Maserati are a mystery to many; not quite sports cars, not quite luxo barges. They match Ferrari engineering with plush amenities and a ride better suited for city streets than the racetrack. You don't see Masers every day and when you do see a Gran Turismo S prowling the boulevard, it's a treat.
The Ghibli is the lowest priced model in Maserati's lineup and, as the entry point into the brand, has a broader appeal than other Maserati models. The 2014 Maserati S Q4 is the most powerful example of the model. However, after a couple hundred miles behind the wheel, the approachable nature of the Ghibli reveals itself as, well, just another luxury sport sedan, albeit a $100,000 sport sedan, and that sort of ruins the mystique for me.
Maserati Touch Control
The Maserati Touch Control (MTC) navigation and infotainment system is clearly a reskinned Chrysler Uconnect system -- thanks to the Fiat Chrysler Automotive merger -- which was at first glance a disappointment. However, not all Uconnect systems are created equally and this is one of the good ones. This example uses a large 8.4-inch screen and the latest generation of Garmin's mapping and routing software. The touchscreen is responsive and with so much real estate, the virtual buttons are easy to hit without devoting too much attention. Glare, however, can be a bit of an issue.
The turn-by-turn navigation system takes traffic data into account when choosing routes and rerouting, and every now and then you'll hear the slightly robotic voice chime in to let you know that there's, for example, a 15-minute delay or that it's potentially saving you 10 minutes by routing around traffic. The navigation menus are simple and have been redesigned with gorgeous new graphics and the maps are crisply and colorfully rendered on the large screen. Single-step voice-activated address input allows the driver to state the full address from street number to state rather than slogging through multiple prompts, which is a good thing.
Along the bottom of the screen are large virtual button shortcuts to hands-free phone controls (which also reads SMS text messages via text-to-speech), climate controls, seat heat and cooling controls, and the audio sources.
The source list includes a single-slot CD player, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB connectivity, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, and satellite and terrestrial radio. Though using the Uconnect underpinnings, MTC does not feature any Uconnect app integration. It does, however, support in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, but that's an optional feature that was not present on our tester.
Audio plays through a an optional $5,100 Bowers and Wilkins sound system with 15 speakers made of lightweight and strong kevlar and aluminum and 1,280 watts of amplification. I'm sure that the system sounds great if you don't listen to anything with strong bass. If you do, the Ghibli's door panels quickly reveal themselves as a weak point, distorting the sound with panel rattle and annoying buzzing which at best sucks all of the magic out of owning an audiophile system and at worst makes the audio sound just terrible. Lowering the bass levels doesn't really do much to help, so I ended up adjusting the kind of music that I played while motoring to avoid electronica, pop, and hip-hop. I shouldn't have to do that with a $5,100 stereo.
Engine by Ferrari
Under the hood, you won't find some exotic V-10 engine; this is the inexpensive Maser, remember. Instead you'll find a Ferrari-built 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engine. The engine is available in two tunes: our Ghibli S Q4 model is the most powerful of the two at 404 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, but there's also the 345 horsepower, 369 pound-foot base Ghibli model to consider. Both vehicles put power through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission (one of the best examples of a torque converter automatic on the road).
The S Q4 distinguishes itself from the base model with its all-wheel-drive system versus the standard rear-drive setup. The system is a power-on-demand type that sends 100 percent of available torque to the rear wheels when cruising, but can shift up to 50 percent to the front axle when needed (for example, when launching). This on-demand setup and the differential's programming allows the Maser to keep a slightly sporty rear-bias under most cornering situations, but kept it from hanging the tail out around bends. It's a gripper not a drifter.
The Ghibli features paddle shifters mounted to the steering column like a Ferrari's -- not on the wheel, like many sport sedans -- and which engage with a satisfying ka-chink at every flick of a gear change. The power train can be manually shifted at any time, but also features a full Manual mode that will prevent it from reverting to its automatic program. Speaking of programs, the Ghibli has three drive settings. There's the Normal setting, but you can also choose a more aggressive Sport mode that tweaks the transmission for crisper shifts higher in the power band, remaps the throttle to be more twitchy, and opens an exhaust valve for more engine noise when accelerating.
The exhaust note is slightly hollow and raspy when in its sportiest setting. Hold the revs high and slap for a shift and the not goes just a bit raw for a moment while the revs drop. It's almost the opposite of a Jaguar's characteristic deep snarl, but no less impressive or aggressive.
The third power train setting is called I.C.E. which stands for Increased Control and Efficiency mode, which is much catchier than calling it the, more accurate, Reduced Throttle Sensitivity mode. Basically, it operates like every other car's ECO mode, adjusting the engine and transmission for quieter performance and more efficiency. This mode sucks almost all of the fun out of the Ghibli S Q4's performance, making the car feel more hesitant, heavy, and lazy, but should help the driver do better than the 12.5 mpg that we averaged during our testing.
