The luxury car market is in a weird place right now. Where V8-powered monsters were once lauded as the best you could get, carmakers are increasingly looking to electrify their top-tier models. And while the sport sedan of old reigned supreme, its crown has been stolen by the burgeoning performance SUV segment.
All of that puts cars like the Maserati Ghibli Trofeo in a bit of a predicament. When you compare it to the likes of the Porsche Taycan, its technology is starting to look dated. And, the popularity of its high-riding Maserati stablemate, the Levante, highlights the fact that many luxury car buyers’ interests lie in crossovers.
All this meant that, when I was given a gleaming red Ghibli Trofeo for a weekend’s adventure, it felt like a final act in Maserati’s V8-powered tale.
(Full Disclosure: Maserati lent me a pristine red Ghibli Trofeo with a full tank of gas for a long weekend filled with hiking and rafting. You know, usual Maserati owner stuff.)
Well, it’s Maserati’s Ghibli sedan dialed up to 11. First unveiled in 2018 on Maserati’s Levante SUV, the Trofeo badge is kind of like BMW’s M logo, or AMG at Mercedes. “Trofeo” means more power and performance across the board. In 2020, the company added a Trofeo variant of the Ghibli and Quattroporte.
It’s so much more than just a few styling tweaks. Yes, there’s a new hood design that comes with a few aero updates, and yes there are neat little Italian flags on the B pillars. There are even sleek little red air intakes in the engine bay, which would pop against any other color except the Rosso Magma finish my review unit wore.
Those design flourishes are slightly cutesy clues to show that you’re behind the wheel of something different. Something special. Because under that re-worked hood is a 3.8-liter, twin-turbo, direct-injection V8 engine assembled by Ferrari in Italy, finished in red to signify its ties to the Scuderia.
That beating Italian heart kicks out 580 hp, all sent to the rear wheels, making this (and the big-brother Quattroporte Trofeo) the most powerful Maserati sedan of all time.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the Ghibli Trofeo is quite lovely from behind the wheel.
You hit the start button and the whole car rumbles into life. In the echo-chamber of a New York City parking garage, it sounds fantastic. I trundled through Manhattan traffic, quietly appreciating the power I’d hope to unleash once the road ahead cleared a bit.
When it did, and the hills of New Jersey opened up before me, it was truly excellent. A whisper on the accelerator pedal and that Ferrari-built V8 roars into life. On a highway on-ramp, you’re up to speed long before you realize. Tackling undulating country roads, the power is always on hand to overcome every twist, turn and incline that you face.
If you find yourself on a very straight, very empty road, the Ghibli’s V8 will power it on to a claimed top speed of 203 mph. It’ll hit 60 mph in four seconds, which does make it a touch slower than its Stellantis super-sedan stablemate, the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, as well as its German V8-powered rival, the BMW M5, both of which will hit 60 in 3.2 seconds.
But there’s more to the joy of driving than just straight-line speed, so now we’ve got to talk about the Ghibli’s ride and gearbox.
In the Trofeo you get an eight-speed automatic or nothing. Manual transmissions have all but disappeared in large sport sedans, and it’s no surprise that Maserati, with its grand-touring image, stuck with paddles here. The good news is, this automatic box cycles through gears like nobody’s business.
Around 35 mph, the car feels like it’s itching to roar off and fly. That’s all well and good when you’re getting ready to join the highway, but in the built-up areas where 35 is the limit, it gets a bit testing.
That manual setting is nice to have, as it gives you a bit more control. A quick flick of the enormous carbon fiber paddles on either side of the wheel brings a quick ratio change. But the car does always feels like it’s waiting to be unleashed.
And when you’re cycling through those eight gears, the transitions aren’t as seamless as you might hope for in an Italian luxury sedan. In a rival BMW or even something like an Audi S6, gear changes are buttery smooth. In this $139,500 sports sedan, there’s a noticeable judder through the cabin with every shift. Sure, there’s also a tweak in the sound coming from that V8 and it’s all very exciting. But that jolt did begin to grate on my carsickness-prone companion, and left them feeling a little worse for wear by the end of a two-hour drive out of the city.
The suspension was similarly aggressive. It wasn’t so firm that potholes or bumps would shake through your bones, but the car’s focus on sharp handling did detract from the enjoyment of eating up the miles.
Some justification for the aggressive setup comes as soon as you pull off the highway and deposit any carsick riders you might have in a safe, stationary space. Then, the Ghibli Trofeo comes to life.
In its Sport Corsa setting, the car feels super planted on the road, giving you oodles of confidence in the corners. Cresting a hill or dipping into a valley, that firm suspension is on hand to keep everything under control.
It really is very fun to drive this car up switchbacks and over undulating passes. It sticks to the road and can handle everything you throw at it. All the while, the glorious V8 soundtrack of growls, gargles and snarls comes ricocheting in through the open windows and sunroof.
The cockpit from which you unleash all this driving joy is pretty lovely. My loaner was finished in black leather with contrasting yellow stitching, and it looked sharp AF.
The biggest shock of the interior was the amount of space inside. Sure, it’s obviously no Suburban, but the rear seats were much more than the unusable novelty I’d expected. There was ample space for my six-foot frame to sit back there. When we hit the road with a friend in the back, they said there was plenty of room.
The same was true for the trunk, which I’d assumed would have space for my hopes and dreams, and not a lot else. But three adults on a long weekend away managed to fit everything in, no bother — including a half-inflated swimming pool float shaped like a donut. Good job Maserati.
The Ghibli Trofeo’s cabin is a wonderful place to spend time. Up front, the sports seats are comfy and cushion you on a long journey. They’re also pretty adjustable, so you can encase yourself in all that sweet leather with perfect contours.
The driver’s seat feels quite low to the ground, especially as SUVs and trucks pull up alongside, but visibility all around is great and leaves you feeling in command.
It was from that position, though, that you have to contend with one of the biggest adaptations I had to make when driving the Ghibli Trofeo: getting used to having just one stalk on the wheel. Unlike most cars I’ve driven, the Ghibli has one lonely stalk on the left of the steering column, controlling turn signals and wipers. (The headlight switch is on the dash.) It took a bit of getting used to when the rain came on, but setting the wipers to automatic was straightforward, and they did turn on at the slightest suggestion of a shower.
Once you’ve mastered that, there’s just the small matter of understanding the center console. In the Maserati, you control the audio, navigation and certain car settings via a 10.1-inch touchscreen. Connecting this multimedia center to your phone is a breeze, and just generally operating the system is easy as pie. It’s bright and clear to read, and the navigation system worked like a charm, even with the remote locations we plugged in.
The stereo also sounded wonderful. The Ghibli Trofeo comes with a 15-speaker setup from Bowers and Wilkins, and it sounds lovely. It really packs a punch at the lower end, without detracting from the mid-tones and high notes.
Despite all its strong points, the writing is firmly on the wall for the Ghibli. Maserati will kill off the model in a few years’ time, to be replaced by an all-electric vehicle.
That electric successor to the Ghibli will likely improve on this V8 machine’s fierce acceleration. There’s no doubt it will aim to outdo the current vehicle in handling as well.
The biggest casualty, of course, will be that glorious Italian V8 soundtrack (provided Maserati doesn’t follow Dodge down the synthesized engine-note rabbit hole). And while that’s a shame, the performance that electrification can unlock is sure to outclass Maserati’s current top-tier models.
But if this is to be the Ghibli’s final act before bowing out for something newer, better and cleaner, then the Italian brand is certainly letting the car go with a very fun, very loud bang.