First: It's pronounced “GEE-blee” with a hard "g," and according to several sources comes from an Arabic word for a hot, sand-bearing wind of the Sahara. Between 1967 and 1973, Maserati built a gorgeous Ghibli in both coupe and spider layouts, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and powered by naturally aspirated V-8s. Maserati's second stab at a Ghibli, a small bi-turbo V-6 coupe designed by Marcello Gandini and based on the Maserati Biturbo, rolled forth from 1992 through 1996, and rarely shares a sentence with "gorgeous."
Seventeen years later in Florence, Italy, under a humid Tuscan sun, I drove the 21st century Ghibli from Maserati. For the third generation, Maserati used the name on a sport sedan, one intended to sell in far higher volumes than any previous car from the hallowed Modena company.
Maserati outfits its sexy sedan with one of four engine choices: a top-trim 404-hp, 3.0-liter bi-turbo V-6 in the Ghibli S rear-driver and all-wheel S Q4, a 326-hp tune of the same engine for the rear-drive-only base Ghibli. Europe gets a V-6 turbo diesel in one of two flavors; no V-8 engine will ever see duty in the Ghibli from the factory.
Speaking of factories: That V-6 drew from Chrysler's design for the Pentastar V-6, but has been massaged by Maserati and comes together in the clean engine room of Ferrari's famed Maranello shop. The mill pushes the Ghibli to a top speed of 176 mph, with 60 mph arriving in 4.6 seconds; fuel economy stands at 15 mpg city/25 mpg highway, top-shelf gas only.
For the United States and Canada, the 404-hp S Q4 will arrive in customer driveways at an estimated $75,000 base price, with a rear-drive Ghibli pumped up to 345 hp just for our market at a tick under $66,000. The Ghibli rides on a version of the Quattroporte chassis that's been shortened by 11.5 inches to 195.7 inches long — landing squarely between the BMW 5 Series and 6 Series Gran Coupe, and a few whispers within an Audi A7 Sportback.
In this hard-fought class of E-segment luxury executive cars, the Ghibli S Q4 stands as the sportiest creation of the lot. I hammered this Italian over hot tarmac and, even with the standard 19-inch wheel and tire set, the Ghibli S Q4 snapped to and really enjoyed itself. Maserati wisely avoid the deadened electric power steering for delightfully mechanical/hydraulic units, and the self-locking sport rear differential standard on all Ghiblis made the most of the chassis. Dancing through all the transitions, the brakes were smoking after a while but always ready with minimal fade, and the engine and transmission were thrilled to be pushed so hard.
As overall ride and dynamics go, the normal setup will see far more duty than the sport calibration. If you’re on a smoothly maintained road, you’ll be fine and happy in sport, but these Tuscan two-lanes were not generally smooth. Shifts from the eight-speed automatic come off smooth in either mode, and in sport with the lever set for manual paddle shifts the gearbox holds its gears up to and at the 6,750-rpm rev limiter. My only criticism will be the fiddly action of the lever on the center console; it needs more precision to it.
And while the rest of the cabin offers a well-executed design, that's not the only knock on the interior. Maserati’s ongoing love of questionable plastics in frequent-touch points when this Ghibli and the new Quattroporte will need reassessing soon. The wood-look opening lids on the console, the clearly hollow-plastic structural sound when I knock on the upper dash, or the entire surrounding frame of the standard sat-nav touch screen on the S Q4 I tested – all will need addressing if the Italians want more shoppers from the German premium competition.
But Maserati has grown to the point where such comparisions can even be made. With the Ghibli, Maserati demonstrates a feel for driving dynamics versus the competition, that it knows how to put together a stylish living environment and that it can build handsome, even stunning cars. It may not be quite Giugiaro drop dead gorgeous, but on the other hand a lot more people will be able to see themselves more easily in this Ghibli and buy it.
- Maserati Biturbo