► Latest Maserati Ghibli Diesel driven
► V6 puts out 271bhp and 443lb ft
► On sale now for £49,850
It’s easy to feel a bit sorry for the Maserati Ghibli. It has to go up against some great machinery from Mercedes, BMW and Audi – as well as home-grown talent in the form of the Jaguar XF. Without the fleet-attractive four-cylinder engines of those rivals to call upon, however, the beauty from Bologna simply doesn’t appear on many peoples’ radars.
The recent facelift – unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show – does little to change that, because the engines and chassis offerings are the same, other than a 20bhp hike for the lower-powered V6 petrol engine. The V6 diesel is still the lowest CO2 option, pumping out 159g/km, so it’s going to remain a rare sight in the company car park and hence on the road in general.
That’s a shame, because despite some shortcomings, it remains among the best in the class to drive and has more character than all of its rivals.
So what is new for the 2017 Maserati Ghibli?
Not a massive amount, as you can probably tell from the pictures. The big news is the introduction of a new media system featuring an 8.4-inch capacitive touchscreen, with a far higher resolution and a number of modern features like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It works well, with only the very lightest of fingertip touches required to flick through the extensive menus, all of which are displayed in a classier dark hue.
There’s also a trio of new options packs. Luxury adds erm… luxury, in the form of extra hi-fi kit, better leather, comfier seats and19-inch alloys. Sport makes it sportier (20-inch wheels, sports seats, adaptive suspension) and Carbon means you get more carbonfibre trim. Curiously, the latter pack actually helps performance, because the woven rear spoiler makes the car slipperier – and thus top speed increases by just over 1mph. Hold the front page.
As is the fashion these days, you’re also treated to a suite of driver assistance features – including adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. Unlike the impressive array of nigh-on autonomous driving functions offered in the E-Class, however, Maserati’s systems are less advanced and generally aim to just prompt the driver into reacting. For that reason its lane-departure won’t actively steer for you – it only beeps until you switch it off, or move back into the right position.
What’s it like to drive, then?
The chassis configuration is identical to the pre-facelift car, and that’s absolutely no bad thing. It uses double wishbone front and five-link rear suspension, with a proper mechanical limited-slip diff in the back axle for good measure. This helps make the Ghibli rewarding and easy to drive quickly, and the 50:50 weight distribution means it changes direction swiftly, too.
It also has the same servo-assisted hydraulic steering as before, and that’s great news. It’s a little light on initial turn-in (so is a Ferrari’s, mind), but mid-bend there’s a connection with the road unrivalled by anything with new-age electronic help. We were told it gets slightly heavier in Sport mode, but couldn’t notice that during our test drive.
What we did notice was a change in the eight-speed ZF gearbox’s manners. The shift times have been cut and while that’s commendable, there is also noticeably more transmission shunt, especially in Sport mode. Feeling like you’ve been involved in a minor collision every time a cog swap is deemed necessary can get grating rather quickly – but to avoid this you’ll have to remain in Normal mode and settle for an engine note that sounds like someone taped a sponge to the tailpipes – unless you’re absolutely on it, that is.
Is it uncomfortable?
It doesn’t have to be – you can decouple Sport mode on the optional adaptive Skyhook (not a Bond film) suspension system from the rest of the car’s more athletic abilities, which we liked immensely. It means you can drive around sounding the part at some speed without being bounced around the cabin. Even in Sport the ride quality is excellent, though. The suspension is firm but it absorbs bumps well and in the main feels very well calibrated.
Maserati’s engineers were keen to point out that their cars are designed without any sort of electronic safety system in mind, and we’d concede that does appear to be the case. Fundamentally the Ghibli is a decent car to drive, no matter what safety nets you’ve got in place.
We’re testing the diesel version here, and again the engine’s unchanged – but we don’t remember it ever sounding quite so distinctive. The firm’s technicians have taken frequencies from both V6 and V8 petrol motors and developed a synthesised note that sounds quite unlike any other Maserati – except the Levante and Quattroporte, which both have the same engine, of course. It’s a nice enough noise, but there’s still enough clatter audible at low revs to remind you that its combustion cycles aren’t being started by a spark.
Don’t think it’s a noisy car, though; the cabin is remarkably quiet. A lot of work has been done to improve the NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) rating – from the standard double-glazed windows to new insulation composites and even air cavities in the carpets – and the result is a quiet ambience that amplifies the quality feel of the interior.
The Ghibli remains pragmatically almost impossible to recommend, but easy to fall for. Buy one and you won’t have the cheapest, comfiest or most tech-laden car in your street, but you will be safe in the knowledge that you’ve got the most stylish and probably the most interesting.
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