Here we test drive the 2018MY Maserati Ghibli, a sports saloon that ploughs its own furrow in the executive car class by placing a large emphasis on style and sportiness. The latest iteration isn't drastically different, but a myriad of improvements and new technology across the board result in an Italian alternative to the German defaults that makes a more compelling case for itself than ever before. In this review we focus on the most sensible model of the line-up, the Ghibli Diesel.
In the Metal:
Unless you work for Maserati, it's unlikely you'll spot the 2018MY Ghibli styling updates when looking at the new car in isolation, but they do subtly modernise the appearance. In fairness, Maserati's designers did a good job on the 2013 original and it remains one of the prettiest cars in the segment. For 2018, there are new bumpers front and rear and a more prominent grille with distinctive vertical bars linking it to the Maserati Alfieri concept car. The 2018 update also ushers in two new differentiated trim levels, GranSport and GranLusso; these get unique bumpers and wheels to give the car different personalities. The body changes aren't purely cosmetic, either, as they contribute to a reduction in aerodynamic drag, which should be to the benefit of economy, speed and noise suppression. Choose GranSport or GranLusso and the Ghibli also comes with adaptive full-LED headlights, developed by Magneti Marelli.
The basic shape and layout of the interior is unchanged, so it's still comparable to its rivals' cabins in terms of room for four adults and a fifth with a squeeze on foot room in the back. The rear seat back splits and folds 60/40 ahead of a 500-litre boot and there's plenty of storage within the passenger cabin too. The three-spoke steering wheel is good to hold and it feels of decent quality, if not quite as finessed as the best the German manufacturers can come up with. Saying that, the leather upholstery is particularly lovely and it's easy to get comfortable in the electrically adjusted seats (12-way in the GranLusso). The Ghibli GranLusso also comes with black, red or tan leather, contrasted by Ermenegildo Zegna Silk, which looks nice enough, but we don't really get what all the fuss is about, as, to touch, there's nothing silky about it, instead a rough fabric finish. Odd. There's also Radica open-pore wood trim and more wood on the steering wheel rim, which is unusually embedded within the leather. One thing's for sure: it's an interior worthy of discussion and one that makes the Ghibli feel special.
Mechanically, very little has changed for the 2018MY Maserati Ghibli. The hydraulic power steering has been replaced by a more efficient electrically assisted system and it's good; there's never any kickback, yet there's more resistance to turning as the cornering forces build up, giving the driver useful feedback, if not quite direct communication with the front tyres. In the dry, they have superfluous grip and you can really lean on them into and through a corner. As before, there's a mechanical limited slip differential at the rear as standard, and it gives the Ghibli a satisfying rear-led stance out of tighter corners with no unseemly wheel scrabble. On the right road, in the right conditions, this car is a lot of fun to push on. Maserati's 'Integrated Vehicle Control' strategy that aims to predict loss of grip rather than react to it probably assists with this, and it's fairly seamless in operation.
But we found the damping struggled at times. Our test car was fitted with the adaptive Skyhook damping system (standard only on GranSport model), which alters damping on the four individual wheels as needs be, based on the driver-selected setting (normal and Sport). When in Sport mode, on a smooth surface and really pushed hard, it was excellent, controlling body lean into the bends, along with dive under heavy braking. This setting was too uncomfortable for badly surfaced roads, though, and unnecessary on the motorway. Yet back in the normal mode, there was what felt like 'wheel hop' over patchy urban roads and one undulating section of motorway caused strange pitching of the car from corner to corner as the damping struggled to control the movements. An isolated situation, perhaps, but revealing all the same.
No changes have been made to the diesel engine, a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 unit, with 275hp and 600Nm of torque. For the most part, the eight-speed automatic bolted to it does a perfectly good job of dealing with those outputs and you don't notice its efforts in the background, but at urban speeds it causes the occasional transmission shunt through the driveline, which is less than ideal. Nonetheless, the V6 diesel engine has plenty of performance, if never quite the mid-range kick that the fastest diesels on the market can summon up. It's not the quietest, either, though that's only noticeable at lower speeds, as at a cruise it settles down nicely, working with the excellent wind and road noise suppression to make the Ghibli Diesel a consummate long-distance companion. Press the Sport button and it reduces assistance to the steering, sharpens up the transmission and gives the exhaust a bizarrely sporty timbre.
What you get for your Money:
We tested the Ghibli Diesel in GranLusso specification, which features chrome front bumper inserts, GranLusso badging, 19-inch 'Poseidone' alloy wheels, body-coloured side skirts, black brake callipers and the fancy new adaptive LED lights, along with satnav, leather and 'silk' trim, electric seats and lots more. Even the base car is well-equipped, but so it should be for the pricing. Our estimate of €76,000 for a starting cost of the Ghibli Diesel is based on the UK price, as there is not as yet a Maserati dealership in Ireland (Charles Hurst in Belfast is the nearest). The GranLusso and GranSport cost the same (about €10,000 more than entry-level). Above the Ghibli Diesel are the petrol versions, powered by a biturbo 3.0-litre V6 (350hp in the Ghibli and 430hp in the Ghibli S).
You don't buy a Maserati, even a diesel one, for sensible reasons. It's a purchase with the heart, seduced by the Italian image, the alluring design and the desire to drive something that is far more interesting than the norm. The Ghibli ticks all those boxes, as it has since its introduction, while the diesel model allows some sensibility into the buying equation with more palatable running costs than the petrol models come with. The 2018 model year update, while modest to look at, is a worthwhile one, giving buyers even more reason to choose a Maserati over the usual suspects. We heartily approve.