Giblets aren't the most delicious part of a meal, but Maserati has decided that they need to compete in the Thanksgiving meal market. Oh, I've just been told this is a car and it's called a Ghibli, not a Giblets. It also sounds like a Norseman gargling hammers. It's also delightfully frustrating.
(Full Disclosure: Maserati did not loan us a Ghibli. Maserati Manhattan, the dealership in our area, sent us an email and asked if we'd want to borrow the car. We said sure. It was quite kind of them to let us borrow the car. Head over to them for all your Maserati needs!)
Sergio Marchionne has some seriously lofty goals for Maserati. In order for the brand to survive, it needs to go from niche maker of orgasmically devilish sounding sports cars to a full line automaker that can compete with your BMWs and Audis of the world.
Maserati's goal is to be selling 75,000 cars a year by 2018. That doesn't sound like a lot. But in 2012, they sold 6,200 cars. Selling 75,000 won't make them a BMW competitor, but it will make seeing a Maserati less of an event than it previously was.
The onslaught started with the newest Quattroporte, which is seeking to lose some of its quirkiness to become an actual player in the large luxury car game. It got bigger, it went turbocharged, and the interior controls were no longer created by a dizzy Stevie Wonder with mittens on. They were created by Chrysler.
And with the growth of the Quattroporte, there was room for a younger sibling. A 5-Series fighter, if you will. That car is the Ghibli, a car that has the growth of a company on its shoulders. It's Maserati's first direct entry into the modern executive sedan class.
Here's the best analogy I can make: Compared to the first Cadillac CTS, a car meant to compete with the BMW 3 and 5-Series, it's far better. It makes that first effort look like a piece of water trash. Compared to the brand new Cadillac CTS Vsport, there is work that needs to be done to compete.
This is a car that combines all the euphoric and frustrating aspects of Italian car ownership into one attractive Milanese shell. At times you'll hate it. Other times you'll love it. But what's for certain is that you'll always love hearing it.
The midsize executive sedan class is the pasta dish or possibly the bread and butter of every premium automaker that competes in this space. These cars need to be inoffensive with a broad appeal, which often leads to derivative and blasé styling.
The Gimlets, I mean Ghibli, looks like nothing else in its class and really nothing else on the road... except other Maseratis. It's aggressive and sharklike, a gaping grille that looks like it might eat you alive given the chance.
It's also a deceptively compact package. I parked the Giblets in a few compact spaces and had plenty of room on both sides each time. The rear end is a tad anonymous, but those big trumpets at the bottom of the rear fascia are just a hint at the amazing noise the Ghibli can make.
In the New York City area, there are a bunch of Maseratis on the road, mainly GranTurismos. But whenever I see a Quattroporte, it takes a minute to figure out if it's actually a Quattroporte or the new little brother. In the game of styling the family of cars to look similar, Maserati may have made the Ghibli and the new Quattroporte a little too similar.
That's not to say it's unattractive. This is the car equivalent of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny. It's hot and it has an attitude, but if you treat it right it's a total sweetheart. It has flaws, but on the surface everything is nearly perfect.
At first glance there is absolutely nothing to complain about. A fairly simple dash. Nice, clear instruments, Big infotainment screen. Nicely sized wheel. All signs point to it being an Italian style victory.
But that Italian style has not been met with materials that Michelangelo would be pleased with. There are a lot of areas, most notably the steering wheel, that feel inexpensive. The Chrysler-souced uConnect system is exactly the same as the one you get in the Dart. There's no new skin or graphics or even a font. It's the same.
A lot of this stinks of cost cutting so it can fit in with the BMW 5ers and Merc E-Classes. But this Ghibli S Q4 was still $86,840. At that price, the interior just doesn't match the price you need to pay to sit in said interior.
Don't get me wrong, the Ghibli is the kind of fast that forces kids to scream and makes women immediately want you. But it just doesn't feel that fast. For one, there is noticeable turbo lag from the engine, especially at the lower end.
Once it's above 3,000 RPM, the Gimlet pulls strong and hard, but that lower range is where I get frustrated.
There's another frustration that has to do with acceleration, and it's the throttle pedal itself. When you put your foot down on a throttle pedal, there's usually some sort of resistance or tactile feedback. This is how you know how far down the pedal is going. That doesn't happen in the Ghibli. The pedal is like pressing your foot down on the limp arm of a very dead man. There is just no communication to your foot.
