With its fresh face and a hike in outputs, is the updated Maserati Ghibli a more compelling Italian sport-luxury pitch in its high-powered flagship S GranSport guise?
Four years in, the contemporary Maserati Ghibli has had a 2018 facelift, complete with some massaging of spec, to maintain the lustre on what’s the affordable entry point into ownership of the famed ‘Saetto’ trident badge.
The choice? There are three different engines – two petrols with different outputs, one diesel – in a choice of base, middling GranLusso and high-spec GranSport trim levels, making for a nine-strong fleet kicking off at sub-$140K basement and scaling up to the $195,900 summit, where you find the Ghibli S GranSport, the steed on the page before you.
That this third generation is less a direct bloodline to, and more a casual acquaintance of, the svelte ’70s and boxy ’90s Ghiblis is old muck not worth raking any further. But it’s fair to say that today’s four-door remains firmly clung to gran turismo romance while it squeezes into an executive sedan suit, its refreshed and more aggressive nose job the only real talking point in the massaged styling. In GranSport trim, it’s slightly sportier and more angular than the softer GranLusso fascia, while the rump has also copped a massage. In high-output S form, the flagship GranSport sits on 21-inch wheels as standard.
Though often described as ‘mid-sized’ in lieu of its shrunken Quattroporte form, the Ghibli is nigh on five metres long and still plays against the categorically large Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, though the stylistic deception in the Maser’s coupe-esque roof line suggests two tyres planted firmly in A7, 6 Series and CLS-Class territory.
So the Ghibli wants to be sporting – athletic even – and yet luxurious and comfy. And at nigh on two-hundred-large, the 3.0-litre turbo V6-powered S GranSport would want to be potent because its pricepoint is right up there with turbo-V8-powered S7s and M5s, and within a shout of the E63. Our hopes of an eight-piston ‘Ghibli GTS’, as forecast back in 2014, now look to have been wishful thinking.
Still, with its 15kW and 30Nm hikes, the updated 2018 S GranSport’s 316kW and 580Nm make for the most potent Ghibli yet, if not the quickest: at 4.9 seconds for the 0–100km/h sprint, the Aussie rear-drive version is two-tenths off the all-paw Q4 version available in other markets. Potent, perhaps, though not exactly slingshot quick either, such is the burden of 1810kg of metal, glass and rubber. Compared with three-something-second AMG and M-car alternatives, it’s off the accelerative pace by a measure of daylight.
Yes, the S GranSport is a just-so blend of many things. But is it greater than the sum?
It doesn’t take close inspection to spot the myriad trident badges – an ode to Maserati’s Bologna birthplace rather than Ghibli’s ‘birth’ in Turin – in case you forget what you’re driving. And often you may.
Inside, the GranSport is a bit of a mixed bag, literally and figuratively. Its rich red leather washout, in striking contrast to the Blu Emozione paintwork, is supple and nicely ‘waxy’ to touch, if a little less than perfectly stretched and stitched in places. The sport-spec seats are relaxed and comfy, but jam your fingers against the door bins when you try to adjust them. Those paddle-shifters have a nice metallic zing if you rap them with your fingernails, but being column-mounted they merely foul your knuckles.
Presentation is good, just not convincingly two-hundred-large good. With a whiff of Alfa Romeo here and Chrysler there, it’s not quite Maserati enough. Some of the controls are a little too plasticky, some of the plastics a little too shiny, and some of the materials and fit cohesive if not quite congruent enough.
From the air vents to the graphic displays in the driver and infotainment screens, it’s less classic and more slightly passé compared with, well, the big German elephant in the cabin. There are no LED reading lights, no mood lighting, the glovebox lid is a bit flimsy and… While it’s an acceptably decent enough place to spend time, just don’t look too closely or feel around too much. There’s little love in the details.
Room-wise, like presentation, it’s ample if hardly impressive anywhere. For a 5m device with a long 3m wheelbase, rear knee and head room are merely okay, though shoulder and elbow room are fine. And despite its maker’s assertion of five-adult comfort, the second row is realistically a plus-two proposition. This is exterior, coupe-like form leading functional packaging on the inside, if with a handy upshot of the shortish cabin making for a very deep 500L boot space.
Crank the V6 over cold and there’s an uncomfortable pause before the ignition catches up, and it lopes into a slightly metallic hum bereft of fanfare until you jab the Sport button, which unleashes a bassy drone about the cabin. There’s no burly rasp to tug the heartstrings or bristle the arm hairs. Give it the berries and there’s some growl during the eight-speed auto’s upshifts, but as far as fanfare goes, it’s a quiet and polite party going on in the exhaust pipes.
