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2014 Maserati Ghibli Blu review (Australia), with Blu Emozione and Nero photos

Australian Ghibli review:

Maserati Ghibli: First Drive -

Look out E-Class and co, Maserati is gunning for you
Maserati Ghibli 

International launch

Siena, Italy

What we liked
>> Astonishing handling envelope

>> Engaging without being demanding

>> Crafted interiors

Not so much
>> Ride not always composed

>> Lacks German tech

>> Satnav is slow to update


>> Ghibli family key to 50,000 unit target…

Maserati has teetered on the edge of irrelevance for almost as long as it has existed. But that is finally changing, with the Ghibli giving the Italian brand two simultaneous four-door sedan offerings for the first time in its history.

The Ghibli is based around the engineering of the all-new Quattroporte, which launched in Europe late last year. It has been built to deliver between 22,000 and 25,000 customers a year. In other words, Maserati is arriving with an all-new car in a class it’s never competed in before and is expecting its EClass/5 Series segment machine to account for more than the brand’s total yearly average for the last decade.

The numbers read as though they’re serious, with the Ghibli S capable of hitting 100km/h in 4.8 seconds and blasting through to a 284km/h top speed, thanks to 301kW and 550Nm 3.0-litre, twin-turbo petrol V6.

The Ghibli is, model-per-model, about 50kg lighter than the Quattroporte and around a foot (291mm) shorter and, while the bigger Quattroporte is no slouch, the Ghibli has been made with a more aggressive feel to its brother.

But there’s more. Maserati insists (cough, cough) the Ghibli won’t ever use the Quattroporte’s 3.8-litre, twin-turbo V8, so the flagship Ghibli S Q4 combines the most powerful version of its 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 with all-wheel drive.

Australia’s flagship Ghibli (until the “not-coming” V8 does eventually arrive -- with the advent of an AMG-ish MC line in 2016) is likely to be the rear-drive version of the Ghibli S. There will also be a detuned Ghibli, though the hardware doesn’t change from the S.

The big news for Maserati buffs is that there is a Ghibli diesel -- called, imaginatively, Ghibli Diesel. This is the first Maserati in history not to use a spark plug. And this is important -- for when the Levante SUV comes on stream in 2014, you can expect diesels to soon power more than half of Maserati’s 50,000-car annual target number.

B’ah. That can’t be good, but that’s where the world’s going. Besides, it seems to work for Porsche…


>>Costly, but exclusive and interesting…

With Quattroporte still on its way to Australia, it’s a bit hard to know exactly what the Ghibli will cost.

The best hints are internal ones. V8 Quattroportes will probably peak (before options – and there are plenty of them) in the $310,000-$320,000 range. To give the range-topper enough of a gap to be a credible flagship, the V6 Quattroporte S (which loses very little in performance and gains much in economy) will need to be closer to $280,000. That will push the stock Quattroporte V6 down into $260,000 region.

Given these stats, the Ghibli range’s flagship can’t really cost any more than $240,000-$250,000, which will be about a $1000 discount for each centimetre they’ve taken out of the Quattroporte’s length, engine-for-engine. It could also leave the standard Ghibli with an entry ticket closer to $220,000.

There is no real guide for guessing where the Ghibli Diesel might end up in price (the Quattroporte doesn’t get the diesel, even though it’s engineered for it. Indeed, there’s no guarantee Australian buyers will get the choice.

We’ll get back to you when the locals have more of an idea of timing and scoring.

For flagship money, the Ghibli will deliver much, though there are, when compared to the establish badges in this segment, some omissions that are just startling. Like the Quattroporte Ghibli will do without radar cruise control, and electronic safety systems like lane-change departure warnings. Remote boot opening and closing is also absent.

The navigation system seems as though it’s not keeping pace with either the countryside around you (sometimes) or the competition (with BMW and Audi now tying theirs to the internet to steer around all manner of hazards). It’s a Garmin-based unit, too.

Fortunately, it’s a part of an intuitive touch-screen multi-media system that provides the biggest touch screen on the market, all set in a dashboard that can be trimmed in two different colours and comprises a startling array of leather pieces stitched together.

