Maserati’s last chance saloon?

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THE Ghibli is Maserati’s attempt to move from being a low-volume boutique manufacturer to one that shifts far bigger numbers. Think of this car as a rival to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class. With up to 407bhp on tap – and boasting Maserati’s first ever production diesel engine – this is indeed a brave new world for the Italian marque.

The Ghibli is not just a pivotal car for Maserati. It’s a case of putting all the corporate eggs in this one rather handsome basket. It’s that important. The Italian manufacturer wants to sell 50,000 cars per year by 2015. At the time of this Ghibli’s launch, it was selling around 6,000 units per annum and believes this car will make up the vast bulk of those extra sales. That’s one heck of a responsibility to shoulder. Is this sleekly styled saloon really up to it?

Many of you will probably remember the Ghibli sportscar of the early 1990s. It was fast, fun and more than slightly flawed, but was instrumental in repairing Maserati’s reputation after some awful product decisions in the 1980s. Those with longer memories might even recall the brutal and beautiful Giugiaro-designed original of the 1960s. This is a badge with provenance. But when going into battle with the likes of the BMW 5 Series and the Jaguar XF, Maserati needs all the help it can get.

The big news first. You can now buy a Maserati diesel. That may sound about as likely as a Ferrari pick-up truck but get over the initial shock and you’ll realise that trying to compete in the executive market in Europe without a good diesel would be pointless.

The 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel is good for 268bhp and sounds agreeably angry, with no shortage of torque. The eight-speed ZF gearbox is a proven and excellent unit, with rapid-fire changes and a small element of dramatic shunt engineered in when shifting gear. Ride quality and body control aren’t quite on a par with Lexus or Jaguar, the Ghibli responding to a firm hand at the tiller – as you might expect from this marque.

If you don’t fancy the rear-wheel drive diesel model, Maserati has other tempters that fuel more conventionally from the green pump. Unfortunately we’re not going to be offered the all-wheel drive Q4 versions as the right-hand drive conversion would never have been cost effective, but when you have the choice of the 328bhp Ghibli or the 407bhp Ghibli S, you’re hardly being short-changed.

Both get Ferrari-built V6 turbo 3.0-litre petrol engines, the Ghibli S reaching 62mph in five seconds flat, with a quoted top speed of 177mph. The 328bhp Ghibli cranks out 500Nm of torque, and hits 62mph from standstill in just 5.6 seconds. Like the turbodiesel, both are fitted with a ZF eight-speed auto box.

The design team has worked under the auspices of Gio Ribotta, Maserati’s exterior design manager, who points to styling cues from the brand’s legendary Tipo 61 “birdcage” model, although to be honest, they’re lost on me. Think of the Ghibli as a truncated Quattroporte and you’re not too far off the mark, with its own muscularity that distances it from the executive car mainstream.

It shares much the same drivetrain and suspension with its bigger brother, and weight has been cut by building the doors and internal cross members from aluminium, with the dashboard constructed in magnesium. It also shares the same drivelines and suspension, steel monocoque and production line as Maserati’s larger model, but the Ghibli is a foot shorter, with very different coachwork. The suspension is as you’d expect, with front double wishbones and a multilink rear, and uses electronically adjustable dampers all round.

The interior feels and looks reassuringly expensive and well screwed together. Rear legroom and headroom isn’t at all bad and there’s even a big 500-litre boot. And yes, you do get that iconic Maserati dash-mounted analogue clock. The information systems never feel quite as slick and smart as German and Japanese rivals, but if you prefer to make a dramatic entrance, there’s really nothing to touch it.

Prices open at just below the £50,000 mark for the 268bhp 3.0 V6 diesel version, so if you have your eye on a BMW 518d, this one’s going to be a little way out of your league. In fact, it’s almost five grand over and above the price of a comparably powerful performance-spec BMW 530d M Sport Auto. Allow a budget of just under £55,000 for the 328bhp petrol-engined Ghibli and, with a few well chosen extras, you won’t be too far off the mark. Another £10,000 will get you the 407bhp Ghibli S.

Nobody buys a Maserati for its economy, but the diesel Ghibli makes some very decent numbers. Helped by its standard stop/start system, this variant manages a combined cycle figure of 47.9mpg, better than something like the less powerful Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 CDI. True, this Italian saloon can’t quite match an executive class leader like BMW’s 530d, at 49.6mpg, but this Ghibli’s certainly in the same ballpark. Emissions are rated at 158g/km, not at all bad for a big car that will accelerate to 62mph in just 6.3 seconds.

Naturally, the petrol-powered models are a good deal thirstier, the 328bhp Ghibli consuming fuel at a combined cycle rate of 29.4mpg and emitting 223g/km of carbon dioxide. The flagship Ghibli S, meanwhile, gets 26.9 miles from a gallon of 98RON and emits 246g/km. Such is the economy and cachet of the diesel model in particular that it looks as if residual values might perform very well indeed.

Maserati has bet the family jewels on the Ghibli and can’t afford for it to fail. It’s a move which stakes the heritage and exclusivity of the trident badge against some of the most talented cars on the market. Can it square up? On a purely objective basis, you might wonder. Obvious rivals have been at it for too long, with a bigger development budget, and have refined their wares keenly. That said, the Ghibli isn’t that far off their pace and is a formidable effort from Maserati. Plus there’s a bigger sense of occasion about this car, which counts for a lot when buyers are forking out this sort of money. .

The Ghibli’s not perfect of course. Its ride quality needs work and the infotainment systems feel a generation or two behind its key rivals. That said, it’s a car that’s impossible to dislike and has a charisma and appeal all of its own.

And if you were presented with the choice between a BMW 5 Series and a Maserati Ghibli, would you really be able to resist the lure of the Italian car? I know I couldn’t.


CAR Maserati ghibli range

PRICE £48,830-£63,415

PERFORMANCE max speed 155-177mph; 0-60mph 6.3s-4.8s

MPG (combined) 47.9-26.9mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS 158-246g/km