Soundtrack isn’t everything in a car, but it should account for a fair chunk of the entry price of a Maserati. And while some buyers the Ghibli is pitched at – there’s a diesel version, remember – could care less whether or not their ‘executive saloon’ has some Prancing Horse heartbeat in the rhythm of its gallop, they should. A certain noise befits the badge.
In fairness, the Ferrari-built 60-degree 3.0-litre biturbo six is a toey unit, with lots of thrust and no perceivable lag, and when it grabs peak torque from 2250rpm up to four grand, it feels like there’s more shove in the back than 580Nm suggests. But its 316kW power summit arrives at just 5750rpm and hangs about until 6200rpm, and bar anything like a decent shouting. It’s a good V6, not a spirited one. And if you’re in it to raise sonic warfare on your local café strip, transmission jammed in first, this isn’t the Maserati for you.
Frankly, a luxury sports sedan this large in size, weight and, importantly, price deserves a V8 (like the Germans offer). With the consumption hovering around the 15L/100km mark during our week with the Ghibli S, it certainly drinks like a larger-capacity eight cylinder…
We’ve praised the “perfectly matched” marriage of the V6 and auto before, it just lacks a useable feel-good mode. In Normal, the steering is weighty and agreeable, the transmission smooth if slightly lazy, the ride comfort is impressively controlled and resolved – especially over speed humps and square-edge hits, even on its 21-inch rolling stock – and it’s mostly aurally vapid. In Sport, the direction finder becomes lumbering, the suspension becomes terse, the powertrain response is too urgent and highly strung for extended around-town use, but it sounds nicer and more satisfying.
You can soften the so-called Skyhook adaptive suspension dampers to their softer setting while in Sport mode, but sadly you can’t activate the sportier exhaust note with everything else set to Normal – a preferable set-up for the vast majority of the sport-luxury, daily driven experience.
Around town, it does feel wieldy, compounded by thick, vision-impairing A-pillars and that long bonnet that’s tough to judge when parking. That can be tricky business in typically tight car spaces in Sydney, where the decent 360-degree camera system and hyperactive rear cross-traffic alert is a godsend. More irritating are the blind-spot and parking sensor smarts that blurt away incessantly during any commute whenever situations of turning or slow moving in traffic present themselves.
Head for the winding hillsides and, yes, that Sport mode does a decent job of injecting poise and control into its handling prowess, though it doesn’t necessarily heighten its dynamism. But the Skyhooked Ghibli is inherently balanced, sits nicely flat loaded up in the mid-corner and is impressively grippy and composed, while corner-exit drive – carrying pace through a sweeper, at least – is confident thanks to the standard-fit limited-slip differential. Pin the throttle exiting a side street or in the wet, though, and it’s easy to get the unloaded rear tyre scrabbling.
That said, its long size, yawing wheelbase and slightly lumbering nature don’t inspire you to throw the Ghibli into corners with the enthusiasm you usually reserve for sports-bred machinery. There’s simply not that sort of athleticism in its DNA. Measured on the luxury-to-sport scales, the Maserati’s tips assertively to the side of the benign cruising that favours gobbling up the tyranny of longer distances, while offering surefooted transit should you come across curves along the way.
What tempers enthusiasm for the Ghibli is that it ought to shine brightly somewhere, yet it really doesn’t. It’s not really a characterful, sonorous cruiser, despite being unmistakably Italian in bent and offering a lot of visual charisma. It’s not really that sporty, nor is it high enough in performance in the company of Germanic rivals that can also be had for two-hundred large.
But all might’ve been forgiven had the big four-door trumped all comers in its level of sheer premium-ness – be that superficial or actual – but, again, it just fails to rise to the occasion. Annoyances that distract from the premium pitch include the incessant DAB+ audio drop-out, the sporadic automatic park brake disengagement, and that confounding transmission selector that makes ‘scoring’ park or reverse from drive something of a crapshoot you’re really not keen to play during three-point turns.
Above (or perhaps below) all else, there’s some missing execution; gremlins that should’ve been liberated in this facelift that’s four years into the range’s life cycle. Instead, you get a nose job, a customary lift in engine outputs, a one-tenth drop in 0–100km/h prowess, and not much in the way of shortcomings fixed or extra injections of celebration or vibe.
Yes, from C-pillar to dash clock, the Ghibli S GranSport is festooned with ‘Saetto’ badges because, frankly, that’s the shiniest aspect of the package. But if flaunting that trident symbol is all that matters in the ownership experience, you might as well pocket a $57,000 saving by opting for the entry diesel version.
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