Avanti! Avanti!

‘Avanti! Avanti!’ urges the engine, as the exhaust note booms satisfyingly through the tunnels of the La Provençale Autoroute above Monaco. This is odd; as under the soft leather Lord’s Loafer is the accelerator to a strange beast.  A marriage of modern requirement mixed with absolute racing pedigree. A three-litre, V6, diesel engine of 275 bhp, with nothing less than silk upholstery (by Zegna) and bearing the three-point trident.

Curiously, like Poseidon, the Maserati Ghibli seems drawn to the sea. And this is where the winding roads lie. Beguiling, poised and powerful in diesel form, there is something that does not compute. A grand marque supercar brand, delivering a sporty executive car with diesel power? But is the new Maserati Ghibli a true GT, given its smaller dimensions; and does it stack up as a performance package? And what about it’s sibling, with the four-wheel drive system that won’t make Blighty’s shores, the extraordinary Ghibli S Q4. Weighing in at 1870 kilos, vaunting 404 horsepower, plus a V6 twin-turbo engine with intelligent all-wheel drive, this is the package we at The Review favoured at outset.

The Review’s first glimpse certainly lived up to that of a favoured debutante. At none other than the Yacht Club de Monaco, the car glided across the teak decking with all the presence of the quietest couture catwalk. Whispering, not shouting, has always been a Zegna – with the exception of perhaps the MC12 – a Maserati trait. That said, a lineup of modern Ghibli with an original sixties model in Casino Square still has the ability to make jaws drop in the beauty parade outside the Casino de Monte Carlo. We are left in no doubt about the pedigree of the car we are here to drive.

Switch the scene to driving the non-UK spec petrol 4wd version and around the restricted coast roads of St. Maxime and the Ghibli’s size, skyhook adaptive suspension and weight-power balance come into their own. Gear changes on the excellent ZF 8 speed paddle shift become obsessively and intentionally long and lazy. This induces the Ghibli to play a Riviera concerto in crackles, pops and bangs on deceleration into every hairpin; accelerating out induces a pleasing cacophony. That’s not to say the diesel doesn’t make its owns music – in a most un-diesel-like way!

This car begs to be driven spiritedly: the power transfer, usually rear biased, works well directing up to fifty percent of the power to the front wheels. The adaptive suspension allows you to power confidently out of every bend, no matter how degraded the tarmac is or the degree of camber. The Ghibli handles the coast road effortlessly, encouraging you to push uphill and enjoy its good-natured handling to tightly slalom downhill. This is a driving experience that the other class contenders just could not deliver. They may be more predictable in handling, but is it not a driving ‘experience’ that we all crave? With every hairpin you become more confident and this car still retains the feel of driving a true Italian performance machine in great comfort.

In these days of waning parking-space size and valets, the dimensions are all important. At 4.97 metres long and 1.94 metres wide, this is not a small car, yet feels perfectly sized for the tight roads of the Cote D’Azure. Ghibli can, however, transport five adults in great comfort with a boot capacity of 501 litres; enough to take all their luggage with no cabin egress.

The sculpted lines of the car belie its capacity and the snout gives it a presence that the euro-boxes can’t match in the war of the restaurant carpark. This is a car you will return to find displayed outside the restaurant and not hidden in some anonymous corner.

There are some features that leave you in no doubt that you are in a Maserati, and this is uncompromised by its price positioning. The rear sunblind remains, raising automatically in reverse, leaving passengers in with confirmation, if needed, this is still a luxury car. The Bowers and Wilkins sound system delivers, as you would expect, exemplary sound. The audio is excellent with punchy deep bass tones fully enveloping the cabin and sounds as good in the rear as the front.

There are no fewer than 15 speakers secreted in the vehicle and a 16 channel 1,280-watt amplifier. Connectivity is simple, and the in-car systems easily outclass the German brethren. Apple Car Play is standard and a 360-degree view of the car is integrated too. Integrated satnav is a little clumsy yet acceptable; although our assessment of it was not helped by the signal challenges of the principality.

From Maobi Beach in Agay, the Provencal roads twist and turn through honey-coloured canyons climbing away from the sea. The scent of rosemary and sage fill the air. Having swapped to the Ghibli diesel, which is identically regaled with options, the quandary begins in earnest.

The Ghibli Diesel’s exhaust note once again seeks to confuse the aural senses. Tuned to output a more throaty note when required, it lacks the fireworks of the SQ4 and is a little nasal, but still delivers beyond the normal petrol or diesel, causing myself and my companion to smile on every gear change. The car still retains its balance in rear wheel drive only configuration. There is a little more vibration and feedback through the steering from the heavier engine, with a little more enhanced road noise than perhaps others in class; but this does not negate the car’s overall driving comfort or feedback. With a combined range of roughly 850 miles, this suddenly becomes a serious contender for arriving in style and comfort, if the head is allowed to rule the heart. The 8-speed ZF gearbox on the diesel again changes quickly and without drama, the slick paddle shift again adding to the performance car feel. With a 0-60mph time of 6.3 seconds, the diesel is no slowcoach to its 5-second petrol sister; the difference being, one will be on the heels of the other until the petroleum distillate runs out.

The Ghibli Diesel is a drive to be savoured and immersed in the silken upholstered world of Maserati. Our destination is the simplicity of Phillip Stark’s restaurant A’ Trego in Cap D’Ail. An exceptional location fitting of a Maserati and its occupants at the water’s edge on the causeway border between France and Monaco.

Over lunch, the hardest decision is not what to eat, but Ghibli Diesel or SQ4? Were the all-wheel drive was available in the UK, there would be a harder decision to be made. The heart would immediately have demanded it without proper reference to the diesel. The diesel has an ability to get under your skin, as it challenges all preconceptions and ultimately delivers. It is not perfect, but as a driver, I want something unrobotic with its own characteristics – and this fits the bill.

Maserati is punching firmly to rival Audi and BMW with this vehicle, but given the heritage and badging, surely that’s a victory that is achieved instantly? In the echelons of the corporations, it’s surely clear that this would be the favoured weapon on the battlefields of hotel, golf club and executive car park compared with the faceless alternatives.

Maybe the Maserati Ghibli diesel is the new inspired GT in these times? It would certainly seem to be the case when referencing its major positives: exhaust note, capacity, range, torque, balance, driving, and whisperability.

Ultimately, the Maserati Ghibli has the turn of speed of a polo player, with the presence of a patron. And in diesel form, it’s a wholehearted mile guzzling GT. It begs to be driven and, as a driver, you must be able to fully appreciate its nuances. Aimed squarely at top level German executive car fodder, you have to ask yourself: why have leather when you can have silk?

Rob Bellinger

RB, Bon Vivant, Man About Town and modern day Hemingway. The Review's Lifestyle Editor has been pontificating on the finer things in life since the dawn of time. Always armed with a Magnum of Champagne, an international race license and an arsenal of cars; he's the life, soul and ambience of the soirée.

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