Part sports, part luxe
The Ghibli's performance sits somewhere between a darty sports coupe and a heavy luxury sedan, which ends up making your first few trips feeling a bit weird. Not bad, just weird.
The steering is quick, responsive, and offers pretty good, but not great fingertip feel through its good, old-fashioned hydraulic power-steering system. The fixed suspension is firm, but supple. It soaks up smaller bumps and imperfections in the road, but bigger bumps at speed can cause the front end to pull to one side, requiring a correction to stay in the lane. There's quite a bit of road and wind noise at highway speeds and in its Sport mode, quite a bit of engine noise, but that's a good thing.
The Maser will happily dart from corner to corner, it's V-6 engine and snappy gearbox slingshotting you out of each fast sweeping bend with all-wheel-drive grip. But the Ghibli is no Ferrari and it can't really hide it 4,122 pounds (1,870kg) of mass. Understeer becomes apparent as you start to push the sedan around tighter, slower corners. Perhaps the rear-drive variant of the Ghibli will be a bit more light on its feet in tighter turns.
The seats, while a good balance between support and comfort, could probably use a bit more bolstering for performance driving, but that hardly seems the point of this car.
The Ghibli is a Grand Tourer. It's the sort of car that eats up highway miles with ease, comfort, and style. There's more than enough power for passing and the suspension is supple enough that you'll be doing triple digits on your commute and not even realize it, so mind your speed. The Maser also encourages you to hop off of a the Interstate onto a fast, sweeping B roads. It's a joy to drive fast and rewards a bit of assertive driving, but not aggressive canyon carving.
Safety and convenience tech
Short and sweet, the Maserati Ghibli's driver aid tech consists of a standard rear camera and an optional set of park distance sensors. That's it. There's no blind-spot monitoring, no rear cross-traffic alert, and no adaptive cruise control available.
The camera's feed is clear and there are distance markers overlaid on the 8.4-inch display when reversing, but the markers don't steer to predict where the Ghibli is heading.
The park distance sensors are helpful for tight squeezes, but can be a bit annoying in stop-and-go traffic when the front sensors will often start beeping if you inch too close to the car ahead. I suppose it thinks that I'm parking in the middle of the highway, but sometimes it would beep when the lead car was a quarter car length away. I quickly found the OFF switch for this feature in a menu.
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Standard convenience tech at the S Q4 trim level includes keyless entry and push-button start. The Maser tucks its ignition on the left side of the steering wheel like a LeMans race car, so try not to look confused when you settle in behind the wheel for the first time. Speaking of the keyless entry system, the Maserati transponder key is a heavy slug of metal that feels nice and substantial in the hand, but is probably a bit bulkier than strictly necessary.
The Maserati Ghibli starts at $66,900, but our more powerful S Q4 starts at $76,900, adding all-wheel drive, a power sunroof, heated front seats with 8-way power adjustment and 4-way lumbar adjustment.
We've also got $5,100 for the disappointing Bowers and Wilkins sound system, $1,390 for a Sport package that adds a sport suspension and those great paddle shifters. A $4,220 Luxury package upgrades the leather trim, adds cooling ventilation to the front seats, and upgrades the carpet. We've also got $8,830 worth of paint, rims, and interior trim upgrades -- yikes.
With a few more odds and ends, including $1,250 in destination charges, we reach our as-tested price of $100,140. That price point puts the Ghibli S Q4 in the company of some interesting competition. The Audi RS 7 springs to mind alongside the Jaguar XJ R. The former is probably a stronger performer, the latter boasts much better luxury and comfort. The BMW 6-Series Gran Coupe also joins the fray offering serious competition. The BMW and Audi make its dashboard and safety tech look like an economy car's.
Don't get me wrong, the Ghibli S Q4 is a strong performer and, if you don't go mad with the options and keep the price near its entry point, quite appealing. However, without the benefit of its mysterious air, it doesn't feel much more special than any of its class rivals. So unless you're craving Italian, the Maser faces some very stiff competition at this price range.
|Model||2014 Maserati Ghibli|
|Powertrain||3.0-liter, twin-turbo V-6 engine, 8 spd. automatic, all-wheel drive|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 18 mpg combined|
|Observed fuel economy||12.5 mpg|
|Navigation||MTC navigation with traffic data and single-step voice command|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||USB, Bluetooth audio, satellite radio, CD slot|
|Audio system||15-speaker, 1,280-watt Bowers and Wilkins Sound system|
|Driver aids||Rear camera, optional park distance sensors|
|Price as tested||$100140|