Maserati Ghibli Diesel European-Spec First DriveBy Frank Markus | August 15, 2014 |
"We'll take you on a trip when you graduate high school, and we'll travel abroad if you graduate with honors." That was the deal we struck with our nephew, Nick, and sure enough, he landed near the top of his class and chose Italy as a destination. My job was to secure transportation, and as the owner of a vintage Maserati Ghibli -- Maestro Giugiaro's 1967 original -- I was itching for some quality time in the new one. Lucky for me, the only one that was available was the only one none of us had driven at launch -- the Euro-market diesel. When in Rome, drive as the Roman one-percent do, I always say!
The engine powering this entry-level Ghibli is a VM Motori 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 that's related to the Jeep and Ram EcoDiesels we get in the U.S., but souped up for Trident duty to produce 271 hp and 442 lb-ft (Jeep and Ram make 240/420). A special Italy-only version of the Ghibli is offered that's detuned to 250 metric hp for tax reasons, but ours is full-strength. The first oil-burning Maserati in 100 years sells in Europe for about $2600 less than our base car (which gets a 326-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo gas V-6 and starts at $67,850). By offering the diesel, Maserati is challenging cars like the BMW 535d, Mercedes E350 BlueTec, and Jag XF Diesel S head-on for the midlevel plutocrats' business, and the fact that it meets (Jag's) or exceeds (the others') diesel-six output bodes well. During our 600 miles of autostrada cruising, Amalfi-coast mountaineering, and Tuscan wine-country loafing, it averaged 25-30 mpg.
That mileage is impressive in such a big car with this much hustle (6.3 seconds to 60 mph, they say, with plenty of credit due the ZF eight-speed). But there's never any doubt this is a diesel. Its clatter at idle isn't hushed as well as some competitors' and there's some noticeable turbo lag at launch. The mountainous torque (and a swift downshift) will sling you out into the passing lane briskly, but the engine can run out of breath before you clear a long line of slow traffic that the gas Ghiblis would easily rocket past.
While plying the coastal and mountain roads between Amalfi and Pompeii I noticed that the diesel's iron block loads the nose a bit more, which calms what we've noted to be a somewhat overly communicative helm on the gas Ghiblis. With the weight distribution hovering near enough to 50/50, the car changes direction fairly eagerly, and the braking power and grip from the Dunlop Sport Maxx RTs meet the expectations of a Maserati. It's way too wide for Amalfi, though, measuring 10 inches broader than Maserati's first four-door, the '63 Tipo 107 Quattroporte. I was forever folding the mirrors along that stretch. Once things opened up, though, the transmission demonstrated great smarts, knowing when to hold lower gears entering a corner, making it unnecessary to use the aluminum paddles in most situations.Maseratis get respect on the autostrada. The rare left-lane dawdler instantly dove right upon catching a glimpse of that sizable Trident looming in the mirrors, and we spotted truckers taking cellphone snaps of the car. The Ghibli Diesel's brakes and engine torque characteristics are ideally suited to Italy's peculiar "tutor" speed-control system of extremely well marked and obvious speed cameras. Drivers whoosh up to these camera bridges, brake heavily, cruise through, and blast away from them, resuming their preferred pace. Also peculiar and good for frequent laughs along the way was the navigation system's English lady's pronunciation of nearly every Italian road or city name, always delivered in monotone, usually with one or two syllables mispronounced.
Will the Ghibli Diesel find its way to our shores? Probably not. Federalizing it would be a cinch, with Jeep and Ram variants already legal, but demand for fuel-efficient diesel engines in this segment is miniscule here in the land of $3.50/gallon gas (I was paying $9/gallon for diesel in Italy). And the last thing a resurgent Maserati brand needs is a sport sedan with turbo lag that won't rev to 6500 rpm. Does the new Ghibli remind me of my old one? Sure. Mine sought to use unspeakably gorgeous Giugiaro styling to distract buyers from its aging, detuned '50s racing V-8 and oxcart rear suspension when rival Ferraris bristled with DOHC V-12s and independent rear suspenders. Today's Ghibli again uses racy design and Italian hand-built exclusivity to counterbalance the quality and detail refinement issues that German mass-production solves. I'm delighted with my '67 Ghibli's trade-offs, and I'd probably go for Maserati or Aston hand-built exclusivity over BMW or Porsche perfection today too (especially if Maserati rethinks that electronic Chrysler shifter and redesigns the screen graphics so they don't look just like a Dart's). Maybe after this trip, nephew Nick will take after his uncle Frank once that forthcoming UCLA education kicks in.