Ladies and gentlemen, Maserati is back. The marque that makes some of the most desirable sedans and sportscars on the planet has returned to India after a brief hiatus that was the result of a less-than-desirable tussle with its previous Indian dealer. And what a great time for it too. While the last time around, the brand had a V8-only model range of two cars, it’s growing quite rapidly now. There’s a new, smaller sedan that’s hoping to rake in younger buyers, there’ll be an SUV very soon, and there’s even – gasp – a diesel engine option this time. What all this means is that there are more Masers for you to choose from, and it’s the two very latest offerings that the company is debuting with on its second innings in India – the all-new Quattroporte and the Ghibli.
Now, having never seen either of them in the flesh, when the first one pulls up by itself, my reaction is, “That is a big car; how the hell did it make it through the gate?” It’s low though, with a roof that curves down between a pair of rather prominent rear haunches, which only exaggerate just how wide it is. The bonnet stretches a long way ahead of the windscreen, but its length is masked by heavy contours, and the flanks that curve outward just above the wheel arches. It scowls at you from behind a big chrome Maserati trident, the front pinching together towards the aggressive nose.
It’s at this point that I’m interrupted by a snarl from the gate, and I look up to realise the car I’ve been gawping at so far is, in fact, the smaller one. As all 17.2 feet of the Quattroporte glides in and parks up alongside, I start to see the contrast between the two that you just can’t tell from the pictures. The family resemblance is all there, but where the Ghibli looks taut, muscular and tightly skinned, the Quattroporte seems to revel in its incredible length. Its tiny headlamps only amplify this, as does its massive 3.2-metre wheelbase – this is truly a full-size limousine. But it’s somehow not. It too has an angry bonnet, and hips that want to be seen, and a window line that kinks up just at the right spot. These are no ordinary luxury sedans, that’s for sure.
They’re more emotive, even without turning a wheel; they’re more art than science; and they can turn heads without resorting to loud noises and big wings. Even when they’re painted brown and grey!
If you thought the exteriors of these cars were a huge departure from the luxury sedan norm, you should see the interiors. It’s easy to point a finger and say all German cars follow templates and are just slightly varied versions of the exact same formula, but you’ll find a similar layout in luxury cars from most other countries too. Not Italy though; they like to do things their own way. The Ghibli’s cabin, for instance, seems like it has entirely too many materials for its own good – various shades and textures of leather, different grains of wood, piano-black plastic, glossy and brushed chrome, the works, and ordinarily, this would be the recipe for a god-awful mess. But again, it’s somehow not. In the Quattroporte, there’s even carbonfibre thrown into the mix, but it all comes together in a classy unison that only the Italians could pull off. If it’s flair you want, you’ve come to the right place. It is, however, the execution of all this flair where things start to go awry. For instance, I have faith that the carbonfibre beneath the generous lacquer coating is genuine, but it feels a little sharp around the edges, which you can feel where it meets the leather dashboard. Similarly, the unpolished wood on the Ghibli’s centre console feels marvellous at your fingertips, but the way the opening cubbyhole doesn’t sit flush with the surface just isn’t something you’d expect in a modern luxury car. I will admit I’m nitpicking – this is still a wonderful place to be sat, but the bar for fit and finish has been set much higher.
When it comes to the back seat, the Quattroporte is a proper limo, with plenty of room to stretch your legs.
The trend continues with the technology in both Maseratis, which while it has most of the functionality you need, but no more, isn’t as polished by the standards of today. The 8-inch touchscreen that operates the infotainment and many vehicle functions, for instance, works pretty logically, but it uses a low-res screen, a rather basic-looking interface and is slow and clunky in its operation. The controls are unconventional too. Grip the smart leather steering wheel and you’ll find buttons not just on the front but, weirdly, at the rear too; you’ll need to play around for a bit to figure out what they do. And while you’ll love the large, metal paddle shifters fixed to the steering column like they are in a Ferrari, you have to reach around them to access the single stalk on the left, which operates the indicators, wipers and the high-beam controls. The last thing you want to do instead of turning on your wipers is shift down a gear. Of course, this is of little consequence to chauffeured owners, who will likely be a lot happier with their half of the cabin. Both cars defy their svelte looks with rear seats that are surprisingly spacious. There could have perhaps been a bit more knee-room in the Ghibli, and the seat is a little snug, but it’s far from uncomfortable, and in fact, feels really plush. The Quattroporte is just huge in the back, with loads of legroom, and even has the option for a central console between the seats and rear entertainment screens; proper luxury, this.
Fit and finish may be a bit patchy, but the glamour quotient in both cars is just sky high.
