Not only is a V8 at the heart of the latest-generation Maserati Ghibli for the first time, it’s an exquisite piece of automotive engineering.
Maserati has pulled out its heaviest firepower for its trio of Trofeo models, which includes the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans, along with the Levante SUV, for what is categorically the last hurrah for the V8 with this storied Italian carmaker.
It stands to reason the Ghibli Trofeo could end up as a collector’s item, given the global rush towards electrification. Not just for the V8’s inherent exclusivity, but for the way it propels this Maserati forward and the noise it makes.
That’s not to say the six-cylinder Ghibli doesn’t make its presence known through Sydney’s harbour tunnel. But the Trofeo is a rarer breed, ideal for those who crave ultimate status and the knockout punch it delivers to the senses.
While it’s not a full-blown Ferrari powertrain, it’s part of the F154 family of engines used by both Italian carmakers since 2013. The Maserati version uses a cross-plane crankshaft and wet sump lubrication, while Ferrari incorporates a racier flat-plane crank and dry sump.
There’s plenty of natural-born ferocity dialled into Ghibli Trofeo’s V8, but the car itself is still largely understated, so you’ll need a keen eye to spot the differences between it and its six-cylinder stablemates.
The easiest way to distinguish the Trofeo from the regular Ghibli are the subtle red accents on the side air vents and the lightning bolt on the Trident badge on the C-pillars.
There’s also carbon-fibre strips for the front air duct splitter and rear diffuser, though the art prize must surely go to the re-styled bonnet, sporting two beautifully sculptured air ducts complete with metal grilles.
The Trofeo packs the biggest wallop in the Ghibli range, and therefore commands an eye-watering $90,000 premium over the Ghibli S GranSport and GranLusso, wearing a sticker of $265,000 before on-road costs.
Mercedes-AMG wades in with the E63 S, priced from $253,900 before on-road costs.
Outside, the chrome highlights featured on the regular Ghibli give way to all-black trim on the Trofeo, while 21-inch wheels are fitted to the flagship model instead of the standard 20-inch versions.
Climb inside and the Ghibli Trofeo is similarly understated, save for the exquisite carbon-fibre inlays used throughout the console and door cards.
The full-grain Pieno Fiore leather upholstery, which smells like a freshly-boxed Hermes bag, is also beautifully supple, and together with the embossed Trident logos on the headrests make this a delightful space in which to while away the hours.
New technology also features in the Ghibli Trofeo, led by a high-definition 10.1-inch touchscreen with Maserati Intelligent Assistant built on Google’s new Android Automotive bones.
There’s wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with additional functionality thanks to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant if Siri doesn’t do it for you, as well as DAB+ digital radio.
The driver’s instrument cluster is old-school with a TFT display separating two traditional dials, and there’s an overly large leather wrapped steering wheel that somehow feels right in the Ghibli.
Additional standard features include push-button start, Matrix LED headlights, adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, a 360-degree camera, powered front seats with driver’s memory, a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors, ambient lighting, rain-sensing wipers, power-adjustable steering column, dual-zone climate control, and a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
The Ghibli range has a five-star safety rating from ANCAP with 2014 date stamp.
It received a frontal offset score of 15.47 out of 16, a side impact score of 16 out of 16, and whiplash and pedestrian protection ratings of Good and Acceptable, for a total score of 36.47 out of 37.
For 2021, the Maserati Ghibli is fitted with standard safety features including autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic-sign recognition, and active driving assist.
There’s also front and side airbags for the first row, curtain airbags for the first and second row, and a driver’s knee airbag.
Right off the bat, the quilted Pieno Fiore leather makes for a superb contrast against the metallic grey paint job outside.
Even the dash is covered in the same rich-smelling hide, as are the armrests for both seat rows. Above, there’s a soft alcantara roof liner which extends down the pillars and gives off a first-class ambience.
While I like the fact the central touchscreen has grown, and the graphics are clear, it still looks dated and too similar to the system found in some Jeep models.
That’s not something you’d find in the equivalently-positioned German makes and models, all of which place more emphasis on infotainment and in-car tech.
