The thought of driving a Maserati Ghibli Hybrid with a four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet wasn’t exactly scintillating, especially coming out of the rip-snorting Ghibli Trofeo.
Perceptions can be dangerous, though. Right from the get-go, the Ghibli Hybrid makes its own kind of concerto.
If you’re wondering why Maserati has bothered to develop a hybrid Ghibli in the first place, the answer lies in the fact this mild hybrid has effectively replaced the entry-level Ghibli Diesel.
The Hybrid doesn’t cost the earth and you still get stunning bodywork – but with more go, improved fuel economy, and lower emissions.
Unless, of course, you choose the ultra-exclusive Fenice Special Edition tested here, which wears a price tag of almost $200,000.
Named after one of the most famous Italian landmarks, the Teatro La Fenice, this is one of just 50 cars produced worldwide, and the only one in Australia.
It’s a high price for a four-cylinder sedan, but for cashed-up fans of the Maserati brand and its glorious motorsport past, there are a few things that might sway you. Take the Rosso Magma paint, 20-inch wheels, or anodised blue details.
The 2021 Maserati Ghibli Hybrid is an entry-level model priced from $139,990 before on-road costs, while the Hybrid GranLusso and GranSport versions wear the same $163,990 sticker price despite being two very different offerings.
The Maserati Ghibli Hybrid Fenice Special Edition tested here is based on the luxury-skewed Ghibli GranLusso, and is priced from $198,800 before on-road costs.
If you’d rather have a six under the bonnet of your Maserati Ghibli, the least expensive way is the car simply badged Ghibli.
It’s priced from $144,990 before on-roads, and swaps the four for a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6. That’s something to consider before signing on the dotted line.
Stepping up to the Ghibli in either GranSport or GranLusso trims costs $168,990 before on-roads, and the more powerful Ghibli S will set you back $175,000 before on-roads and options.
Apart from those eye-catching anodised blue accents, there’s a comprehensive list of standard equipment that comes with the entry-level car, including a new frameless 10.1-inch touchscreen as part of Maserati Intelligent Assistant running on the Android Automotive operating system.
As per the GranLusso on which the special edition Ghibli is based, there’s also wireless Apple CarPlay, DAB+ digital radio, adaptive cruise with stop/go, power front seats with driver’s memory, and a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors.
There’s also ambient lighting, rain-sensing wipers, auto Matrix LED headlights, heated washer jets, a power-adjustable steering column, soft-close doors, power boot lid, and front/rear seat heating.
Additionally, the Hybrid Fenice gains super-supple Black Pienofiore leather upholstery with red stitching, a Trident contrast stitched on the headrests, carbon-fibre trim bits on the centre console, and limited-edition badging.
The entire Ghibli range gets a five-star safety rating from ANCAP, albeit with a 2014 date stamp.
It scored 15.47 out of 16 in the frontal offset crash test, 16 out of 16 for the side impact test, and whiplash and pedestrian protection ratings of Good and Acceptable respectively.
More importantly, all Maserati Ghibli models come with autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, and active driving assist.
There’s also seven airbags, including front and side airbags for the driver’s and passenger’s front seats, curtain airbags for the first and second row, and a driver’s knee airbag.
The leather is exquisite on the thickly-cushioned seats and the carbon-fibre trim on the console and door cards looks special, but overall it’s less special than you might expect of a car costing almost $200,000.
That said, the new 10.1-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay is clear with fast responses, and the free-standing clock is typical of this storied marque, as are the leather-lined dash, steering wheel and shifter, but there’s something missing.
The Ghibli is a big car, measuring 4971mm long and 2128mm wide including the door mirrors, but rear legroom is only adequate.
There’s plenty of storage space up front in the oversized console bin, along with both USB-C and USB-A ports for charging.
There’s plenty of room in the boot, with 500 litres available and a sufficiently large aperture for easy loading.
