THE Maserati Ghibli gets a new range-topping variant, the GranSport, which adds a subtly different, sports-focused edge to the mid-size luxury sedan.
WHAT IS IT?
GranSport spec brings a more athletic edge to the recently refreshed Ghibli range, alongside a new luxury-focused GranLusso variant. The GranSport treatment is available across both Ghibli, Ghibli D and Ghibli S grades, and adds around $20,000 to the base price tag (identical to the GranLusso’s price premium), as well as a slight performance bump for the more potent S-badged version.
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
Maserati started fitting a GranSport badge to its products more than a decade ago, with an emphasis on the ‘Sport’. The cars included a number of engine, suspension, aerodynamic and interior enhancements aimed at buyers wanting a little more out of their Italian thoroughbred. This is our chance to experience what GranSport means to Maserati’s leanest, sportiest four-door.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Even though the Maserati Ghibli S has improved via the running changes is shares with other MY18 variants, it remains something of an acquired taste compared with the Germans, particularly in the subtly enhanced GranSport specification for close to 200 grand. That said, its relative exclusivity does contribute to its head-turning ability, and on the right road, in the right suspension mode, the Ghibli S GranSport is a pleasurable sporting sedan … that still hasn’t achieved its full potential.
PLUS: Improved appearance; responsive twin-turbo V6; high-quality trim; individuality
MINUS: Muted engine soundtrack; busy suspension; cramped rear seat; steep price
THE WHEELS REVIEW
MASERATI once had a proud racing heritage – you’d know that if you recently wandered into its Melbourne showroom to see the wonderful 1950s-era 250F open-wheeler built from spare parts. But these days Maserati is arguably better known in sporting circles for its sponsorship of fast and sometimes record-breaking boats, including the 70-footer that campaigns the annual Sydney to Hobart race.
It’s nice, then, to get the odd reminder that the 103-year-old Italian brand was honed on motorsport. The latest extension of this is the GranSport trim level now extended to the Ghibli sedan as part of a mild 2018 Alfieri-concept-inspired makeover first revealed at last year’s Frankfurt motor show.
On the Ghibli, the GranSport treatment blacks out the three-dimensional grille, adds a different front air dam with extra black details, and includes body-coloured side skirts and a reworked rear diffuser. The range-topper also gets adaptive LED headlights framed in LED daytime running lights. On the C-pillars, the Maserati trident and lightning bolt are framed in blue, while big, red six-piston Brembo calipers clamp the front brake discs. Our Ghibli S GranSport test car’s wheelarches were filled with 21-inch alloys wrapped in 285/30R21 Pirelli P Zeros.
Inside, there’s a sports steering wheel, 12-way electric leather sports seats (with contrasting red and black leather on our test car, dashboard covering included) bearing the Maserati trident in the headrests, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, stunningly crafted cold-touch aluminium paddle shifters attached to the steering column, and aluminium pedal covers. The effect is subtle and elegant – not to mention intelligent, in the case of the console-mounted smartphone drawer – though some parts are clearly rifled from the Fiat-Chrysler parts bin, including the audio controls hidden on the back of the steering wheel’s horizontal spokes. One thing that clearly hasn’t changed, though, is the rear seat; knee and toe room are still tight.
The Ghibli S GranSport is a sports model, so even on its default setting the standard ‘Skyhook’ adaptive air suspension is tautly damped, providing a firm ride. Push the centre console’s suspension button and things become even firmer in Sport, rating as almost uncomfortable on our chopped and lumpy rural back road drive loop. It’s a setting best kept for smoother city streets or the racetrack, then.
The Ghibli’s newly fitted electrically assisted steering system is a game of two halves. In its default mode and at city speeds it is feather light, allowing you to twirl it almost one-fingered from lock to lock. Hit the sport button and, along with an exhaust system now bypassing the silencers (instead of waiting until 3000rpm) to give the V6 a meatier flavour under acceleration, the steering weights up considerably. However, weight does not equal feel, and the Ghibli’s ability to communicate what the front wheels are doing is somewhat muted. Tip it hard into a corner and it’s more a matter of trust until you find the point where it will start to understeer gradually and predictably.
The Ferrari-built V6 now stumps up 321kW and 580Nm, up from the MY17 Ghibli’s 301kW/550Nm, sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic. Engineering challenges have ruled out right-hand-drive versions of the all-wheel-drive European Ghibli. Maserati doesn’t specify how the V6’s performance lift has come about, but it’s enough to wipe 0.1sec off the 0-100km/h sprint (now 4.9sec) and increase top speed to 286km/h.
But the acoustics of that muscular V6 are too muted in the Ghibli S, even with the exhaust opened up in Sport. Our chase car, an almost identically engined Levante S GranSport, growled and snarled with enthusiasm when pushed hard,though its volume may have had something to do with its missing luggage bay cover (it was used to ferry luggage) allowing the exhaust’s acoustics to resonate better. Almost all that theatre – audible from the outside – is lost inside the Ghibli’s cosy cabin.
When giving its all, the Ghibli S GranSport’s acceleration is brisk rather than manic, even from step-off where there’s almost no sign of turbo lag. The ZF eight-speeder’s changes are crisp and smooth, though pace doesn’t build as rapidly as Maserati’s on-paper specs would suggest.
It’s somewhat disappointing that sister brand Alfa Romeo’s much cheaper Giulia QV feels like a more accomplished and talented car than the more expensive, range-topping Ghibli. You could easily expand that assessment to include the Maserati’s German rivals.
The latest MY18 update to the mid-size Maserati is definitely welcome. It means the Ghibli S is better than it was before, but as a tribute to the brand’s long motorsport heritage, the addition of the GranSport badge to the Ghibli range is more of a nod than a hat tip.
2018 MASERATI GHIBLI S GRANSPORT SPECS
Model: Maserati Ghibli S GranSport
Engine: 2979cc V6 (60˚), dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
Max power: 321kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 580Nm @ 2250-4000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 4.9sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 9.6L/100km
On sale: Now