Overall rating: 4/5
For the first time in its 99-year history, Maserati is offering a diesel engine in one of its cars. Purist may sneer at this, but the Italians firmly believe this oil-burner, together with the new Ghibli, will deliver the winning combination for a greater global presence.
In the metal 4/5
There's an obvious similarity between the styling of the new Ghibli and the almost as new Maserati Quattroporte, its larger and more expensive stable mate. The Ghibli though, is shorter by 291mm, lighter by 50kg, and is a lot more purposeful in appearance, with a slightly aggressive stance, softened only by the deliciously sculptured lines that run along the entire length of the body. A steeply raked windscreen, long bonnet and short overhangs further highlight an architecture that veers more towards that of a coupé than a four-door saloon, resulting in possibly the best looking premium, mid-sized, executive car currently on the market.
The cabin succinctly mirrors the exterior too; it's been beautifully crafted with an individual feel that takes the very best of Italian design and styling and wraps it all up in a sumptuous leather package that can match, if not better, any of its rivals. And, unlike the Ghibli's immediate competition, backseat passengers benefit from a decent amount of headroom, although leg space is a little bit more limited, as is the luggage area in the boot.
Driving it 3/5
Maserati may be one of the last car makers to join the diesel bandwagon, but at least it has done it in style by making its first effort a whopping great 275hp 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo. It will come, as standard, with an eight-speed paddle-shift ZF automatic transmission, too.
Even more surprising than finding an oil-burner under the bonnet is the deep burble expelled from its quad tailpipes. This can be attributed to Maserati's Active Sound system that uses a pair of noise actuators to sieve out any unwanted diesel clatter, leaving just a melodic and intoxicating thrum.
The performance figures, on paper at least, seem pretty impressive: 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds, with a top speed electronically muzzled to 250km/h. Yet, despite these respectable numbers, and 600Nm of torque on tap, it still seems a little lacklustre - the throttle is not as responsive at it could be and the transmission is too hesitant on the change.
The suspension set-up is also somewhat less than endearing. Even on the smoothest of roads it feels out of kilter, with the electronically controlled 'Skyhook' shocks struggling to cope with certain bumps. For best results, and a much more thrilling drive, the console-mounted sports button really needs to be permanently employed. This sharpens the throttle, quickens the gear change, increases the exhaust volume, stiffens-up the suspension and basically transforms the Ghibli into something a lot more receptive to the idea of being driven hard. And only then does this Maserati become an absolute hoot to drive. It's happy to wag its tail through the bends, yet still has the wherewithal to correct itself before things get too messy.
What you get for your money 4/5
There's just one trim level for the Ghibli diesel, and Maserati says it has been priced to sell. However, at about €80,000 imported into Ireland it's still no bargain. Nonetheless, it has been generously equipped with such niceties as a leather-lined interior, power adjustable leather seats, air conditioning, a Bowers & Wilkins sound system and a satnav system with touch screen monitor, leaving little needed to be chosen from the options list.
Maserati has laid out its plans for an ambitious global expansion programme, and the Ghibli has been earmarked to spearhead it. By 2015, it wants to see worldwide sales reach 50,000 units, with the Ghibli accounting for a fifth of those. There are no signs of a Maserati dealership for the Republic of Ireland as yet though.
The Ghibli does have its flaws, and it could be argued that is acceptable because it's a Maserati. Not quite. A few years ago, possibly, but now the market is awash with cars that are similar in price, size and performance, and to be a credible and alternative contender it has to offer more than just a pedigree that quickens the heart. With that said, the Ghibli, as an overall package, more than outweighs any of its shortcomings and should be seriously considered by anyone looking for a diesel at this higher end of the market.