This is the first electrified Maserati in the marque’s 107-year existence. It’s also only a mild hybrid, combining a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged Alfa Romeo engine with a 48V electrical system.
The hybrid part is a small battery pack in the boot that’s clearly visible under the boot liner, a belt-driven starter that acts as an alternator, and an eBooster that backs up the single-scroll turbocharger for more boost at lower revs.
As far as efficiencies go, the hybrid system uses 25 per cent less CO2 than the old entry model. The hybrid weighs around 80kg less than the old diesel and has better weight distribution, with the battery pack mounted in the boot.
The technology also recovers energy under brakes and stores it in the battery to be deployed when you mat the throttle.
The Ghibli Hybrid makes 246kW of power at 5750rpm and 450Nm of torque from 4000rpm.
It can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds, with a top speed of 255km/h.
That compares with 257kW and 500Nm for the standard Ghibli models with a 3.0-litre V6, which can go from 0-100 in 5.5 seconds, and 316kW and 580Nm for the S versions with a sprint time of 4.9 seconds.
With performance outputs that barely warrant a second look these days and a kerb weight of 1950kg, it’s hard to get excited, especially when you factor in this car’s hefty price.
But it is a Maserati, and you have to have a bit of faith the engineers will dial in some pace and excitement. That’s what I was thinking as I climbed in and hit the starter button.
There’s a keen start-up note, and when you punch it there’s good throttle response without much lag.
It’s impressive, more so when you keep your right foot buried and the Ghibli Hybrid delivers proper, sustained go. The engine spins surprisingly freely; so much so we got caught a few times at the rev limiter.
Mind, the throttle also tends to be a bit doughy, and the exhaust note still needs to be louder, especially with Sport engaged – but it feels quicker than the numbers might suggest.
What is it with the latest stable of Maseratis? All of them bar the Levante Trofeo need to be louder – not offensively so, just enough to enjoy.
To make matters worse, there’s barely a throttle-blip on the downshift in Sport mode. You pull the exquisite metal paddles and there’s barely an audible response.
Am I missing something here, or is this a result of noise restrictions applied to the auto industry?
Pity, because the Ghibli’s eight-speed auto is good. Smooth, robust and quick shifting, but without the proper sound effects. While it’s punchy off the line, there’s real determination in the mid-range. It feels properly quick, with good balance.
Despite its heft, it also feels quick on its feet. The front end feels light, with a willingness to change direction quickly while displaying excellent composure, but it could do with more communication through the steering wheel.
There’s only one real issue: ride comfort can be a bit hit and miss. It’s a little too sharp for my liking, though it handles broken road with sufficient compliance so as not to completely upset the car.
Maserati offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and a choice of two pre-paid, three-year servicing plans for the Ghibli.
The entry-level Premium package costs $2750, and covers all inspections and replacements of consumables, while the Premium Plus option costs $5320 and adds brake discs and wiper blades.
Service intervals for the Ghibli are 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first.
Although it employs only mild-hybrid technology, we found the Ghibli Hybrid to be pleasingly economical, even when driven with a solid dab of vigour. The factory claims 8.5-9.6L/100km on a combined cycle using the WLTP metric, but we averaged closer 12.7L/100km, with CO2 emissions between a claimed 192-216g/km.
That compares favourably with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo Ghibli, which claims 10.7L/100km and 243g/km CO2 emissions, respectively.
It’s hard to justify the hefty price of this Special Edition, but as a standalone the hybrid powertrain works surprisingly well in the Ghibli.
It’s also satisfyingly rapid with good response and solid mid-range performance. Despite its near-1900kg heft, the Ghibli Hybrid hides its weight brilliantly with a sharp front end and a balanced chassis.
You can’t deny Ghibli’s thoroughbred good looks. It’s stunning in the metal and a proper head turner over the German makes and models so common on our roads.
It just needs more noise, or at least a button that dials it up a notch even when you’re cruising around.
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