The standard seat is a six-way electric unit and the steering wheel is electronically adjustable, too. The standard rear seat has three bum spots, though Maserati has a two-seat setup in the pipeline. All Ghiblis can be setup as rolling WiFi hotspots.

There is a standard two-zone climate control setup, though a four-zone system is optional, as is a 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. The stock audio is a 10-speaker system.

>>Reads like the Quattroporte’s -- only shorter
Maserati CEO Harald Wester estimates that round 50 per cent of the Ghibli’s components are shared with the Quattroporte – but that does not include even a single panel.

The ‘sharing’ is centred on the cars’ core -- chassis and suspension layout is identical. That gifts Ghibli a five-link rear suspension, an aluminium-centric front suspension with double wishbones and a fixed-rate damping setup. Maserati’s active Skyhook system is an option and deliver two (err, soft or sporting) damper rates.

This is all connected to a steel passenger cell and there is a looming Sports suspension setup on the Diesel and the S Q4 which will lower their ride height by 10mm. Yep, dead odd, but it’s to counteract the slightly heavier front weight bias those two versions have.

Still, all of them deliver 50:50 weight distribution (though it’s hard to see how, with 60kg of all-wheel drive sitting at the front half of the car).

Inside that engine bay sits a V6. Doesn’t matter which one, they’re all V6s.

The S Q4 gets the most powerful of them; a 60-degree V6 with the same 86.5mm bore size as the Quattroporte’s V8, though it has a longer stroke to help it feel more torque-rich low down.

It runs essentially the same variable valve timing system, the same design for the combustion chamber, the same valves and almost the same exhaust manifold system and turbos -- the V8 has two twin-scroll units, the V6’s blowers are conventional turbos.

It delivers 301kW at 5500rpm and 550Nm from 1750-5000rpm. This is actually a lower torque peak than the diesel (see below) and is 89kW and 100Nm less than the V8 that will, inevitably, appear in the Ghibli one day.

The V6 is matched, like all models off this architecture, to a ZF eight-speed automatic organized for both rear and all-wheel drive (though the V6 needs a hole through the sump and a couple of other details to allow the front driveshafts to reach the wheels). The transfer case is integrated into the transmission and essentially creates an on-demand all-wheel drive, with the front wheels spinning freely unless they’re needed.

This set-up ensures the Ghibli S Q4 has the same 10.5L/100km combined fuel economy as the rear-drive Ghibli S destined for Oz, which is fair given they also share their 4.8-second sprint time 0-100km/h.

When the Q4’s all-wheel drive needs to pump some torque to the front end, it gets there in less than 150 milliseconds, says Maserati. Critically, it disappears again just as quickly when it’s no longer wanted. The torque split to the front shrinks as speeds rise and from around 150km/h it’s near as **** it to zero.

Boss Wester claims the Ghibli Q4’s multi-link rear end has so much grip and its mechanical limited-slip diff so much bite at the back that it sends only around 30 per cent of the torque to the front on a full blast from standstill.

Both the Ghibli and Ghibli S weigh 1810kg, while the Diesel adds 20kg and the all-paw setup in the Ghibli S Q4 adds 60kg.

The diesel is no match for the petrol motors in a straight line, but it’s very good at 6.3 seconds and uses just 5.9L/100km to be easily the most efficient Maserati of all time.

It does this all by using a single turbocharger and up to 2000 bar of fuel pressure. The engine is built by VM Motori, near Modena.

Outputs are 202kW and 600Nm. The torque peak is a little late in arriving, at 2000rpm and the power peak is a little early, at 4000rpm. This leaves the Diesel with a 2000rpm effective rev range. Thus the gearbox’s manual mode is essentially redundant.

Another major difference is that the Diesel has a smaller fuel tank (70 versus the petrol models’ 80-litre).

All Ghiblis have 18-inch rims as standard equipment, though 19s will be more commonly fitted to most and the wheel sizes even stretch up to 21 inches.

The Diesel gets the same 235/50 standard rubber all round, while the S models both have larger 275/45 rear boots.

