Maserati joins the hybrid elite, with electrified Ghibli four-door
Enjoying something of a business renaissance since it introduced the Levante SUV a couple of years ago, states Iain Robertson, Italian executive carmaker, Maserati, has now introduced a valuable spark to its popular Ghibli luxury saloon model.
In danger of becoming another ‘forgotten’ Italian automotive brand not that long ago, in many ways, Maserati is remarkably similar to Alfa Romeo and Lancia, a factor that may be the cause of many of its perceived problems. Established initially in 1914, in Bologna, by five brothers, Alfieri, Ernesto, Ettore, Bindo and Carlo, the family name graced a series of highly successful racing cars during much of its formative period. The famous ‘Trident’ brand emblem arrived six years later, copied from a statue of Neptune wielding it, in Bologna’s main square.
Maserati’s first production cars were built in 1926. Yet, the company’s assets were sold to the wealthy Orsi family, which relocated its headquarters to Modena in 1940, with three of the brothers engaged as engineers. Post-WW2, Maserati entered its most glorious period of racing history, with Argentinian driver, Juan Manuel Fangio, piloting the outstanding 250F to several World Championship victories. Yet, following a fatal crash in the 1957 Mille Miglia race, the company withdrew from competition as a factory, although it continued to produce race cars for some customers.
However, finely engineered road cars were fast becoming Maserati’s bread and butter. In 1963, the company launched its first Quattroporte model. As the name suggests, it was a saloon and was soon recognised as the fastest four-door in the world. Intriguingly, when you take the most recent, Chinese-funded takeover bid by the PSA Group for the enlarged Fiat-Chrysler combine, Maserati was sold to pre-PSA Citroen in 1968, the first fruit of the ‘joint venture’ being the Citroen SM of 1970; a sporty and exotic luxury coupe powered by a Maserati Merak V6 engine.
In the middle of the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent market crash, Citroen went bust and announced in 1975 that Maserati had been placed into liquidation, which led to the de Tomaso ownership period. Another element of the PSA jigsaw occurred in 1984, when Chrysler, through its then boss, Lee Iacocca, acquired a 5% stake in Maserati. Yet, in late-1989, Fiat acquired a 51% share of Maserati, with total ownership occurring four years later. The brand may have been bounced around quite excitedly but Maserati was surviving. However, with long-time rival, Ferrari, also part of the Fiat stable, Maserati’s new role was as the luxury arm of the performance division.
Although production volumes remained low for several years, the arrival of the Ghibli saloon, a smaller Quattroporte to all intents and purposes, in 2014, led to increased demand and an enormous effort to double production took place, augmented considerably, when the Levante model was introduced. Ghibli was always intended to be an Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5-Series competitor. Inevitably, Maserati was trading on its colourful past, the only apparent resistance being a belief that Italian ‘unreliability’ would dent a growing reputation. Despite being largely hand-built and bespoke, the cars it produces are actually every bit as resilient as its Teutonic rivals’ products and the Ghibli has sold over 100,000 examples in the past six years, to underscore its popularity.
Introducing hybrid technology exploits the kinetic energy the Ghibli accumulates when in motion, recovering it and transforming it into electricity during deceleration and braking, storing residual energy in a compact lithium-ion battery pack. The technology is not new, mild hybrids being available across several makes and models, although the manner by which Maserati employs it is unique. In essence, it combines a four-cylinder, turbocharged-petrol, internal combustion engine that displaces 2.0-litres capacity, with a 48-volt alternator and an additional electric supercharger (e-Booster), supported by the battery that is located below the boot floor for better weight distribution. It provides an ideal trade-off between performance, efficiency and driving pleasure.
Interestingly, the hybrid model weighs around 80kgs less than the diesel version of the car. Delivering a maximum power output of 330bhp and an associated torque figure of 332lbs ft produced from a lowly 1,500 rpm, the new Ghibli Hybrid’s performance data is impressive, with a top speed of 158mph and acceleration from 0-60mph in 5.4s, accompanied by charismatic exhaust notes that are entirely in character with the Maserati image. It is said to emit 192g/km CO2 but can return around 32mpg, which places it close to Porsche levels of efficiency.
As is expected for all new cars, the introduction of the hybrid model means that Maserati can enhance its connectivity package and the new ‘Maserati Connect’ system can update software while on-the-move, as well as ensure that the car’s safety and security addenda are maintained at the optimum levels. You already know what these latter items consist of – blind-spot monitoring, semi-autonomous braking, lane discipline and so on.
In terms of driveability, the new Ghibli hybrid provides assured road holding and exquisite dynamic balance, with powerful Brembo brakes and a self-locking rear differential for confident handling. Traction levels are excellent and the drive through an adaptable, 8-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shift) is smooth and progressive. Crisp steering supports the well-engineered chassis.
Naturally, the car is handsome in appearance and, at just shy of 5.0m in length, there is plenty of space within the cabin, while a 500-litre boot capacity will accommodate golf bags and plenty of luggage. The cockpit features a 10.1-inch touchscreen atop the centre stack and a digital instrument panel for the driver. Special attention has been directed at the cabin ergonomics and the switchgear is vastly improved, with a new logical placement of minor controls that retain a high quality and tactile appeal.
If you were in any doubt about Maserati’s future survival, it would be fair to suggest that the company has never looked so secure. The product range is desirable and customers ‘in the know’ continue to emerge and keep the brand buoyant.
Conclusion: For the corporate buyer, Maserati offers a superior deal, allied to an emotive past but an inspirational future. Hybridisation will continue with the next generation Levante, although Maserati has confirmed that its first all-electric models (GranTurismo and GranCabrio) will not appear until next year.