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INTERNATIONAL LAUNCH: Icon writes a new chapter | Motoring | BDlive

INTERNATIONAL LAUNCH: Icon writes a new chapter
BY LERATO MATEBESE, 04 JULY 2013, 10:41​

MOTOR News travelled to Siena in Italy to sample the new Maserati Ghibli

Maserati celebrates its centennial next year, a milestone that will see it rapidly expand its production and product portfolio to reach a projected figure of 50,000 units by 2015.

When the wraps came off a concept SUV model at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011, many people were taken aback by the company’s move towards the ever-popular segment, with detractors muttering that this would dilute the brand’s sports-car heritage.

Personally I think not, and one need only look at Porsche to see that with good execution a brand can retain its heritage while charting new waters.

I recently travelled to Siena in Italy to drive Maserati’s latest entrant to its stable, the Ghibli, which marks the outfit’s move into a totally different segment — that of a compact sports saloon.

Earmarked to take on the likes of the BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, there is a great deal riding on the vehicle as it remains an important cog for the company to expand its footprint.

Measuring 4.9m in length, a width of 1.9m, and wheelbase of 2.9m, the vehicle is in fact much larger than the photos suggest, with as much charisma and character as its bigger sibling, the Quattroporte.

It has the right quota of prestige and dollops of bulged contours to emphasise its sporty genes.

The front takes its cue from its big brother, which sees a sloping bonnet and that cheese-grater-like grille replete with the signature trident motif underscore the vehicle’s lineage.

Featuring asymmetrical tyre sizes of 235/50/18 up front and 275/45/18 at the rear, the vehicle not only looks stocky but there has excellent grip — as I found out during the launch drive.

Finishing off the rear are quad exhaust pipes which belt out a very fruity sound.

While it is claimed that the model will go up against the likes of the Audi A7 Sportback, the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe, and the Mercedes-Benz CLS, my view is that the vehicle has a more conventional layout in the form of a three-seat bench in the rear, which is much more practical.

Interior appointments were also most impressive, and the touch-screen interface adds a minimalistic, yet elegant, look.

Admittedly the interior does not offer Audi-like premium finishes, with some quirks such as wide panel gaps here and there, but not glaringly so.

There are three models available at launch: the 3.0l V6 turbo diesel making 202kW and 500Nm; the 3.0l twin turbo petrol making 283kW and 500Nm; and a more powerful variant of the same engine with 301kW and 550Nm.

The latter will only be available on the four-wheel-drive Q4 models, which will not be available locally when the vehicle is launched in the first quarter of next year.

Being the company’s foray into diesel territory, I must admit that I approached the model with much trepidation as it would likely be muted in the typical diesel-like manner.

Thankfully the engineers made the bespoke engine have a sporty sound to it and it took just a few moments on the road to appreciate this feat.

It is a low-frequency bass sound that is more pronounced from outside the vehicle. The engine itself is arguably one of the best in its class, with ample low-down torque to pull you out of corners when driving with gusto. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, and well matched with the engine.

While there is initial lag while setting off, featuring as standard a mechanical limited slip differential (LSD), there is tenacious grip to be had even while tearing through rain-soaked mountain passes, as I found out.

However, it is the petrol variant that seems more suited to the vehicle’s character, and the sonorous exhaust note it emits is what defines Maserati’s vehicles in my book. It is an engine full of character, with decent power and eager to rev to its 7,200r/min red line, although I would have preferred the higher-output version to be made available with the rear-wheel drive configuration as well.

While the chassis has been well tuned to appease the sporty driver, the hydroelectric steering was a touch vague initially but weighted up nicely once past that point.

Driving the vehicle on some of the best roads in Italy allowed me to push a little harder into corners, and I was mightily impressed with the lack of understeer.

Thanks largely to a 50/50 weight distribution the car felt neutral and predictable, allowing one to push the dynamic envelope that much further.

Variable dampers mean you can choose between comfort and sporty at the push of a button, while steering column-mounted paddle shifters came in handy through the spaghetti-like tarmac.

The Ghibli presents all the hallmarks of the brand in a more compact package, brimming with dynamism and sporty looks. It is a well-sorted car and, should pricing be competitive, will offer something a touch more exclusive than what is currently available.

The engine is arguably one of the best in its class, with ample low-down torque when driving with gusto
 
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