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Published: 06/26/2013 - by Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor
Don't even think about buying the 2014 Maserati Ghibli. It's not that this new entry into the midsize sport/luxury segment is a poor attempt at a sport sedan. It's a capable machine, with styling and performance to rival the snazzy "four-door coupes" from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.
Instead, skip the base Ghibli (estimated to start around $65,000) and head straight for the pricier, but faster and phenomenally capable 2014 Maserati Ghibli S Q4.
Rationalize it for the all-wheel drive and extra standard features. But buy the Ghibli S Q4 because its twin-turbo V6 delivers an extra 59 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of torque, not to mention a sweet, melodic and so very Italian sound from the tailpipes. Maserati knows how to tune an exhaust, even when it's muffled by turbos, and the Ghibli S Q4 rips, pops and snarls like nothing in the class.
Ghibli, Part III
The 195.7-inch-long Ghibli has nothing to do with the two-door, two-seat, V8 Ghibli Maserati produced in the late '60s to early '70s. Or the Biturbo-based Ghibli II of the '90s.
It shares much of its pedigree with the larger, and recently redesigned, 2014 Maserati Quattroporte sedan. As Maserati's CEO Harald Wester openly admitted, the Ghibli "is about 45-50 percent from the Quattroporte."
The two cars are built at the same Grugliasco factory outside Turin, and much of the Ghibli's core architecture, including the chassis, suspension and turbo V6 are shared with the flagship Quattroporte.
Prancing Horse Power
As with the Quattroporte, it's Ferrari, not Maserati that builds the Ghibli's 3.0-liter V6 engines at its factory in Maranello. With twin turbos, direct injection, variable valve timing and an intercooler for each turbo, this is a fully modern mill. Both the rear-drive base Ghibli and the all-wheel-drive S Q4 use a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, with identical gear ratios.
The base V6 produces 345 hp at 5,000 rpm and 369 lb-ft of torque from 1,750-4,500. Mash the throttle to the floor with the tach hovering at 2,000 rpm and there's some turbo lag. But as the needle winds past three grand, the turbos come fully onboard and then it's a lusciously smooth surge of power to the 6,500-rpm soft rev limiter. It's amply quick, but not what you'd call "espresso gusto."
There's a snarly exhaust note, including some frisky burbling and popping under decel thanks to exhaust flaps that open when the Sport button is pressed.
If you want a horse with some real giddy-up, however, the 2014 Maserati Ghibli S Q4 is a must. It uses different camshafts, a reworked engine management system and increased boost to help the same 3.0-liter V6 crank out a potent 404 hp at 5,500 rpm and 406 lb-ft from 1,750-5,000 rpm. There's a decided crackle with every upshift in this tune, and it delivers the kind of push-you-into-the-back-of-your-seat snap that's lacking in the base version.
The eight-speed automatic is a smooth operator. It feels tuned differently for the lower-horsepower Ghibli, with lazy throttle blips in Sport/Manual modes. It offers more immediate responses with the S Q4, and is so on its game that in Auto/Sport mode it automatically downshifts (with proper throttle blips) under hard braking.
For the first time in Maserati's history, there's a diesel, but it's not coming to the States, at least not for now. Maser brass hinted a new engine is in the works which will be considered for North America. With 275 hp and 443 lb-ft of instant torque along with a non-diesel-like high-pitched exhaust note, the diesel Ghibli responds with verve and agility that makes it considerably more fun than any oil burner we can remember.
A big part of why we found the diesel so fun to drive was the Ghibli's spot-on handling. You can thank the 50/50 weight distribution for this (51/49 for the AWD S Q4), which makes it one of the most balanced sport sedans on the road.
The front double-wishbone suspension is aluminum-intensive and there's a five-link setup at the rear. The test cars we drove were fitted with the optional Skyhook adaptive damping system. Normal mode does a more than adequate job of keeping harsh road irregularities out of the cabin, but the stiffer setting is where you want it on back roads.
There's little body roll and near-zero understeer. The 3,990-pound Ghibli carves through turns like a freshly sharpened cleaver, without the need for the usual midcorner throttle adjustments. Better still, feed in a healthy throttle prod at apex for some easily controllable tail-out action.
Everything the base 2014 Maserati Ghibli does, the higher-horsepower AWD S Q4 does better. The torque-vectoring AWD system is tuned for rear-drive fun. According to Maserati, the power rarely ventures beyond 35 percent to the front wheels, and never more than 50/50. And unlike most AWD systems, the S Q4 doesn't hamper driving fun with added understeer, or the complete elimination of corner-exit oversteer.
The S Q4's extra speed is handled by 14.2-inch cross-drilled front rotors with 13.8-inch rotors at the rear, both clamped by six-piston Brembo calipers. Once past some initial pedal-travel sponginess, the system hauled the Ghibli down quickly and securely.
If there's a flaw to this new Maser dynamically, it's the steering. The base Ghibli felt particularly artificial in its assist (even though it's hydraulic) with an odd rubberiness off-center. The diesel had the most natural feel, and we were having so much fun driving the bananas out of the S Q4 that the steering barely bothered us.
Interior Could Be Better
If there's an area where Maserati cut costs to hit a price point, it's in the Ghibli's cabin. Sure, there's leather everywhere, but it's mostly unpadded and not the expensive-feeling, buttery-soft variety. There's a sumptuousness missing, as well as a lack of over-the-top Italian styling.
The wood trim looks nice enough, but run your finger along it and you'll find the occasional sharp edge. Then there are the Chrysler parts-bin window switches, and a climate control layout that looks pedestrian.
The final ergonomic snafu relates to the "elongated" (Maser's term) steering-column-mounted paddle shifters. They're easy to find for a quick shift, but we got hung up on the left paddle every time we went for the turn signal.
There are also a lot of good bits inside. The thick front seats are superbly comfortable, with ample lateral and lumbar support. The industrial-grade interior door openers have a comforting heft and there's an air-conditioned center armrest bin.
Plus, unlike the Audi A7, Mercedes CLS and Porsche Panamera, the Ghibli offers a standard fifth seat. And while BMW's 6 Series Gran Coupe is also a five-seater, the Ghibli offers rear headroom galore.
The trunk is above average for the class, at 17.7 cubic feet, and the 60/40-split folding rear seat has a usefully large pass-through.
No Rationalization Needed
The 2014 Maserati Ghibli is aimed at some established German performers. And we weren't joking when we said we'd skip the base Ghibli and go straight to the S Q4 model when the cars go on sale in late September. It's that much better.
Sure, the Ghibli's interior needs more polish, but the straight-line speed is there and the Maser will take a carving knife to the class when the road gets twisty.
But is there even a need to cross-shop a Maserati Ghibli? Simply get in, sit down, thumb the left-side starter button and breathe it all in as those quad exhausts bark to life. If you get tingly with excitement, you've found your new sport sedan.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.