way, the BMW is the better car. It’s got a better ride, is more economical, provides a more polished interior, has a bigger boot, accelerates faster, has a lower tax bill and costs less.
None of that matters though. The Maserati only loses out to the BMW by a small margin in each area, a margin small enough that other benefits might just be enough to make the Ghibli the preferred choice.
The Maserati will get people stopping to stare, while you’ll get front-of-house parking at every hotel and restaurant. Every time you park, you’ll turn back as you walk away, taking one final look at the trident on the boot or the curve of the bonnet. You’ll enjoy telling people that you drive a ‘Mazzair-artee’ rather than a me-too German saloon.
The BMW might be the better car, but the Ghibli is a Maserati.
|Model tested: Maserati Ghibli Diesel|
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel
Top speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 6.3 seconds
Power: 271 bhp (275 PS)
Torque: 443 ft-lb (600Nm)
|Combined fuel economy: 47.9mpg
Road Test economy: 37.0 mpg
CO2 Emissions: 158g/km
VED Band: G / £180 per year
Car insurance group: N/A
Kerb weight: 1,830kg