First Drive: 2021 Maserati Ghibli Hybrid Review
Everyone has their own preferred method for getting into the pool for the first time on holiday (if you still remember those); either the carefree leap or a cautious one toe at a time. The latter is very much Maserati’s approach to its first foray into electrification with the Ghibli Hybrid. The platform is now nearing a decade old so it is late to the hybrid party; the end result is milder than a chicken korma but can it still curry favour against newer opposition?
- Still stands out from the crowd
- Beautifully finished interior
- Large and responsive touchscreen
We don't like
- Doesn’t feel that quick
- Gruff sounding engine
- Six figure price tag
Despite its years the Ghibli has always remained a relatively niche product, priced against the high end of the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6 line-ups. So familiarity hasn’t led to contempt and the stylistic tweaks help keep the car looking fresh. The hybrid models gain blue flashes to the badges and side-vents because that seems to be the colour of electricity according to the car industry collective.
The gaping grille gains a ‘tuning fork’ element and really does look excellent in chrome, especially when paired with some of Maserati’s new bold exterior paint colours. Round at the rear the lights get a boomerang motif to echo the 3200GT, the model which helped turn around Maserati’s fortunes in the 1990s.
Performance and Handling
Maserati’s story is that the hybrid model is ‘faster than diesel, greener than gasoline’ because it replaces the former while providing nearly the same power levels as the existing V6 petrol engine with lower emissions. Plus, thanks to a smaller and lighter 2.0-litre in-line four up-front and a battery pack out back the Ghibli now boasts 50:50 weight distribution. That battery pack however doesn’t allow you to glide silently around ghost-like in your Ghibli as the 48-volt system is really there as a regen system and to power an electric supercharger which adds a healthy whack to the turbocharged ICE’s output.
The result is 330PS (243kW) and 450Nm (333lb ft) with a 0-62mph time of 5.7 seconds and a top speed of 158mph. That is hot hatch rather than hot hybrid quick and that powertrain does put us in mind of a Golf GTI at times with the distinctive sound of a turbo four-pot and a gruff bark at top rev upshifts. It’s not bad but it is no sonorous Maserati V6 or screaming V8. The electric supercharger also delivers, upping the mid-range torque to a noticeable extent in the driver-selectable Sport mode and increasing the car’s feeling of eagerness.
A large, long wheelbase saloon is never going to be performing the cocking a wheel in the air antics of a hot hatch regardless of its pedigree however and the Ghibli is considerably more grown up. There is a good impression of waft when driving around town but that does translate into some float at higher speeds through long bends. Sport mode helps to tie things down somewhat but there is still noticeable roll. Smartly though Maserati allows separate control of the damping allowing drivers the engine and steering response of Sport mode without suffering a choppy ride trade off.
Luxury as well as performance has always been Maserati’s métier and the cabin does elevate the car above more mainstream rivals from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. The mixture of real analogue dials and touchscreens seems almost charmingly traditional now with full cabin width screens rapidly becoming the norm. The steering wheel bucks the trend for ever thicker rims and the gearshift paddles are simply excellent; large, solid aluminium affairs with decent heft to them and, importantly, room for your fingers between them and the wheel.
The driving position does suffer somewhat from hard, flat feeling seats and pedals offset by a very wide central tunnel however. The cabin itself is beautifully trimmed with contrast stitching adding some glamour and both backseat and boot space are more than adequate for fine family motoring.
Technology and Features
There is the obligatory central touchscreen which responds acceptably quickly to inputs thanks to the Android-based Maserati Intelligent Assist. There are separate buttons for HVAC functions to prevent having to dive into sub menus just to adjust cabin temperature. As well as the touchscreen, functions can also be controlled through a clever stacked rotary controller which has a smaller circular knob stacked atop another, an approach which quickly becomes intuitive. Another welcome touch is the fact that altering the driving characteristics is also done through physical buttons rather than the touchscreen.
As expected of a car at this price point the Maserati comes loaded with safety and driver assistance features including Maserati Connect which ensures always-on internet connectivity, allowing you to summon Alexa or convert your car into a hybrid Wifi hotspot if necessary. Both Harmon Kardon and Bowers & Wilkins audio systems are available as options. In addition to the expected safety features the Ghibli also offers Level 2 driver assistance which, while your hands must remain on the wheel and attention on the road, can take some of the cognitive load away from the driver on well-maintained roads.
The Maserati Ghibli is a now aging platform so its dynamics have been surpassed now by more mainstream rivals. However, it remains a charming car that offers a beguiling point of difference from those rivals. It is also an important stepping stone for the company as it moves, with the others, towards an electric future.
|Engine||2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 48V mild-hybrid|
|Power||330PS (243kW) @ 5,750rpm|
|Torque||450Nm (333lb ft) @ 4,000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel-drive|
|Price||£58,500 (£65,100 as tested)|
Reviewed by Henry Biggs