The Maserati Ghibli Trofeo Is the Oddball's M5

·4 min read
Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

The word “Maserati” conjures images of heroically proportioned grand tourers, vintage race cars, eccentric supercars, and imposing sedans. Distinct as they are, all deliver on a central idea for the brand. A Maserati, at its core, is beautiful and emotional. Unfortunately, neither word quite fit the Ghibli when it debuted in 2013.

It’s always been elegant enough, but the design flourishes of the Quattroporte don't translate onto the more pedestrian canvas of a mid-size sedan. The whole thing looked unimaginative. That went below the surface, too, as any dreams Maserati had of disrupting the segment were scuttled by the Ghibli’s lack of ground-breaking tech, weak interior, and V-6 powertrains that made no attempt of usurping German performance supremacy.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Maserati is finally addressing the latter point. The Ghibli Trofeo has a Ferrari-bred 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 580 hp. Those aren’t quite German or American numbers, but the promise of a Prancing Horse V-8 in what was already a solid chassis suggests that Maserati may finally deliver an emotional product. The carbon trim, 21-inch wheels, red brake calipers, and bright yellow paint moved my Ghibli tester a bit closer to “beautiful,” too.

Climb inside and there's little evidence of the Ghibli’s newfound ambition. Despite a set of woven carbon-texture seats and carbon trim plastered everywhere, the cabin is old, uninteresting, and filled with parts that any Chrysler 200 (rip) owner would recognize. Giant panel gaps and hollow-feeling pieces provide little reassurance that this cabin is built to last. For the Trofeo’s $117,100 starting price, it’s embarrassing.

Start driving and the Ghibli becomes much easier to like. The thrum of the V-8 wins me over. The exhaust is potent yet restrained, a confident rumble rather than an insecure shout. Engine response is excellent, though you can occasionally catch the Ghibli off-guard if the ZF eight-speed is left in automatic mode. All the better, it gives more reason to use the giant, single-piece carbon shift paddles, by far the highlight of this interior.

Thankfully, the response of that powertrain can be decoupled from the adjustable suspension, allowing the rowdiest engine mode without ruining the ride. I wouldn’t want to, as the ride quality may be the Ghibli's most pleasant surprise. On the interstate or around town, it's supple and flowing, offering more compliance than the hardcore Germans without any of the floating detachment of an under-damped Lexus.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

The softer setup occasionally hinders the Ghibli’s performance, but not in the way I’d expect. The car is friendly on the low-speed twisty sections, the body roll a form of communication with my instincts. Much like a Miata or an early-2000s BMW, feeling every part of the weight transfer is a key part of driving a Ghibli hard. It only becomes a problem at high speeds, where the lax attitude toward body motion creates some uneasiness. With the body rolling slightly over every imperfection, it’s hard to find the confidence for serious speed.

Keep things at winding-road pace and the Ghibli is a delight. The steering weight and accuracy are world-class, even if there isn’t a lot of road-surface communication through the wheel. This is where the body roll helps inform the pace. Tuck the nose in to a hairpin, widen the line slightly, and get on the gas shortly after apex. The amount of mechanical grip the Ghibli calls upon is shocking. With 538 lb-ft of torque tugging at the rear wheels from as low as 2250, the Trofeo still somehow manages to handle the power without a single nudge from the traction control system.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

Like every good performance car, it begs you to keep experimenting. Corner after corner, I lean harder on its massive six-piston Brembos, push the tires harder, and get back on power sooner. I’m not going nearly as fast as I would in an M5, but I’m feeling more a part of the process. It’s a problem that feels solvable but complex, a tool that gives you just enough information to use it correctly.

I keep playing until the road opens up. The tight switchbacks are replaced with long, flowing, empty canyon bends, a road that demands obnoxious speed if I want to feel the chassis move. I back off. There’s little justification for that on a public road, especially in a car that never fully settles down.

Photo credit: Mack Hogan
Photo credit: Mack Hogan

An M5 would obliterate a road like that without question or complaint. It’d be faster and more sophisticated and more impressive to anyone in the know. But in this silly, bright yellow Maserati, I had a lot more fun on the part of the road I could attack without risking jail time. For 117 grand I can’t possibly say it’s a smart buy, but I certainly get the appeal of dumb fun.

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