It actually got to a point where an extended drive made my foot and entire leg hurt, since I needed to make the resistance myself and actively hold my foot in one position. It stunk.
Brakes are strong. New York near crash in traffic strong. I actually had a taxi try and cut me off while we were exiting to Route 3 out of the Lincoln Tunnel, and a firm step on the pedal resulted in an avoided accident and a lot of language that you don't hear on Teletubbies. The pedal was a bit softer than I'd like, but there was no crash or tears. That's the part that matters.
This is also where I discovered that the horn is nothing special and certainly not the delightful old-school Italian sound I was hoping for.
The growl it makes out of the back should be a hint that the Ghibli doesn't want to be a boring sedan. It wants to be a sports car.
So that means the ride is harsher than you'd expect at tooling around speeds, but smooths out once you get it moving. It's not bad, but those looking for something posh and relaxing need to look elsewhere.
This Ghibli wasn't equipped with Maserati's SkyHook adjustable suspension, but instead had the passive dampers. Everything I've heard about SkyHook in the past makes me thing that the passive dampers are the way to go here.
The steering is hydraulic.
That last sentence just made all of you rejoice, celebrate, and shout out your love for Maserati and possibly for me. The problem is that you can't just say that steering is better because it's hydraulic. A good electric system is better than a bad hydraulic system, and the steering in this car is mediocre.
There isn't a ton of feel, it's slightly vague, it's not as good as some highly tuned electric systems, and that's disappointing. There is some decent feedback, but other than that, I felt disconnected from the road.
Thankfully, the car itself handles swell-ly.
A stiff suspension and compliant chassis makes for a sedan that flows from bend to bend. Hustling it on a faster uphill road in New Jersey showed just how composed and controlled the chassis is. If only the steering was up to the level of the chassis, then you could really grab it by the scruff and be confident. As it is, you're placing a lot of trust in what you can't feel since the communication to your hands is like kneading bread dough with your feet.
Hey, it's the ZF eight speed! A glorious gearbox. The software in manual mode is a little slower than I like, but otherwise it works just great.
It also has aluminum paddles that are delightfully cold to the touch. Much better than cheapo plastic crap that a lot of other people try to force on you.
All of the bibs and bobs you'd expect are here, like parking sensors, cameras, satellite radio, and a pretty good infotainment system. uConnect's biggest problem is that it looks exactly the same in a nearly $90,000 Maserati as it does in a $25,000 Dart. Rolls Royce and BMW also share infotainment with each other, but the feel is totally different in the Roller than the BMW. The touch interface of the Maserati doesn't feel special, and that's too bad because this is a special car.
It as a stereo. I don't care about it. Turn it off.
Maseratis have always been about sound, a delight for the senses even when you can't see them. The Ghibli has a turbo V6, which isn't normally the recipe for a great sound but the recipe for a vacuum cleaner-like vacuous din.
Not here. The Ghibli barks at you with authority when it starts up and then sings to you as you drive and revs rise. This might be the best sounding sedan you can buy today. And our friends at Road & Track found that if you take out the fuse, the exhaust stays open all the time. It sounds like a sexy Italian tugboat pulling into port.
I'll just say it. This car was $86,840. That's just $6,000 less than an M5 and $20,000 more than a 550i. In the past, Maseratis weren't meant to compete directly with these brands. They were out of the mainstream, an alternate choice and a niche brand.
But now Maserati wants to be a volume seller that competes with the big boys. It needs to offer all the same features at competitive prices. The looks, engine, and chassis tuning are all there. The interior quality, steering, and other little details just aren't quite yet.
As a first effort at a modern executive sedan, the Ghibli falls short of the players that have been in the market for decades. But it's also far better than a number of first efforts that have come along in the last couple of decades. It's not an $86,000 car yet, I don't think, but give it a few years and some improvements, and the Ghibli should be right among best in class.
It's amazing the difference some fine tuning can make. Get those details right and this car will be magic.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged V6
Power: 404 HP at 5,500 RPM/ 406 LB-FT at 1,750 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 4.7 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed: 175 MPH
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,150 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 15 City/25 Highway
MSRP: $66,900 (As tested $86,840)