x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Road test: 2014 Maserati Ghibli S

The luxury carmaker’s latest is sufficiently fine to shift units, writes Kevin Hackett.

The new Maserati Ghibli S is aimed squarely at helping to meet the company’s ambitious aim of selling 50,000 cars every year. Photos courtesy Maserati
The new Maserati Ghibli S is aimed squarely at helping to meet the company’s ambitious aim of selling 50,000 cars every year. Photos courtesy Maserati

When Maserati announced, with a straight face, that it intends to soon be selling 50,000 cars annually, the world really did think that the Italian outfit had lost the plot. How on earth could it ever achieve such numbers, especially when sales of its luxury cars are currently a fraction of that? The car that you see before you here is pivotal to that aim and the Ghibli could well be said to be the most important Maserati road car in the company’s illustrious, century-long history.

To become a volume seller, a car manufacturer must appeal to those who might ordinarily head for the showrooms of BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or the likes of Cadillac. Can you really see Maserati, with all its exotic connotations, competing with that established hierarchy? No, neither could I. Notice the past tense, there, however, because after a few days of hooning around in the new Ghibli S, I know where my money would be going if I was in the market for a luxury saloon.

Ever the first to admit to shallow tendencies, my appreciation of good looks is made manifest in this car’s design – inside and out. When I saw the latest Quattroporte for the first time, my heart sank. The company had, to my mind, made a formerly striking and generally gorgeous machine into something dreary and bland. It just looks ordinary these days, but you could never say that about its new, smaller (but still quite enormous) sibling.

A riot of curves, creases and folds that harmoniously yet aggressively comes together to form a far more resolved shape; the short rear overhang; the angry snout – if you want to stand out as being different in the company car park, here’s your ticket. And it’s a beautiful thing to sit inside, too. Perhaps not as aromatic as I expected, the leather bound interior is nevertheless a special environment. The seats are armchair comfy, the feel of every surface smacks of quality (at last) and the ergonomics are vastly improved over Maseratis of old.

On the move, it feels well screwed together, too, but only time will tell if the manufacturer’s claims to be building cars that are at least as good as its rivals is based on fact or simple wishful thinking. For now, though, I can only go on what I’m presented with here and the Ghibli S, resplendent in “Blu Emozione” metallic paint and 20-inch Urano allow wheels, is at least more desirable than any other car in its class.

The remote-start key fob is a weighty item, possibly the most substantial that I have ever held, which is a perfect first impression. Close the frameless door and that impression of quality continues with a pleasing “thunk”. Press the start button and revel in the sonorous pleasure of a throbbing six-cylinder lump up front that brings a smile to your face, knowing as you do that it was built by the hands of Ferrari. There’s no mistaking the Ghibli S for anything other than a sports car – an athlete in a razor-sharp designer suit, if you will. And at its heart is that magnificent ­engine.

At low speeds, it sounds like a Porsche flat-six and that’s no bad thing. But open it up and the exhaust note becomes a full-on roar that actively encourages you to drive it like you stole it. The suspension is stiff enough to give Merc drivers palpitations, but that’s the trade off, because this is no cosseting barge – rather it’s a focused driving machine that delivers plenty of thrills for occupants and pedestrians alike.

That’s not to say the Ghibli is a boneshaker. It isn’t. You could use it as a comfortable cruiser if you wanted to or simply as a stylish mode of transport to get to the office on the commuter crawl, and I’m sure that it would deal with these tasks ably. But get it on a mountain road and it will set your pants on fire, particularly if you’ve punched the button marked “Sport”.

Before you think that I’ve lost all common sense and have been blinded by good looks and aural pleasures, let me admit that it isn’t perfect. The gearshift paddles behind the wheel, while pleasing to touch, are way too big and too close to the rim, meaning that I end up tugging on them when instead I want to operate the indicators or wipers, and the rear quarters are not as capacious as some in its class. But that’s about it; everything else is pretty much spot on.

More than its impressive turn of speed and its gorgeousness, though, the Ghibli’s trump card is that it makes its occupants feel incredibly special, and that’s something that precious few of its rivals can claim. But is it enough to save Maserati and to send sales figures through the roof? On its own, no it isn’t. But when the company’s SUV comes along in the next year or so, it could possibly make the difference between success and failure. Indeed, it’s the most important Maserati ever launched – and it’s a belter.

khackett@thenational.ae

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