So this is the Ghibli, the new sedan expected to comfortably outsell all other Maserati models combined.
It’s not hard to see why the initial signs are good. It looks terrific, drives like a real Maserati, and is $100,000 – yes, one hundred big ones – less expensive than the next model up (the Quattroporte sedan).
In the longer term, though, the Ghibli is being launched into uncharted waters. It’s a new segment for the brand (and a famously hard-fought one), and no niche prestige car company has ever been set such outrageous targets for expansion.
The ambition – as part of the Fiat-Chrysler grand plan – is to take the brand from the 6300 units a year in 2012 to more than 40,000 this year.
Maserati, which has spent most of its hundred years living on optimism and enthusiasm alone, is suddenly having new factories, new facilities, new staff and huge R&D budgets thrown at it.
Could it possibly work? So far, so good. The company is on target internationally and will clear more than 400 units in Australia/NZ this year - about three times last year’s sales.
However, local boss Glen Sealey says even if head office hits the projected 75,000 units by 2018: “That still makes us a very small and exclusive brand in world terms.”
The brand’s first ever SUV, the Levante, will be unveiled in final form late this year, and arrive here early 2016.
“That’s the big one for Australia, because we are very much an SUV market,” says Sealey with no small amount of relish.
Meanwhile, the new sedan is available in three versions, priced towards the upper end of the mid-sized sedans from the big three German luxury brands (the Ghibli is 4971 mm, about 100 mm longer than an E-Class Mercedes-Benz).
The price is right
The base model is the Ghibli Diesel at $138,900 (plus on-road costs). This turbodiesel variant will achieve 5.9 L/100 km and hit 100 km/h within 6.3 seconds (though not at the same time).
Apparently a bit of trickery has given it something akin to a traditional Maserati exhaust sound, too.
The flagship, which we sampled, definitely does have a traditional Maserati exhaust note. It is the high-performance Ghibli S at $169,900, with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine that puts out just over 300kW of power and 550Nm of torque.
A less powerful version of this petrol V6 is also available in a model simply known as Ghibli.
The S has the same Ferrari-built engine as the larger Quattroporte, but is lighter and as a result more agile. The weight difference is only about 90kg though; in keeping with its higher price, the bigger sedan has more weight-saving technology.
You hear more of the engine in the Ghibli, as there is slightly less sound proofing, and it does without the Quattroporte’s double-glazed windows.
Although I didn’t get the chance to really extend the S, it proved solid, it rode well, and it absolutely leapt out of the blocks when asked to.
The balance is good (the weight distribution is claimed as 50-50), the steering sharp, and the eight-speed ZF gearbox seems well matched to the engine whether under heavy load or scuttering around in traffic.
There was quite a bit of tyre thump, but it was hard to know whether to blame the unfamiliar roads or the car.
The range of driving modes include Comfort (the default), Sport (which noticeably changes the engine sound as well as throttle mapping, gear change points and turbo boost) and I.C.E., which has nothing to do with the weather.
It’s an “improved control and efficiency”, or eco, setting that you’d probably opt for if there was ice anyway. For around town it also makes the car a little more relaxed (there’s a lot of pent up power there).
Being a Maserati, there is also an “everything off” setting which cuts out all electronic driver aids including anti-lock brakes, stability system and traction control.
What this car lacks, as does the Quattroporte, are the sort of modern driving aids found in most cars in the price class: blind spot warning, lane-keeping technology, auto-braking if there is the risk of accident, and so on.
A driver's car
The argument is that this is a driver’s car, and all such systems take control away from the driver. In this spirit, even the provision of cruise control seems begrudging – it feels like a very basic Fiat-sourced system and doesn’t retard speed going down hills.
In terms of comfort and convenience features, there are plenty. Our car had keyless entry, keyless start, rear camera, electric everything (including steering wheel adjustment), even a rear screen blind that automatically retracted when reverse was selected.
To these eyes at least, the exterior is a triumph. It looks distinctive, sporty and thoroughly Maserati (even more so in the metal than in photos).
The interior is slightly less successful. Attractive yes, but not super plush, unless you hit the personalised options list. In some aspects it looks and feels a little bit mass-produced. A few of the controls and switches could be off any family car.
The dash, marked in the centre by the distinctive Maserati clock, is very neat, mainly because most operations are undertaken via a big touch screen.
The driving position is good, though there are ergonomic quirks. You have to reach full length to adjust the volume on the far side of the touch screen, for example, despite the plethora of buttons on the steering wheel.
It’s also very crowded around this steering wheel. The gear paddles are connected to the column not the wheel and the gap is small, so you can rub your fingers against them when turning – or bump them as you reach for the indicator stalk almost hidden behind.
The boot is huge, but the glovebox is smallish and oddly shaped. No doubt other virtues and shortcomings would become apparent on a longer stint behind the wheel.
I suspect in the short term the chance to buy into one of Italy’s most famous sporting marques at a lower-than-ever price will be lure enough for many.
Model: Maserati Ghibli S
Price (excluding on road costs): $169,900
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 (petrol)
Fuel economy (combined cycle): 10.4 L/100 km
C02: 242 grams per kilometre
This story originally appeared in the Australian Financial Review's Life&Leisure magazine.