Maserati is known for building the quintessential Italian GT car and the Ghibli was created to be just that with four doors, ample luggage room, a competent sports chassis and a furious engine that makes furious noise. Then they complemented that with an oil-burner for those looking to enter the Maser fray at a cheaper price tag. But that was then (5 years ago) and this is now. Things have changed at Maserati and the focus is set to adopt electric drivetrains underneath the Trident-badged bodies. This updated Ghibli Hybrid is very much the start of this entire process.
Inspect the slightly updated design and you’ll only notice blue trim finishes on the trio of side vents and on the Trident aft of the C-pillars. You could also option the brake calipers to be finished in the same colour for the perfect match to contrast a new Grigio Evoluzione Grey colour that is exclusive to the Hybrid. The Hybrid is offered in two trims, the GranSport and the GranLusso each of which is characterised by subtle styling tweaks that favour sport over luxury.
At the rear, the Ghibli Hybrid tail lamps have been revised with a ‘boomerang’ design that features a strong LED light strip bringing that aging design back into a more modern style. The Ghibli is understated as far as Italian design goes but it becomes more stunning the closer you inspect the panels.
The updated cabin is stunning to the eye. It feels almost entirely new thanks to a 10.1-inch infotainment system screen that makes up a bezel-free centre piece. The infotainment system features the latest generation software called Maserati Connect. Developed in conjunction with Google, it provides all the connectivity and communication one demands at this level including app-based command and connectivity to access a number of functions from your device. The operating system is fast and slick also allowing for smartphone-mirroring on Android and Apple devices.
The standard for the rest of the cabin is on the upside of luxury – a tasteful mix of materials and lighting evokes a sense of passionate design. It feels beautifully put together apart from a squeaky dashboard during our drive, the entire cabin exudes a sense of requisite elegance. In this bracket, the options list allows the luxury of configuration – the ability to choose between nice and really nice. 3 sound system options are available from the base line Harman/Kardon 280W system to the 1,280W 15-speaker Surround Sound Bowers & Wilkins.
The Ghibli also offers a 500-litre boot and generous head and leg room in the rear. One sits quite low in the back seat, a good trait of luxury accommodations.
At first, the thought of Maserati installing a hybrid drivetrain sounded worrying but the progress of hybrid drivetrains has come a long way even with a 2.0-litre engine bias. Speaking of sound, the Ghibli Hybrid sounds rather pleasant as I fire up the engine. There’s enough of a burble at idle to keep me intrigued. That aural inflection is an important part of the Maserati DNA. No, it doesn’t sound anything like a V8 Trofeo but it is enough of an impression to warrant a real inspection of this mild-hybrid set up.
Under the skin lies a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine that apparently started life as the Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0t. Maserati has reworked the engine entirely to deliver more torque and power and then partnered this up with a 48V mild hybrid system. The system consists of a belt-starter generator, a small battery that is located in the boot and an electric motor. The system is said to work in tandem with the combustion engine at low revs, effectively reducing turbo lag and ensuring immediate power the moment you bury the throttle. In the real world, this isn’t quite the case. There certainly is lag, but with less of a wait than any petrol-powered, single-turbo equivalent without the hybrid system. Maserati has put together one of the most engaging small-engine hybrids I’ve driven.
It delivers a pleasant surprise from the moment you command some power, delivering all 246kW in a satisfying way. There’s an unmistakable growl too and it’s hard to achieve that this has been achieved without the use of some audio manipulation, but Maserati insists the Hybrid purrs entirely on its own.
Beyond the sound there is a confident solidity to the drive. The adoption of electric steering has enhanced the feel making it perfectly weighted for spirited driving. The steering is also finished in a supple natural leather with aluminium shift paddles. From here, the Ghibli Hybrid goes as directed maintaining a commendable balance through flowing passes. Mid corner weight changes never seemed to unsettle the chassis thanks to Maser’s suite of electronic systems and a generous use of aluminium in the suspension. It is an all-round performer, impressive in its dynamic resourcefulness ably delivering excellent on-road comfort and entertaining handling. It is good, even as the baby in the range.
This is the first ‘electrified’ Maserati ever and it’s the one to usher in a whole generation of Trident-badged electric sportscars. It’s the opening act to full on electrification. MC20 will include an all-electric version in its lifecycle and GranTurismo and GranCabrio will all be introduced as all-electric sports cars later this year.
But Maserati isn’t just making sportscars, it must prioritise technology and luxury as well and the electrified future panders to that. A key component to this is the number of driving assistance systems available on the new Ghibli Hybrid offering levels of autonomy and safety expected at this level.
It’s a level in which there are a number of excellent alternatives. From a Panamera to a BMW 5-Series or 6-Series GC, the Maserati plays in a tough pen. Maserati SA has to deliver impeccable levels of service and added value to truly ensure its small footprint doesn’t lose customers – and with that, the exclusivity and the heritage of the Trident badge sets the Ghibli apart from the rest.
At the base price of R1 642 200, the Ghibli still offers you the choice of building exactly the car you want, albeit at almost R400 000 less than the next Ghibli 350 V6. Will you lose much in the overall experience? Maybe just a little, but not R400 000 worth. Ghibli may seem complex on paper, but it’s every bit a Maser as the rest of them.
It is still however, priced right up there - and for less money there are some German alternatives that will appease the same need with larger or stronger national footprints…but they’re not Italian with a Trident badge and that still counts for some level of exclusivity doesn’t it?