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2014 Maserati Ghibli First Drive – Review – Car and Driver

Whatever you thought Maserati stood for, you’re going to have to rethink it. In the space of three years, the brand will rediscover turbocharging, introduce a diesel engine, build an SUV (the Levante) and a second, smaller sedan (this Ghibli), and offer all-wheel drive in both of its four-door cars. All this in an effort to increase its 2012 global sales eightfold to 50,000 in 2015 and give Ferrari’s older brother the scale it needs to be stable (more detail on Maserati’s product plans here).

The plan doesn’t lack ambition, and the process has already started with the launch of the turboed, AWD-optional new Quattroporte. We’ve just driven the 2014 Ghibli, the smaller sedan based on the QP. Maserati hopes it will rival “four-door coupes” such as the Mercedes-Benz CLS-class, Audi A7, and BMW 6-series Gran Coupe, as well as their conventional sedan brethren, and provide about half of the sales growth.

With Maserati, a racing heart has always been standard, of both the mechanical and biological types. The two twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6s with which the Ghibli will debut in the U.S. are no exception. Designed by Schumacher-era Ferrari F1 engine guru Paolo Martinelli, built by Ferrari, and closely related to the senior QP’s 3.8-liter V-8, they will offer 345 horsepower in the base car and 404 horsepower in the S. The latter is shared with the Quattroporte and will only be available with the Q4 all-wheel-drive system. Both mate with ZF’s eight-speed automatic.

With roughly 4150 pounds to motivate, the S ought to hit 60 mph in about 4.5 seconds and will be able to top 175 mph. The 4000-pound base car likely needs 5.6 seconds to reach benchmark speed and tops out at 165 or so mph. Prices have yet to be confirmed, but expect to pay $65,000 for the base model and about 10 grand more for the S. There is a diesel-drinking V-6, but it won’t come to the U.S., and we won’t miss it.

Styling? You can draw certain conclusions from pictures, but we liked it much more when we saw it in the flesh. Those pronounced fender arches are a nod to the Tipo 60 Birdcage, and the Ghibli stands out from its less expressive German rivals. And that’s exactly what the Ghibli needs to do. Its rivals’ booming sales mean their cars are now just traffic. Seeing a Maserati is still an event. Those who simply want to be different will want this car, and might be prepared to forgive a lot in return.

The cabin is less successful. In an era when hatchbacks ape supercar cabins, it’s hard to stand out here. The cockpit layout and the materials are good enough, but no more. There’s enough head- and kneeroom for one six-footer to sit behind another, but the seat design leaves little space in which to wiggle your feet.

Both cars start with a loud supercar gurgle—everyone loves an Italian accent, right? But once inside and on the move, the character dissipates. There’s more noise than in an equivalent Audi, and you can provoke a little “pop and crackle” on the overrun, but we’d hoped for more. And for more performance, too. The base car’s is adequate (and U.S. base cars will have about 20 more horsepower than the Euro-spec cars we sampled), but the S feels significantly torquier and faster in comparison than those figures would suggest. A more frenetic throttle response would help with the perception of performance and the car’s overall character. And although you might expect anything with a trident on the nose to provide stunning pace, keep in mind that the two models are more rivals for an A7 3.0T or a CLS550. You soon realize you’re driving the second- and third-tier cars in the Ghibli lineup. Maserati hasn’t confirmed this, but if it doesn’t put the 523-hp V-8 from the Quattroporte into this car to take on the CLS63 AMG and the like, we’ll eat our Borsalinos.

The chassis certainly has the talent to cope. A Sport mode alters the steering, gearbox, throttle, and exhaust settings, with a separate control for the two-stage damping. The Ghibli has a fine low-speed ride and pleasingly light steering in town, but there’s some heave over highway undulations, and you’ll need Sport mode on switchbacks. But with it engaged, both the rear-drive and rear-biased AWD cars corner flatly and turn in cleanly even when the S is fully stretched—the mechanical limited-slip diff helps. Maserati has eschewed the overwhelming trend to fit electric power steering to save a couple of grams of CO2 and has stuck with hydraulic boost. It feels quick and accurate and has something approaching feel. You sense the Q4 all-wheel-drive system shuttling the torque forward in moments of understeer, but it doesn’t corrupt the steering.

Increasing your sales eightfold is a big task, even when the starting point is 6200 cars. But when one considers that BMW sold more than 280,000 5-series sedans last year, you wouldn’t need to capture much of that market to reach the goal. You can risk making cars that are edgy and unconventional and distinctive, and in fact, you probably have to. So, although we understand why these Ghiblis aren’t faster and can’t blow us away with exotic interior furnishings, we still wish for a little more of said risk taking. But for those who don’t want to be a sheep, and want a car from an exotic Italian brand that doesn’t (yet) make hatchbacks, the Ghibli offers plenty.
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