JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – It is not often that we get behind the wheel of a new Maserati but with this being the entry-level model to the Ghibli range, it is an important car. This is the very first hybrid model offered by Maserati. We find out what it is like to drive.
Nearly all manufacturers have to go through it – developing and releasing cars which is they probably feel uncomfortable in doing, but don’t have a choice. Think Porsche Cayenne, Lamborghini Urus and even Ferrari’s upcoming SUV. However, the first two have been clear winners in terms of sale success stories. Maserati’s Levante SUV also heavily contributes to its bottom line sale figures and at least Maserati have been building sedans for a very long time, not just sports cars. But, those sedans have never been fitted with a four-cylinder engine. Now it has and it is hybrid as well; another first in the company’s history.
Called the Maserati Ghiblli Hybrid, this model forms the first step to the range which tops out with the 427 kW/730 N.m Ghibli Trofeo.
Drivetrain and design
The mild-hybrid system in the Maserati features a 48-volt alternator with an additional electric supercharger which is supported by a battery. The result is that the car cannot run on the battery alone but that the system supports the internal combustion engine while driving.
From the outside, the Ghibli looks as stylish and elegant as before. Even though this might be the hybrid model, the aggressively designed front of the car with the large grille and the Trident in the middle grabs your attention immediately. Maserati has also incorporated some neat exterior details harking back to its modern classic, the 3200 GT, visible in the boomerang-like profile of the rear lights. It might be fitted with a four-cylinder engine, but the four exhaust pipes underneath the chiselled lower rear bumper remains. The 18-inch multi-spoke wheels purposefully fill the wheel arches and are thinly wrapped in low-profile tyres. One can recognise that it is the hybrid model by specific details. These include, but is not limited to, the three blue side air ducts at the side of the car on the front fenders.
Climb inside and this same blue colour is visible on the stitching of the seats. The cabin is modern and classy at the same time. The modern touch is mostly evident by the clear, large and easy to use infotainment screen which debuts Maserati’s latest Connect program. According to Maserati, this system “improves the services offered to the driver, updating software packages, the system performances check on the car and monitors the Safety Security services in emergencies.”
Needless to say, the cabin felt of high quality, being it the leather or any of the surfaces you touch or feel. There is a high-end Bowers & Wilkins sound system and one of the highlights for me, and an iconic touch to Maserati cabins is the watch above the centre console. The use of the Trident on the steering wheel and gearlever in a subtle but beautiful manner contribute to the stylish cabin. Open the windows and you note the double-glazed glass, peek down at the foot pedals and these are solid metal units.
Behind the wheel
Heading out of Johannesburg, it is evident how well insulated the Ghibli is. The 2,0-litre, turbocharged engine is expectedly quiet but when you activate the Sport button, this fortunately changes and a semi-deep, bubbling sound from the exhaust can be heard. Maserati makes it very clear that the sound is not amplified through the speakers but only comes from the exhaust pipes. Kudos to them.
The gearbox paddles are mounted on the steering column and although paddles fitted to a steering wheel is always easier to operate, these longer paddles make them easy to reach and a joy to use.
Offering a combined output of 243 kW and 450 N.m, performance on offer is never an issue. Even during modest throttle applications you can quickly accelerate or overtake traffic. It does this in a comfortable and torque-rich manner. Owing to the power unit, there is an immediate amount of torque, ideal for citing driving. Thankfully the suspension button works independently from the Sport button, which means you can have a sporty drive, with still the subtle suspension setup.
We made out way out of Johannesburg towards the Cradle of Humankind to stretch the Maserati’s legs. Through these corners the Maserati hides its 1,9 tonne quite well. It feels composed through the corners while there is enough performance to enjoy yourself and make quick progress. The drivetrain has a very linear manner in which it delivers its performance. Even being equipped with such a small capacity engine, the engine revs at 1 600 r/min at an indicated 120 km/h – resulting in a very relaxing highway drive.
This is the first step in the brands electrification plan. Next in line will be the release of full electric models in the shape of the new GranTurismo and the GranCabrio. As the MC20 supercar arrives later this year, it is indeed exciting times ahead for this Italian brand.