But, here’s the thing. Whatever the Ghibli Trofeo might lack in the way of cutting-edge screens and electronic gizmos, there’s a wonderful old-school charm to this cockpit, which feels… well, like a Maserati.
That’s a good thing if you like the idea of an Italian thoroughbred parked in your garage instead of a ubiquitous German model.
The heart and soul of the Ghibli Trofeo is a Ferrari-built 3.8-litre twin-turbo petrol V8 making a substantial 433kW of power at 6750rpm and 730Nm of torque between 2250 and 5250rpm.
Maserati claims the Ghibli Trofeo will launch from 0-100km/h in 4.3 seconds with a top speed of 326km/h, making it the equal-fastest Maserati sedan ever made.
It will also decelerate from 100-0km/h in 34 metres.
While the test drive included both track and road components, both were reasonably short and sweet.
While the start button might be a bit unremarkable (it’s not red) and largely hidden behind the right-hand side of the steering wheel, tapping it once is enough to awaken a cracking start-up bark that will put a smile on your face all on its own.
Even at idle there’s an edginess to the exhaust that simply gets the heart pumping. It’s as close to Italy as you’ll get without being there.
Surely, that’s what it’s all about with Maserati. You’re buying into 107 years of racing pedigree and Italian styling at its best.
But here’s the issue. You’ll need to be in Sport Mode to get a proper earful of that glorious high-pitched V8 engine note thanks to Trofeo’s double glazing, which effectively mutes any sound that might otherwise enter the cockpit.
It’s odd, but Maserati is also about refinement, especially when ambling around town or sitting in traffic. Give it a boot though and there’s no mistaking the Ghibli Trofeo for anything but a pure Italian thoroughbred.
It makes a glorious sound, there just needs to be more of it, or at least an exhaust button for those low-speed runs when you still want to hear the V8 sing a bit.
With some clear road ahead, power delivery reveals itself to be deliciously linear, smooth, and largely devoid of any irritating lag, regardless of where you might be in the rev range. It doesn’t get much better than this.
It’s an incredibly free-revving engine, with superb throttle feel best utilised on track – which is exactly where we ended up, at Sydney Motorsports Park for a few quick sessions.
I’m paddle-shifting the ZF eight-speed auto at full noise down the main straight, and the rev needle is nudging 7000rpm at each shift point. Even with a helmet on, the V8 roar is exactly where it needs to be. Heaven.
I thought a track would reveal plenty of shortcomings in the Ghibli Trofeo given its overarching positioning as a luxury sports sedan, but it’s surprisingly adept with a willingness to be pushed hard.
It certainly doesn’t feel like you’re piloting a four-door sedan almost five metres in length, because even in the tighter turns with a reasonable amount of steering lock on it feels comfortable and surprisingly communicative.
You get the sense the engineers at Modena did more than their fair share of track testing with the Ghibli Trofeo, because this is a luxury car that doesn’t mind being hustled at speed.
Put that down to its fully-adaptive Skyhook suspension set-up, that keeps the body in-check at 240km/h into turn one. Even then, I was braking too early.
Yep, the brakes are excellent: strong, but with good pedal feel and progression.
It’s not like I’m holding back. With each lap completed I’m pushing the car harder, and the grip and composure is still there.
Only the P Zeros are conceding at this point due to heat, but that’s well beyond what’s its on-road limits would ever be.
The entire Ghibli range including the Trofeo is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, as well as the choice of two pre-paid three-year servicing plans.
The less-expensive Premium package covers inspections and replacements of consumables and costs for $2750, while the Premium Plus adds replacement front and rear brake pads and discs, along with wiper blades for $5300.
The Ghibli’s service schedule is every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first.
It’s not the fastest thing out of the gate, nor does it make nearly enough noise in the default road-going mode, but the Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is wonderfully rewarding in so many ways.
It looks and feels like you imagine a thoroughbred GT from Maserati should, only the chassis communicates better than any of its more powerful rivals for the pure, unadulterated satisfaction of the driver.
It’s expensive and low-tech in some ways, while residual values are an unknown quantity, but if you’ve got the coin and you want something different to the standard fare you’re going to love the Ghibli Trofeo.
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