Maserati taps into its his­tory to cre­ate 21st-century sport lux­ury sedan

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - AUTOS - Andrew McCredie

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.

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