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MAR 30th 2015

Review ‑ Chris Harris: Give Me Ghibli Over the Germans

I cannot think of a single area of objective performance in which the Maserati Ghibli betters its obvious German rivals. I suppose it can be quite fast in a straight line, but even then for similar outlay one can buy something from M or AMG that would leave the Masterati scratching its head. So why would I rather live with a Ghibli – an inferior product – to many of its more talented rivals?

Because I’m growing a little tired of German dominance.

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Please don’t mistake that for some rank xenophobia, it isn’t meant to be, but the financial and technical advantage offered by the Big Three is such that even a well-funded Jaguar is struggling to keep pace, so what the hell is Maserati supposed to do?

Take a step back and be cool. And with the Ghibli this strategy has worked.

How do we respond to our cars? The Ghibli questions that man-machine relationship by pandering to emotions that many of us feel we should be immune to – chief among them vanity. I am no hipster and, despite my big mouth, actually don’t enjoy attention that much, but the public response to the Ghibli is almost enough to justify buying one.

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You arrive at a journey’s end a little bit annoyed that the soft damper setting lacks control, reach the conclusion that the stiff one was calibrated to increase chiropractic work and that the gear-selector was rejected by the Krypton Factor for being too hard to fathom. And then you climb out and people smile at you. They stop and look at the shapes and the front grille and they nod in appreciation at this anomalous, non-Teutonic lump and you are then dragged helplessly into the world of subjective appeal. At which point, like me, you are potentially ensnared by the Ghibli’s charms.

The Ghibli is a big, wide machine. It weighs a full 1800kg dry and so it needs the S model’s 404hp and 406lb ft to make it go the way you’d expect a Maserati to go. Throttle response is okay, the boost arrives quite quickly and, with the Sport button pushed, the exhaust note is very cheeky indeed. The only problem being that the same mode causes the transmission to go all Sportivo and hold on to gears and generally be a pain. Luckily the dampers can still be in the softest setting regardless. The stiff mode is not good for UK work.

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Driven quickly, the car’s dynamics are average to not-bad. The rear axle location feels weak at times, the structure can feel less solid that some rivals and the brakes don’t like extended punishment. If I was writing the What Car? summary now I’d be deliberating over whether it was a two or three star car on the five star scale. This should automatically mean avoiding it in favour of more talented opposition.

But the cabin has some lovely touches beyond some of the ropey Chrysler-sourced switches. For the first time in a modern Maserati you can sit low enough with the steering wheel perfectly placed. The steering is actually the one area where the Ghibli can claim to match the Germans – it’s an easy car to place despite its girth and the weighting is well-judged.

Some of the plastics are a little low-rent, the infotainment system isn’t as swish as an Audi’s and, look, I could go on like this for ages. You know it’s not as objectively talented as the aforementioned, but does that really matter?

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Ask yourself, as I did, how many of its shortcomings actually make for an unpleasant everyday driving experience. Apart from the gear-selector, there’s nothing. It even has a big 80-litre tank, which I’d take over a 14% increase in door-trim quality any day of the week.

I just felt good driving this car. I smiled, people smiled at me and the motoring world needs choices beyond the obvious. Every time you walk back up to it and pull the door handle you are reminded that there are certain emotions only Italian cars can invoke in us, and the Ghibli remains true to that heritage.

If you’re in the market for a fast saloon, please go and try one. Not for an hour, but for a weekend. I suspect you might like it more than you expected to.

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