The new Maserati Ghibli is the car that will, until the launch next year of the Levante luxury SUV, spearhead the Italian company’s ambitious growth plans.
This model is Maserati’s bid to elbow aside the usual top-end executive suspects, and so offers the Italian company's first diesel engine, a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 that generates 271bhp and 443lb ft of torque. The Ghibli is also offered with a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that comes with either 325bhp or 404bhp.
However, it’s the diesel-engined car that is predicted to account for around 70% of the Ghibli’s sales in the UK. We’ve already driven it on European roads, but this is our first chance to try the car in the UK.
What's the 2014 Maserati Ghibli diesel like to drive?
The diesel engine fires to a distinctly diesel rumble. Put the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox in D, release the brake and, as you accelerate, the soundtrack quickly becomes uncouth and grumbly. You also feel far too much engine vibration coarsing up through the steering colum and onto your fingertips.
The engine does at least pull strongly once the turbocharger has woken up, but performance is languid if the revs fall much below 2000rpm.
The gearbox is also rather disappointing; downshifts are often sudden and clunky, and the 'box takes far too long to select the right gear when you want a sudden burst of pace. The only way to get around this is by changing gear manually by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles (a £245 option).
The Ghibli is reasonably quiet on the motorway, where the engine note fades into the background, while wind and road noise are also kept to acceptable levels. However, a press of the Sport button next to the gearlever sharpens the accelerator responses and activates two sound actuators in the exhaust that give the car a deep-chested, if still not an especially evocative, rumble.
One area in which the Ghibli falls well short of its adversaries is in ride and handling. In Normal mode the ride has a shuddery quality as the suspension patters over the UK’s many road imperfections. At the same time the body is allowed to shimmy and pitch too much, jostling those inside.
There is a button to firm up the suspension, and when this is pressed the Ghibli changes direction with a bit more vigour and a bit less sway. The ride is also firmed up accordingly, which means you'll only ever use this setting when the sun's out, the road is twisty and there's nobody in front.
The steering is light and accurate, but slower than you might expect, and there’s hardly any information fed back from the road surface to the driver – whichever mode you choose. This is the opposite of what you’d expect in any sporting car, and particularly one wearing a Maserati badge.
What's the 2014 Maserati Ghibli diesel like inside?
As far as the driver is concerned, the Ghibli's interior is a perfectly acceptable place. It looks pretty stylish, there's stitched leather all around, and the dials and instruments are clear.
However, it's a stretch to reach the indicator stalk without taking your hand off the wheel, and the buttons down by the gearlever are tricky to discern at a glance. The 8.5-inch infotainment screen is large enough, but its graphics look old-fashioned and it's slow to respond.
Also, the traditional Maserati clock, set in the Ghibli up above the screen in the dashboard, looks like a bit of an afterthought.
There's decent head- and legroom up front, so even a tall driver and front-seat passenger can get comfortable. Things aren't so good in the rear, though, where legroom and foot space are in much shorter supply; this is quite a failing in a car that will be required to carry adults in the rear seats every so often.
Should I buy one?
The executive world is populated by German manufacturers and Jaguar because their cars are great to live with and they add up as company cars.
This is where the Maserati Ghibli faces its toughest battle, and with CO2 emissions of 158g/km it doesn't embarass itself – it'll cost you about the same to run as a company as a Jaguar XF 3.0D V6 S, although more than you'll pay for a BMW 535d.
Certainly, the lure of saying 'I drive a Maserati' is a strong one, and the Ghibli looks the part, too. However, you'll need to put up with an unrefined drivetrain, a poor ride and tight rear-seat space to cut a dash in the office car park.
What Car? says...
Engine size 3.0-litre V6 diesel
Price from £48,830
Torque 443lb ft
0-62mph 6.3 seconds
Top speed 156mph
Fuel economy 47.9mpg