Not that the Ghibli hasn’t evolved in the six years since it went on sale. For 2018, Maserati moved to an electrically-assisted steering rack, mostly to enable driver assistance systems with steering intervention. The V6’s output has been bumped in the S, to 424 horsepower. The headlights and grille have been updated, too, to compliment the newer and more aggressive Levante.
In Los Angeles, at least, the Ghibli doesn’t stand out – the town is lousy with Ghiblis, Levantes, and Quattroportes. Good for Maserati, I suppose, but bad for exclusivity. Nor does the car pop in photos like it does in person. My tester was a metallic, creamy white, which is flat and dull in photos or from far away. That’s a shame, because this car has phenomenal contouring. From behind the wheel, the driver’s side fender porpoises above the shapely hood. Walking along the side, the curvature of the rear fender where it meets the deep tumblehome of the C-pillar is delightful. Everybody stares at an exotic, but the owner of a Ghibli should feel special contemplating their sheetmetal.
This sense of specialness dissolves inside. There are Maserati tridents everywhere, presumably to help you remember that you’re looking at the expensive Italian sports sedan you just purchased rather than a riot of low-rent, Chrysler-derived bits. The steering wheel buttons feel cheap and wobbly, the too-shiny center console finish seems synthetic, the prominent lighting and engine start/stop controls to the left of the steering wheel are ensconsed in a dull plastic surround. Some of the aesthetic choices – subjective, yes – are confounding.
Take the textile inserts on the seats and door cards. I love the fact that interior designers are playing with textiles, which can be used to great effect. And the pitch here is compelling: an apparently famous Italian designer (Ermenegildo Zegna) used a fancy fabric (mulberry silk) with special weaves and textures. But if you expected them to feel luxurious or look tasteful, you might be disappointed. The seat inserts are busy and rough, and the door cards look and feel surprisingly cheap. For a trim that starts at $85,000, I want materials that feel premium at all the places I’m going to touch, regardless of the designer’s name or ambition. Thankfully, several more tasteful full-leather seat coverings are optional on other trims – and I’d be very interested to check out the quilted “Pieno Fiore” leather available on the S GranSport trim.
On that note, rest a hand on the shifter or the unusual steering wheel (leather with a sliver of wood inset in the outside edge of the rim) and I challenge you to say it’s comfortable. The edges are studded with stitching. Good for grip, perhaps, but a bit too sharp and pokey. Nor does the leather itself provide the buttery feel I’d expect at this price point.
If the Alfa Romeo Giulia didn’t do a better job of housing the same sort of bits at a much lower price point, in a more interesting and engaging cabin, I’d be able to forgive Maserati more. But credit where credit is due: the Uconnect system is easy to use and intuitive, as always.
Maserati made a big deal about its F160 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 being assembled by Ferrari. Sure, that’s true, to an extent. Detractors have also moaned about the engine’s relation to the Chrysler Pentastar V6, and that it’s machined in the same factories that makes the engine blocks for the lowly Dodge Journey. Neither is really a fair characterization. The blocks are built in two U.S. factories, sure, but they’re made to Ferrari specifications and assembled in Modena. It’s perhaps not as rarified a pedigree as you’d hope for, but neither is the truth fatal to the car’s appeal.
The real gripe about the V6 is that it sounds terrible. Peg the Sport button to open the pipes a bit, and a full-on drone assaults the cabin. No throttle position fully solves the problem here, which is that volume and assertiveness are trying to take the place of passion and emotion. It’s a bleating note underway, a bit like Nissan’s controversial VQ35 series in its sportier applications. Whether it inspires or repulses you, one thing is undeniable: a sonorous V8 it’s not.
It’s also true that the V6 has no lack of power. Paired to a ZF eight-speed automatic found in everything from the Dodge Charger to the entire Jaguar range (and far more besides), the Ghibli is swift. Shifts are quick and smooth, despite the surprising lack of steering wheel paddles (which can be optioned for an additional $550). At least the pistol-grip shifter runs the right way: pull back for an upshift, push forward for a downshift. The transmission doesn’t trip over itself when shifting on its own, either. It’s a great gearbox and it’s well calibrated in the Ghibli.
Other plaudits include the steering. Maybe we’re finally over the uncanny valley of electronic steering feel, because the Maserati’s rack rivals the industry benchmarks for accuracy and feel in a sporty vehicle. The feedback, heft, and accuracy were all pitch perfect for the vehicle class and purpose. The suspension, while stiff, wasn’t punishing – like all things, a compromise of sorts, but a well-intentioned one. And the geometry’s surprisingly aggressive, exhibiting some front tire scrub at low speeds. My tester was not equipped with the Skyhook electronically damped suspension, which comes on the S GranSport trim. Romp through a few corners in the hills, focusing on the car’s planted athleticism, and the cabin’s shortcomings fall away.
What we’re left with is an expensive vehicle – $95,050 as tested – with great dynamics, sure, but a dispassionate engine and an amount of cheapness inside that can’t simply be dismissed out of hand. The Ghibli drives well but feels built to a price in a way that even the much less expensive Alfa Romeo Giulia manages to transcend (somewhat). That said, the platform itself feels composed and sophisticated, and if it truly does slide under FCA’s brawny American rear-drive siblings it’ll be a significant upgrade. What the Ghibli truly needs is an interior makeover and an exhaust note (or more inspired engine) that befits its potential. What it doesn’t need is more power or more aggressive sheetmetal, as both perfectly complement its slightly-under-the-radar niche in the sport luxury space.
Did I just say it didn’t need any more power? That might be true, but the 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 found in the Levante Trofeo and GTS would add a much-needed dose of soul, a specialness that the V6’s configuration and piping just can’t match. The fact that the V8 is more of an authentic Ferrari product, without a Detroit connection, doesn’t hurt any. Putting 500-plus horsepower under the Ghibli’s hood wouldn’t be a crime, either. It’d put the Ghibli over the top. We don’t expect a Ghibli Trofeo or GTS, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t put out the vibe. Maybe Maserati will hear us, and give the Ghibli an engine that would inspire us to overlook that interior.