If you're after a pair of trident badges front and rear, the 2018 Maserati Ghibli won't let you down. But the second you expand your options to a larger swath of the segment, the case becomes harder to make. The Ghibli is a good car with good qualities, don't get me wrong. It's just unfortunate for Maserati that the luxury midsize segment is riddled with great cars.
Fetching looks outside, comfort inside
The Italians are masters of the curve, and the Ghibli wears its Tricolore on its sleeve. Or, more accurately, on its side, where I'm taken with the strong character line sweeping up and over the rear fender while a second complimentary line slinks upward from the side skirt. The hood is long and low, with pronounced bulges over the front wheels, terminating at a grille that's actually appropriately sized for the front end -- take note, Japan.
For 2018, Maserati introduced two new optional packages for each trim level, GranLusso and GranSport. The former focuses on pure luxury, while the latter aims to be a bit sportier. My tester packs the GranSport setup, which means its front bumper is a smidge more aggressive around the lower air intake, and I think that's the way it should look. Save the super-fancy-schmancy stuff for the Quattroporte, in my opinion -- this entry-level Maserati shouldn't be shy about its sporting aspirations. New LED headlights are also included with both packages, and I think they look pretty darn good.
The exterior isn't let down by the interior. It, too, looks and feels plenty luxurious. The base leather (the premium stuff costs $2,300 more) is soft to the touch and replete with quality stitching, and it feels worth the cost of entry whether it's on the seats or the dashboard. I'm especially a fan of my tester's two-tone getup, since it gives the interior a bit more character. I am not a fan, however, of my tester's $1,800 gloss wood trim, which is so shiny that it doesn't look real. Stick with the open-pore, low-luster stuff.
I have some other qualms, too. The rear seats, while comfortable to the touch, aren't very spacious, and small door openings don't exactly help the ingress-egress situation. The general fit and finish is better than it used to be, but it still lags behind equally priced competitors such as a kitted-out Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And owners of any other Fiat Chrysler vehicle will wonder why their nearly six-digit Maserati shares window and headlight switches with a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Singing the song of its people
2018 also brought some benefits to the Ghibli's engine compartment. In Ghibli S trim, Maserati's 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 now puts out 424 horsepower and 428 pound-feet of torque, improvements of 20 and 22, respectively, over last year. In the car's default mode, it's surprisingly quiet for something that came out of Ferrari's Maranello engine plant, although I love how it barks to life under a cold start.
That's fixed by hitting the Sport button next to the shifter, which opens up the dual-mode exhaust. Then, you're treated to a full-on symphony of synchronized explosions, although the loud cabin drone at idle can get a little annoying.
It reaches 60 miles per hour quickly enough, thanks in part to my tester's all-wheel drive, pushing its way there with plenty of torque and little turbo lag (or turbo whine, for that matter). The eight-speed automatic is a little clunky at low speeds when the car is cold, but otherwise it shifts smoothly and quickly. The GranSport trim carries paddle shifters, but they're mounted too close to the volume and channel controls on the back of the steering wheel itself. The shifter is one of those ratchet types that always reverts to a single position, and I despise how easy it is to miss Reverse. Thankfully, the 2019 model year brings an updated shifter that works much more sensibly.
In terms of ride quality, the GranSport trim includes sportier adaptive dampers. Even in the suspension's standard mode, the ride is stiff, and the standard 20-inch wheels and thin tires (Pirelli P Zero, 245/40-ZR20 front, 285/35-ZR20 rear) don't improve its over-bump character. That said, it's nice and flat when you actually give 'er the beans on a proper ribbon of asphalt, and a new electric power steering system provides the right amount of weight for a car of its size.
As for fuel economy, the EPA rates the Ghibli S Q4 at 16 miles per gallon city and 24 highway, featuring a barely-there penalty of just 1 mpg city over the 345-hp base engine. Standard around-town driving returns those numbers relatively easily, but the second I start clamoring for more emotion from the exhaust, fuel economy flies out the window.
Borrowed tech is good tech
Maserati's infotainment system might have a silly name (Maserati Touch Control Plus), but just like the window switches, this is a carryover from Fiat Chrysler's other cars. However, in this case, that is a good thing -- FCA's Uconnect system is one of the best systems on the market, offering a nicely sized 8.4-inch touchscreen, fast response times, appealing graphics and oodles of capability. It's standard on every Ghibli, and includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Now that backup cameras are standard, it's time to start nitpicking them. For the price paid, the Ghibli's camera is mediocre at best, lacking the resolution of its competition. To be fair, though, Mercedes-Benz might have the crispest backup cam of any car on the market, so it's a high bar. Blind-spot monitoring and parking sensors are also standard, which is a nice touch.
Another update for 2018 is the $3,000 Driver Assistance Package, which adds more safety systems, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and traffic sign recognition. The adaptive cruise works fine, but the lane-keep assist is the most aggressive one I've ever tested, practically strong-arming the wheel from my grip at even the slightest hint of deviation from dead center. I leave it off most of the time.
How I'd spec it
I'll start with the Ghibli S Q4 trim, which for the 2018 model year starts at $82,060 according to Maserati's consumer site, because I'll appreciate all-wheel drive in bad weather and because 424 hp feels appropriate for this car. Despite the stiffness, I'll stick with the GranSport package for the full LED headlights and sportier look, bringing us to $87,620.
As for options, I'll stick with my tester's Bianco paint, which is free. Switching from an all-black interior motif to my tester's brown two-tone is also free. Open-pore wood trim is $400 less than the cheap-looking high-gloss stuff, and it's included with the car, so I'll go with that. I'll skip over the $3,000 Driver Assistance Package, but I'll spend $100 for a heated steering wheel. Ventilated seats are $900 and require a $2,300 perforated leather upgrade, so screw that. I'll also ignore my tester's $750 soft-close doors.
That brings my ideal Ghibli to $87,620, not counting $1,495 in destination charges. That's a fair bit lower than my tester's $93,570 price tag, also not including destination, but it doesn't change the car's general character any.
Down to brass tacks
The Maserati Ghibli S Q4 GranSport competes against other midsize-to-large luxury sedans like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5 Series. But the mid-level performance variants of both those cars, the AMG E43 and M550i xDrive, are $10,000 to $15,000 cheaper to start. The M550i beats the Ghibli by 1 mpg on the highway, but the E43 trounces both with 19 mpg city and 25 highway. Performance is about equal for all three cars, but I prefer the fit and finish of the Germans, even if Uconnect is the best infotainment option by a country mile.
I'm not about to shame anyone for buying a car just because of its badge -- that's the kind of pull Italian cars should have. And in a bubble, the Ghibli is a pleaser. It looks pretty, it sounds Italian and packs most of the latest and greatest tech buyers are after. But once the options expand beyond a single country's borders, it lacks the chops and polish of better-established models.