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Posted On March 24, 2014 By In FEATURED, Road Tests And 2498 Views

First Drive: Maserati Ghibli Diesel

Andy was lucky enough to grab 24 hours in the new Maserati Ghibli Diesel. Here’s what he thought

It’s a Maserati and it’s got a diesel engine. One hundred years old and one of automotive history’s most noble names has turned to the dark side.

This is a very different kind of car to any Maserati which has been before – the Ghibli will go toe-to-toe with the giants from Germany: Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. That means out go words like ‘character’ and in comes ‘dependability’. Can the Italians finally tempt executives out of their bahnstormers and into something a little more personal? It’s a steep challenge, but the big Maser seems up for the fight.

I’ve got 24 hours with the Ghibli Diesel in order to get to know the car and to try and get my head around what Maserati means to the general public in 2014. First we head to one of the more upmarket ends of Leeds, where the Ghibli poses against the Victorian industrial architecture of Granary Wharf. Here it seems perfectly at home, street lights glinting off those big wheels.

Outside, the Ghibli sits on just the right side of bling, wearing vivid white paint and 20” alloys. It’s initially surprising how much attention the car draws, but with one sole example having so far been delivered in Yorkshire, it’s still an unusual sight on the city street. Shrinking violet it may not be, but the Ghibli is striking and, being part of a small model range, feels fresher and less generic than many of its more familiar and more numerous rivals.

It wears its mass with some subtlety, though park it next to the average hatchback and it appears appropriately vast. The new Maserati corporate grill looks menacing from dead-ahead, leading to neatly surfaced flanks and the traditional triple gills now having adopted a rakish lean. Overall, it’s a cohesive, smart and modern piece of design, though perhaps lacking a fraction of the flair the company could get away with on previous, lower-selling models.

I deal the first hand, texting a friend who’s facing a long 45 minutes out to North Yorkshire on the bus after work: “Do you want a lift; I’ve got a Maserati on loan?” Less than a minute later I’ve a thumbs-up. Not even possessing a driving licence, this friend knows a Maserati to be something special, though perhaps not why. This brand cachet is a recurrent theme with everybody I chat to during my time with the Ghibli. Almost nobody knows of the company’s glory days when Fangio and Moss vanquished all before them in grand prix and sports cars, yet the brand still carries an exotic mystique.

So, with heated seats set to their cosiest setting, it’s out of the city and a first real opportunity to stretch the Maserati’s legs as we leave the urban sprawl behind us and hit the A660 towards Skipton. The V6 diesel is a big, strong, unit and shove is imperious – though never urgent – virtually from tick-over. Overtaking is a doddle with sport mode engaged and conversation is easy, even at speed. Betraying its oil burning motor with a slightly clattery idle, on the move the Ghibli sounds remarkably authentic. It’s a brawny, barrel-chested sound, totally in keeping with the character of the car and not at all what one might associate with a diesel.

On this broad A-road with helpful cambers and decent sightlines, the Ghibli gets into a flow. It’s not a car to be hurried, but work with the mass and the balance is really pretty good. I resist the temptation to trouble the traction control out of roundabouts, but the car’s length is apparent during swift changes of direction. The rear seems to struggle slightly over poor surfaces, meaning the back end can feel a little unsettled over small bumps and scars in the road but there are no objections from my passengers.

The steering is faithful, though lacking the weight of BMW’s best and feel remains largely absent – though the same could be said of virtually any modern car. The eight-speed ZF gearbox (shared with BMW and Jaguar) is superb. It’s not as busy as you’d expect from so many ratios and shifts are generally imperceptible. There is, of course, manual over-ride with beautifully sculpted and finished paddles allowing for sporty blipped downchanges.

This gearbox is a sign of a company taking what might be considered a pragmatic approach. Maserati could easily have stuck an automated manual ‘box in, citing ‘emotion’ and ‘passion’ as reasons for smelly clutches, jerky upchanges and regular visits to the dealership for remedial work. By bolting in a proven, class-leading, gearbox the Ghibli should reveal itself to be an easy car to live with.

The opulence of the cabin, the restrained progress and cultured exterior seem to have proven a hit on the way out towards the Dales. Heading back into the city around midnight, progress is as brisk as one’s mood allows. It’s certainly an easy car to pass the time in, with a clear stereo, good visibility and powerful headlights. For those who spend a lot of hours in the car, these things matter as much as crisp steering feel and throttle response.

With a garage full of old Lotus, the Ghibli has to rest overnight on the street, where it suddenly looks a little less understated than it did in Leeds a few hours previously. It’s a handsome car and appears positively exotic compared to the rather more prosaic hatches which proliferate my corner of West Yorkshire.

This being the machine which is intended to talk executives out of their German saloons, the next day I go hunting for some real-life executives. Finding several interested parties, we head out for an executive lunchtime drive, the gentlemen in question having owned variously VWs, Porsches and Alpinas between them. The concept of a diesel Maserati doesn’t seem any kind of an issue – simply the name and that trident badge pique the interest of even the casual car enthusiast.

Four-up and the Maser wins some new friends. The noise and effortless acceleration impress, as does the sheer tactility of the interior. The quality of the leather, abundant gadgets and decent levels of space and comfort mean that even a long-legged executive could handle a ride in the back to the golf club. And if the Ghibli’s a bit small, well, there’s always big brother – the Quattroporte.

One executive has two young children and immediately feared for some of the Ghibli’s more vulnerable interior fittings. While most of the cabin interfaces are constructed from soft leather or cold-to-touch aluminium, there are some scratchy plastics in evidence. In spite of the Isofix points in the rear seats, the car-proud exec might be well served only allowing children to explore the interior under supervision.

Overall, it’s safe to say the big Maser has won some new fans – most of whom have never sat in a Maserati before, let alone considered buying one. With prices starting from £48,830.00, a Maserati is now a realistic aspiration for a whole new sector of buyers. This is the Modenese manufacturer’s first crack at a new, very mature, market – and an impressive one at that. If it can build on the strengths of the Ghibli and attend to some of the small issues, its unique blend of boutique Italian charm and modern drivetrain make it an already credible alternative to the German powerhouses.

Thanks to JCT600 Maserati for the loan of their demonstrator for this test. Also check out Andy’s own blog www.motorcardiaries.co.uk

What do you think of the Maserati Ghibli Diesel? Let us know in the comments below.

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Andy is our Motorsport Editor. There is little he doesn't know about Motorsport and he can be found at most of the major events throughout the year. Andy runs an S1 Lotus Exige and a Pug 306 Rallye.

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