But these are Maseratis, so they’re also very much sportscars, which is evident the moment you hop into the driver’s seat. It’s properly low, even when you’ve raised it all the way, and if you’re not very tall, your view out the front is nothing but endless bonnet. These cars also have long wheelbases and generous overhangs, which makes the ramp breakover and approach angles woefully inadequate on Indian roads. Quite frankly, most supercars aren’t as much
of a bother on Mumbai streets as these two are right now. The ground clearance is low, and prohibitively so. If those Italian good looks didn’t draw the crowd, the fact that I have to crawl sideways over even medium-size speedbreakers surely has. And after doing this a few times, I realise the steering weight gets quite taxing at low speeds. It makes you feel every last inch of these cars’ massive dimensions, and that’s before I’ve tried parking in a tight spot. Flicking between Drive and Reverse on the electronic gear selector is infuriating; it’s all too easy to jump into Park or Neutral, and you find yourself tapping the lever to and fro a few times before getting it right.
The handling in both Maseratis is more grand tourer than sharply honed sportscar.
By now, that feeling of supremacy is scrubbing off fast. Redemption, however, comes as a section of flat empty road opens up. That snarl I heard earlier came from the Quattroporte GTS’s 523bhp 3.8-litre, all-aluminium, twin-turbo V8, which is very closely related to the ones Ferrari uses in the California T and the 488 GTB. Yes, all is quickly forgiven as the 1.9-tonne limo hikes up its skirts and scoots away briskly thanks to 72.4kgm of turbocharged torque. It does sound a little more muted than I expected inside the cabin though. 100kph comes up in just 5.13 seconds and though this iteration of ZF’s eight-speed auto isn’t perhaps as smooth as we’ve seen elsewhere, it sure is quick to shift. Less impressive is the 271bhp 3.0 V6 diesel in the Ghibli; the same VM Motori unit that’ll be used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s right now the only option on this car, though the 404bhp twin-turbo petrol V6 that Shapur sampled last month will be coming next year. The oil-burner isn’t as lively as any of the other luxury sixes around. In fact, for the first half of the accelerator pedal’s travel, you get almost nothing, and it rolls off the line very leisurely. I push further and it wakes up, smoothly and gently, with a strong 61.18kgm gust. Push too hard and there’s a tsunami of torque which gets the rear-end wiggling alarmingly, even with the traction control on! I soon realise the performance is all there, but it’s just not as manic as you’d expect in a Maserati, and the powerband is quite narrow. This one is definitely more GT than sports sedan. One pleasant surprise is the sound – press the Sport button and it belts out a delicious rumble that’s enough to turn your perception of diesel engines on its head.
If it’s punch you want, you can’t do much worse than a Ferrari-sourced turbo V8.
The dynamics depend in a big way on whether Maserati’s ‘Skyhook’ adaptive suspension is checked on the options list or not; this Quattroporte has it, the Ghibli does not. It could be that the big limo is set up with a little more comfort in mind, as the ride in normal mode is really rather good. In Sport, it does dance around a bit more on an uneven road, but it’s still quite absorbent, which is great given how much more controlled it feels around corners in this mode. The Ghibli, on its passive dampers, feels neither here nor there, with a lumpy ride at low speeds ◊ ∆ that improves only slightly as you go faster. There’s also quite a bit of scuttle shake over bumps. The weighty steering does give me confidence as I hammer it around the corner, but it’s not very direct, and there is a little more body roll than I would have liked. Shame.
Smooth, torquey VM Motori 3.0-litre sounds soulful like no diesel engine should.
The Italian Job
Let’s get this out of the way right now. Rs 1.1 crore and Rs 2.2 crore is what the Ghibli diesel and Quattroporte GTS cost, respectively, and that’s ex-showroom, before options. That puts them well out of reach of conventional luxury sedans and into the serious performance airspace populated by BMW M, Mercedes-AMG, Audi RS and even Porsche. They are, however, seriously desirable cars, and even if the badge isn’t recognised as easily on our roads, their drop-dead-gorgeous styling will definitely make anyone crane their neck to have a look. Maserati also stands out as a really cool, alternative choice that sets you apart from the herd, and that in itself is a good feeling. However, while the Ferrari-engined Quattroporte GTS could maybe sway you into the showroom, the Ghibli diesel just doesn’t make a strong enough case for its price. And on top of that, both these cars lack that certain finesse that’s been achieved by the rest in this day and age – be it in quality, functionality or technology. Not to mention the lack of a strong service network, and the fact that you will cringe every time you see a speed breaker. Maseratis make you feel really special, but it comes at quite a cost.