Road Raves: Maserati Ghibli

05/07/2014 12:00 AM

05/19/2014 10:22 AM

With a silhouette that’s expressive, sinuous and provocative, she — yeah, the Ghibli’s most definitely a “she” — shines with alluring freshness. Go ahead: ogle her plunging hood, slinky fender arches and provocative grille. Drink in her intoxicating fine-leather perfume. Delight in her throaty purr as she awakens. Even her name rolls off the tongue like a breathy temptation: “GIB-lee.”

She’s the automotive equivalent of the sassy ingenue who steals the spotlight from the big-name stars. But make no mistake: This talented newcomer has the chops to prove she’s more than just a pretty face.

She sashayed into American homes in the memorably ominous “Now We Strike” commercial during last February’s Super Bowl. The premise: Driving is a drag. The promise: Maserati’s bringing back the magic.

The enchantment starts, as noted, with her spectacular presence: Even sitting quietly, she looks ready to rock. Her good looks offer a welcome respite from the clinical, slab-sided tanks so prevalent in today’s hyper-competitive luxury sport car category.

In the lush cabin, cossetting leather and wood surroundings make for a refined yet playful experience, especially with the dual-tone customization options. At parent company Fiat’s directive, some of the parts come from Chrysler’s bin, but that’s not a bad thing: How else could a Maserati be priced less than $100K? The simple instrument panel boasts a large speedometer and tach with elegant white backlighting: the traditional blue-faced aluminum Maserati analog clock anchors the center dash, just above the 8.4-inch Maserati Touch Control display screen.

The Ghibli offers two Ferrari-built engines, both twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 units derived from Maserati's V-8 architecture. The base model generates 345 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, while the big sister Ghibli S model spins up 404 hp and 406 lb-ft and comes with Maserati’s proprietary all-wheel-drive, called Q4. Both engines link to the same outstanding ZF eight-speed automatic in big brother Quattroporte and use the company’s Skyhook air suspension.

When squired around town, both the base Ghibli and the S Q4 conduct themselves as pleasant, well-mannered debutantes. But call for more oomph and both respond with eager stomp, the S Q4 impressively so. Handling feels sporty and sprightly even in a humdrum trip through the carpool line. The best part: that raucous, Ferrari-spawned exhaust yowl. Your staid neighbors will surely disapprove.

And therein lies the Ghibli difference. With its bravura style and lusty performance, Maserati is throwing down the challenge to more mainstream midsize sedan contenders like the BMW 5/6 series, Mercedes-Benz E- and CLS-class, Audi 6/7 and Cadillac CTS-V, among others. Specifically, Maserati wants to sell 50,000 vehicles annually by the time we wave goodbye to 2015. Sales in 2013 totaled just 15,400 but that number also represents a 148 percent increase over 2012 sales. Clearly, there’s a receptive marketplace, and the recently remodeled manufacturing facility in Modena, Italy, can handle the orders.

If the Ghibli were merely fast or just pretty or simply luxurious, Maserati wouldn’t have a chance at poaching sales from the competition. But this vigorous Italian delivers the goods. She’s a stunning seductress, delightful to drive and comfortably appointed. Falling in love and living happily ever after has never been so easy.

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