Maserati taps into its history to create 21st-century sport luxury sedan
VWhat has endured, however, is the passion the name Maserati inspires. Its racing heritage is woven into the fabric of 20th-century motorsport like few other marques, particularly in the 1950s when its race cars were piloted by the sport’s stars, including JuanManuel Fangio.
Its Tipo 61 model of the same era revolutionized chassis design with its space frame construction, earning it the nickname “Birdcage.”
For North Americans, however, the brand has always been a bit of a mystery, really more an oddity than anything else, as its passenger cars never found much traction in Canada or the United States.
One model, however, did make a ripple on this side of the pond: the Ghibli. Unveiled at the 1966 Turin Motor Show, the V-8-powered two-door grand tourer was a sensation, outselling the Ferrari Daytona and the Lamborghini Miura. American magazine Sports Car International ranked it No. 9 in the top sports cars of the 1960s. That model came to an end in 1973, and it wasn’t until 1992 the Ghibli name returned to the Maserati stable.
The Ghibli II was produced for five years as a two-door, four-seater powered by bi-turbo engines, and Italian luxury was a hallmark of the cabin. However, it was never marketed in North America, though some did find their way onto this continent.
And now, 17 years after the Ghibli name was again shuttered, parent company Fiat has dusted off the moniker with grand plans to sell the Ghibli III as a high-volume luxury sport sedan around the world — including North America.
Unlike its namesakes, the 2014 Ghibli has four doors, but maintains the bi-turbo nature of its direct ancestor ANCOUVER — On Dec. 1 this year, Maserati will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Much has changed in the world since the five Maserati brothers etched their surname into automotive history. For one, the automaker’s headquarters have moved from Bologna to Modeno. For another, Fiat S.P.A. now owns the company. and the sexy lines of the original.
This is car that takes direct aim at the big dogs in the premium luxury sedan segment — the Audi A6, the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class — a category that continues to flourish in Canada, particularly in the country’s largest cities. Indeed, in Vancouver it’s difficult to walk a downtown block without seeing a number of these vehicles, the stately German styling and uber-mechanicals as much a part of the landscape as the drab beige-and-green architectural palette favoured in the West Coast city.
What the new Ghibli represents is a large splash of Italian style to shake up that Teutonic stranglehold and some equally saucy performance to turn heads and induce grins.
What has the gang at Ferrari Maserati of Vancouver grinning is the two 2014 Ghibli models are priced competitively with those segment-dominant German luxury sedans. The base Ghibli starts at $75,800, while the S Q4, the subject of this road test, begins at $87,200.
Both are powered by 3.0-litre twinturbocharged V6s, with the base model getting 345 horsepower; the S — for sport — has 404 ponies. And did we mention these are Ferrari-derived engines? The eight-speed automatic has a manual mode to ring out the engine, and traction and shock settings can be adjusted with the touch of a button.
The Q4 element of the top-end model indicates Maserati’s all-new all-wheeldrive system, all the better to harness that plus-400 hp output. The system is designed to provide a performanceoptimized torque split from 100 per cent at the rear for highway travel, to a 50 per cent split to the front wheels for maximum traction. Hello Sea to Sky Highway!
We’ll get to driving impressions a little later, but first a nod to the design, both inside and out. In a segment where often the only distinguishing exterior element is the brand badge, the Ghibli definitely stands out.
That begins in the front, with the defining grille design centred by that striking trident badge. The grille’s oval shape narrows at the top to flow into the aggressive bi-xenon headlights, giving the Ghibli a face like nothing in the category. Two curved lines start in the front fender between the performance-oriented triple vents, then run along the doors to meet in the rear fender. Frameless door windows add to the Ghibli’s streamlined character, as does the muscular rear end.
It all adds up to an exterior design that, like the Mercedes CLS, plays a visual trick in making a four-door appear like a sport coupe.
Inside the cabin, I must say I was a little underwhelmed. While not plain, the dash design leans toward minimalism, with an 8.4-inch screen dominating the centre console and housing audio, nav, car setting and climate controls. I do like that there is a redundant set of climate controls under the screen. The centred and oval-shaped analogue clock is a nice traditional touch, too. The gauges are simple and easy to read, and the sport steering wheel has controls for audio and phone.
The gear shift is another study in minimalist design and provides space for two handy storage compartments, one that can be used as a two-cup holder. The leather sport seats are well bolstered and designed with long hauls in mind; however, the rear seats, though equally comfortable, will challenge taller passengers.
WITH a standard list in line with the competition and an interior design, minimal as it is, able to hold its own in the premium luxury segment, what could set the Ghibli apart is its performance and handling.
I would have loved the opportunity to take the S Q4 onto a track to push its limits, but had to settle for urban and a little highway driving during my three days behind the wheel. That said, I was suitably impressed with everything from its handling to its acceleration to its stopping power.
The chassis engineering is fantastic, and the multi-link suspension has the dual abilities to make the car feel like a grand tourer at one moment and a sports car the next.
High-performance brakes bring the Ghibli to a stop in a quick but controlled fashion.
And then there’s that engine. Refined and civilized at lower rpms, stab the throttle and the twin-turbos roar to life, the exhaust note as undeniably Italian as Maserati’s heritage. With a sub-five-second sprint to 100 km/h from a standstill, the S Q4 has the kind of performance expected in this segment, yet with a stylish flourish woefully absent until now.
The two previous Ghiblis had a combined lifespan of 11 years. After spending some time with the latest iteration, the third really could be the charm in terms of staying power for the newest member of Maserati Familia.
The dash design leans toward minimalism, with an 8.4-inch screen dominating the centre console and housing audio.