The 19-inch option delivers even lower profile rubber, with our Ghibli S sporting Dunlop Sport Maxx 245/45 ZR19 front tyres and 275/40 ZR19s at the back.

Both Ghibli S models run 360mm x 32mm front discs with six-piston fixed calipers and 350mm x 28mm rear calipers with four-piston calipers, while the parking brake is electric.

Despite of the predominance of electro-hydraulic systems these days, the Ghibli uses an old-school power-assisted hydraulic steering system.


>>Honest five seater, generous four seater and still a car for one…

Tightly related to the Quattroporte, yet different, the Ghibli has a character all its own.

Maserati found a way to chop 173mm out of the Quattroporte’s wheelbase to create the Ghibli, yet the car is 291mm shorter overall. That means its overhangs are significantly trimmed – there’s been nearly 2mm hacked out of the overall length for every 1mm out of the wheelbase.

That translates to a relatively compact overall shape that still has plenty of legroom in both the front and the back. After all, the Quattroporte had plenty of space to spare.

There is a split-fold rear seat to extend the 500-litre boot when needed and the rear seat passengers sit atop an 80-litre fuel tank.

Overall, the Ghibli just slips beneath the five-metre barrier at 4971mm long, while its 1945mm width (add another 55mm for the mirrors) puts it in the big-car class. Which means the Quattroporte must be in the bigger-car class.

It’s not tall, at 1461mm, meaning it will happily fight with the four-door ‘coupes’ of Germany for style. Wheelbase is 2mm shy of three metres long.

Ghibli is configured as a conventional five-seater, however, as noted above, a four-seat option will be offered – at least in Europe. All this roominess and true executive segment space doesn’t take away from the fact that the Ghibli is a Maserati. The driver is the centre of attention in so many ways.

>>Seems comprehensive, but not crashed yet

Sharing much of its core with the Quattroporte has given the Ghibli a head start in safety.

It has been designed to deliver five stars on NCAP (it hasn’t been crashed by the testing regime yet, though) and while it has a lot of aluminium for the front sub frames, suspensions and body panels, the core of the safety structure is from hot-formed steel.

It has a third crash load path at the front of the car to dissipate forces around the cabin, while it also gets seven airbags and anti-whiplash front headrests.

And, for the little ones around the car, there is a rear-view camera as well.


>>Think: German; fast German; exclusive German

There are two kinds of competitors for the Ghibli: the mainstream Germans and the sleeker, faster versions of the mainstream Germans.

All of the major premium Germans are at it these days, with the CLS being a more individualistic version of the E-Class, the 6-Series GranTurismo being a more individualistic version of the 5-Series and the A7 being a more individualistic version of the A6. Only Porsche doesn’t play the game, but only because it doesn’t make a more conservative looking version of its Panamera. More’s the pity.

“With these four-door ‘coupe’ models there is a desire for something different,” Maserati CEO Wester told at the Ghibli’s launch in Siena.

“The only point of differentiation to their own cars is style. There is a growing desire for something [truly] distinctive and unique and we can deliver that better than anybody else,” he said.

There is Jaguar, too, of course, but the buyers Mr Wester is looking to sway are the ones buying the German versions. There are a lot more of them, after all.


>>Everything M has forgotten but is it too focused?

Maserati promised the Ghibli would have all the manners of the Quattroporte but with a harder, more aggressive edge. It delivered on its promise…

The Ghibli S Q4 we started with isn’t initially slated for Australia, but it’ll be the big seller in Europe and in the US snow belt. And its engine is heading here, so that’s a start.

And it’s very, very good. The V6 is just as smooth as we remember it from the Quattroporte and it feels more athletic for carrying less weight.

The interior is a superbly comfortable and stylish place to be, with a fat steering wheel (with column-mounted shift paddles) and a classy gearshift lever -- even if that area of the car is the source of its only real ergonomic niggles. It shifts so easily out of Park that it’s easy to bypass your desired Reverse and drop straight into Neutral, while the row of buttons alongside it (for the skid-control system, the Sport setup for the skid-control, the exhaust, the shift and the throttle response and the damping button) don’t light up so they can be tricky to find in a hurry.

