After decades of ups and downs, Maserati seems to be on the right path to success - thanks largely to Ferrari's early stewardship. Maserati is pretty much on its own but is still tethered to the mothership, which still makes its engines
Return of the Ghibli Smaller and more agile than the Quattroporte, the Ghibli is anything but bland. -- PHOTO: MASERATI

After decades of ups and downs, Maserati seems to be on the right path to success - thanks largely to Ferrari's early stewardship. Maserati is pretty much on its own but is still tethered to the mothership, which still makes its engines.

The less glamorous brand is now looking to raise sales dramatically - from barely 8,000 a year to 50,000 by 2015. The plan calls for a revival of smaller models, such as the Ghibli (which was last seen here in the 1990s).

An SUV is also part of the expansion plan. The Levante sports-utility vehicle will appear some time next year, but the Ghibli is ready to rock right now.

Those who are old enough to remember the Ghibli name (which dates back to 1967) will be surprised to learn it is no longer a coupe, but a four-door saloon.

(Historically, Maserati had two four-door models: the Quattroporte which is still in production, and the defunct Biturbo of the 1990s, a name it would rather we forget.)

The Ghibli is built on a shortened Quattroporte platform. It is powered by a V6, instead of the Quatt's V8.

So, the car is noticeably smaller than the sedan, and less powerful. But the reduction in size (and thus weight) makes the Ghibli more manoeuvrable and agile.

Being less spacious than the Quattroporte is as disadvantageous as one might think. The Ghibli's well- designed and very Italian interior make knobs and controls more easily accessible.

The car is not really that small. It is about the size of the BMW Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLS, models which the Ghibli is aimed at.

For the first time in Maserati's history, a diesel model is included in the line-up, which also includes an all-wheel-drive called the Ghibli S Q4.

The S denotes the model with a high-power bi-turbo V6 pumping out a heady 410bhp. The normal Ghibli has 80bhp less at 330 bhp, but it makes a brilliant entry-level variant.

The Ghibli diesel with 275bhp and 600Nm of torque has a surprisingly sporty exhaust note.

Unfortunately, Singapore will not be getting the Q4 just yet, as Maserati is not prepared to tool up for a right-hand-drive version until it receives a significant order from Britain.

The Q4 adds far more than improved traction to the Ghibli's capabilities. Its clever active torque split provides another dimension to its handling balance - by constantly shuffling torque between the axles to achieve neutral balance beyond what the rear-wheel Ghibli offers. Nevertheless, I still prefer the latter because it offers one of the finest examples of a traditional rear-wheel-drive experience.

At the wheel, it becomes immediately obvious the car is extremely well sorted. It is not the engine that is noticed first, but the well-damped suspension and the positive steering. Even in Sport mode, the ride is exemplary, taking the sting out of the worst tarmac.

The 330bhp engine, capable of sending the car to 100kmh in just 5.6 seconds, is an excellent pairing with the chassis. It is certainly different from previous Maseratis, as it is driven with mid-range torque (500Nm) rather than high-revving power.

Inside, the car seems a bit too "polite", without the characteristic bark of the Quatt or its rumbling exhaust. But outside, it is just as loud.

The 410bhp version is a lot more in your face. It delivers real attitude as it roars and crackles like a bad-tempered race engine (it has impeccable manners, though).

Where the 330bhp engine runs out of puff (above 5,000rpm), the 410bhp unit rushes to the 6,500rpm redline to dish out a five-second century sprint. If price is not an issue, this is the one to have.

Clever as the new Ghibli range is, the segment it is entering is far more competitive today than when Ferrari was at the helm in the 1990s.

Audi, BMW and Mercedes currently occupy the front two rows of the grid, and Jaguar is not far behind.

Even though Maserati has arguably a more elevated image, its return to the hotly contested segment will be fraught with danger if the product at hand is bland. Fortunately, the Ghibli is anything but.

CAR INFORMATION

Maserati Ghibli 3.0 V6 (A)

Price

:$368,800

Engine Type

:

V6 Twin-Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

2,979 cc

Horsepower

:

350 bhp

Torque

:

500 Nm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A)

Acceleration

:

5.6 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

263 km/h

 
Maserati Ghibli S 3.0 V6 (A)

Price

:POA

Engine Type

:

V6 Twin-Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

2,979 cc

Horsepower

:

405 bhp

Torque

:

550 Nm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A)

Acceleration

:

5 sec (0-100 km/h)

Top Speed

:

285 km/h