Sexy and slinky and with a fabulous engine. Quality seems good but there are interior niggles and a slight lack of rear space.
In the Metal:
It looks pretty, oh so pretty. Of course, you expect a Maserati to look pretty, but the Ghibli really is just a staggeringly gorgeous car. If a BMW 5 Series is handsome and an Audi A6 good looking then the Ghibli is the full-on Scarlett Johansson. Don't do that, you'll go blind...
OK, it's not perfect. If anything, the rear is a little disappointing after the front (which is pretty awesome), but I guess you can't have it all ways. Trying to clothe a practical four-door saloon in the most gorgeous sheet metal possible isn't easy - too many conflicting demands.
Maserati wants to be taken seriously as a rival to the high-end versions of the German sports saloons, and while it won't ever make an affordable 2.0-litre diesel version, it is meant to be a challenger to the likes of the BMW 550i, Mercedes E 500 and Audi S6. Therefore, it has to match the Germans in terms of peerless dynamics and performance, but do so in a way that feels distinctly Italian.
Er, job done. It was instructive to drive the Ghibli after I'd sampled the larger (and mechanically related) Quattroporte. Where the bigger car felt a touch lazy and a little short on body stiffness, the Ghibli felt as if hewn from, if not granite, then certainly Italian marble. It feels astonishingly stiff, which allows the suspension to work much more harmoniously than that of the bigger car. It's firm at all times, and to be honest adjusting the dampers in and out of Sport mode doesn't seem to make a palpable difference, but the Ghibli is amazingly sure-footed.
Driven fast through a series of tight, tightening corners, it responds with remarkable poise and precision. Poor surfaces make it jitter a bit, but the movement of the suspension is never allowed to corrupt the steering or the chosen direction. Oddly, that steering feels a little more mute in terms of feel than that of the Quattroporte, but it's well weighted and the nose of the Ghibli goes unerringly where you want it to go.
So far, so German. Where the Ghibli plays the Italian card though is in the engine department. If the German big-banger engines sound and feel mechanical and industrial, this 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 sounds and feels organic, animalistic even. It's not massively powerful, making 'just' 410hp, but it's not that much slower than a full-house BMW M5 or Mercedes E 63 AMG. Certainly, it's only the stopwatch that would make it feel slow as it launches along on a wave of symphony. It has excellent low-down response, and no appreciable turbo lag, but there is a slight sense of the power plateauing as you get higher up the rev range. The eight-speed ZF gearbox is as good here as it always is - slushing the ratios seamlessly when you want to relax, or allowing you to rifle-bolt your way up and down the box with the gorgeous alloy gearshift paddles (which do rather get in the way of the single column stalk...).
It's more fun than either a standard 5 Series or E-Class or A6 and actually feels rather similar to the Jaguar XF, but it's also more friendly and accessible than the high performance M, AMG or RS versions of the Germans - and barely any slower in real-world terms.
What you get for your Money:
Drive the Ghibli in the way its exhaust note goads you to and you'll be lucky to see 20mpg, never mind Maserati's official 27mpg. Still, if you were worried about that you'd have bought the diesel...
On top of which, it's going to be expensive to buy. Maserati doesn't have a dealer in the Republic at the moment, serving all Irish Maserati customers through the redoubtable Charles Hurst in Belfast. That means that the prices ebb and flow with the exchange rate and the whims of the Revenue Commissioners. Therefore, you're going to have to spend at least €120,000 to get into a Ghibli S and with the way of these things, you can easily spend vastly more than that on the extras list. A €250,000 Ghibli S would probably take you about five minutes to put together on the online configurator.
Then again, this is supposed to be an exclusive car - whereas BMW churns out the 5 Series by the hundreds of thousands every year, Maserati made just under 40,000 cars in total last year across all models, and its ambition is to make and sell a mere 75,000 by 2018. So, you're not going to pull up next to another one at the traffic lights any time soon, even if Maserati does make good on the hints it dropped at this event about opening a Dublin dealership.
Audi S7 Sportback: stonking V8 performance and it's practical too. Not as agile as the Ghibli though.
BMW 550i: also powered by a V8, similar performance to the Maser and maybe even slightly better to drive but it looks like a 520d.
Mercedes-Benz CLS 500: sexy, slinky and with a full-house V8 where the Maser can only muster a V6. A tough rival. Surprisingly good value for money too, relatively.
The Maserati Ghibli isn't for everyone, that much is obvious. Luxury car buyers are a conservative lot and few of them will countenance an Italian interloper into their metallic grey German compound. Still though, for those of a certain frame of mind, this is what we've been waiting for - an Italian super saloon that matches the Germans for dynamics and quality but which retains the noise, character and sense of drama that we want from the best Latin machinery. It's not perfect (objectively, it's nowhere near perfect), but it's as desirable as a four-door saloon could possibly be and we now want one very, very badly.