Maserati has ditched the Quattroporte’s long, wide shift paddles which fouled fingers seeking the indicator stalk. But the dash still works beautifully and looks and feels a treat, while there is a useful array of storage inside and the satnav’s instructions are also relayed on a TFT screen between the tacho and the speedo dials.

Driven slowly and quietly, the 19-inch boots work well and the driveline is just a joy. The engine is smooth, flexible at low revs and the transmission is faultless.

You can change the display to show you where the drive is going with the all-paw system and, most of the time, it’s almost all going to the back.

There is just about room for very tall people to sit behind very tall people and while the luggage area is in the ballpark, it’s not best in class.

There are situations, though, where the Ghibli doesn’t shine. Every now and again – especially at low speeds -- the chassis will jiggle a touch as the damping bounces back up from a bump strike. It’s oddly inconsistent but, thankfully, not a major issue.

If you can recall the very first BMW M5, you will understand how the Ghibli feels. Like the first M5, it uses six cylinders (though they are in a Vee and force fed by two turbos) and prioritizes balance and poise and grip above raw power and startling 0-100km/h numbers.

It’s so good and balanced, in fact, that even with its extra (almost) hundred horsepower, it would take a very good driver in a current M5 to stick with the S Q4 over a mountain pass. Or a broken road of any kind…

Understeer is an abhorrent concept to the S Q4 and it steadfastly refuses to be dragged into a stance so undignified. In a normal understeer situation, like a tightening radius corner or its arrival at a bend carrying way too much pace, it just has a little tyre chirp, shoves torque where it’s needed, squats and carries on.

It is capable of whipping through corners with so much grip, poise and (appropriate) steering feedback that it fires out the other side leaving its occupants feeling like they’re inside a tennis ball being whirled around on the end of a length of string.

It’s a wonderful feeling, with the back end driving itself into the tarmac and the front end assuredly sending you nibbles through the steering.

The turbo V6 petrol engine is there chipping away, too, softly holding the limiter in Manual mode, punching hard from low revs and generally feeling ultra strong, rather than a free-spirited spinner. It’s accompanied by an auto that can flip into aggressive mode at the push of a button and (finally, someone has done it) remembers manual downshifts and applies them when the revs are low enough to accommodate them.

It’s the handling at the outer limits that stands out in this car and it does it all without feathering or otherwise destroying its tyres or giving the driver a single ‘oops’ moment. Why it has skid-control at all is beyond us. It’s just hard to imagine it will ever need it.

And it’s quiet when you want it to be and loud when you ask it to be.

After driving the Quattroporte all of the above was almost expected. What wasn’t expected was that the Ghibli Diesel felt almost the same.

For a start, it sure doesn’t sound like a diesel. There are stronger motors out there (the tri-turbo M550d xDrive, for starters), but this one sounds maritime and V8-ish all together, then switches to a deep, bass rumble when you attack it.

It does this by capturing the best of the exhaust sounds with a little do-dad near the end of the pipe, then accentuating them.

But it does not handle like a diesel, with added weight up front. Sure, this one is only 20kg heavier than the rear-drive petrol motor, but that can hurt. But not here!

The only issue is that it’s a bit pointless running it in manual mode because it chomps through its 2000 revs useful range quickly and that you don’t understand that it’s on the limiter until it’s been there a while. That’s how sweetly it spins and how soft the limiter is.

There is a stronger version of this engine, with two turbos, in the wings at Maserati in a bid to get it over the 250kW mark, but that is at least a year off in Europe and this car as it sits is still a “maybe” for Australia.

It is quiet and calm when you cruise and enjoys a more comfortable ride on the stock 18-inch rubber.

But the way it moves into corners and hustles through them is astonishing. It’s even better than the M550d xDrive, even though it’s rear drive, and that steering, with a touch more weight over it, is delicately responsive once you accustom yourself to its light weighting.

I think Maserati may be right on all fronts. The S Q4 is a worthy flagship. The V8 isn’t here because (for now) it isn’t necessary. And the company will sell an awful lot of diesels.

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