In the UK, which is expected to be its third largest market worldwide, Maserati is targeting a staggering 10-fold sales increase between 2012 and 2016, from 300 units to 3,000. The Ghibli and Levante will count for more than 90 per cent of that growth while an expanding dealer network will service the vast influx of new customers, private and fleet.
From the dark side
The £48,830, 275hp diesel model - a word on which later - will account for 70 per cent of Ghibli sales in the UK, but the most PH model of the range at launch will be the 410hp S, driven here, costing £63,415. The third model is a 330hp petrol, priced between the two at £52,275.
Immediately, then, the Ghibli S has stolen a march on its direct competitors for the badge, the styling and the cabin are all just that much more appealing, that little bit less derivative. For many of the 1,000 Ghibli customers that Maserati hopes to find in the UK this year, that'll be enough to seal the deal. A pity, though, that the outlook begins to look rather less sunny once on the move.
Trident too hard
Repeat after me, 'This is not an M5 rival'. So why, pray tell, does it ride like sports car? Around town it's fidgety, over larger surface imperfections it's crashy and there isn't the level of damping quality that you'd expect of a luxury saloon car. A button marked I.C.E. - which, confusingly, the Maserati folk refer to as Increased Comfort and Efficiency, while the dashboard display reads Increased Ctrl and Efficiency - knocks the firmness back a little, but only improves the quality of the ride by the very slightest degree. Tapping that button will become as much of part of the start up procedure as prodding the engine start.
The poor steering is particularly disappointing because once the road opens up a little, and as a few quick laps of a test track highlighted, there is a keen and agile chassis beneath the bodywork. The masses of the car are kept under tight control, there is grip aplenty in even horrid conditions and it turns in with a darty front end and a neutral stance throughout the corner. It's all so effectively disguised by the sticky, lifeless steering, though, that the driver rarely feels any inclination to explore those qualities.
The drivetrain fails to live up to its tech spec promise. There's no doubting the strength of the engine itself, or the minimal turbo delay, but there is so little responsiveness to throttle applications that you soon believe the sump is filled with treacle. We know this gearbox can be crushingly effective, but in this instance it feels more dim-witted than we've come to expect. Clearly tuned for comfort, it works much better simply as an auto at everyday speeds, and less well in its manual mode when you crave better responsiveness to your tweaks of the column-mounted paddles.
The 275hp diesel engine, also a turbocharged V6, is effortlessly strong and is just about pleasant enough under both hard and normal use to not sit completely at odds with the badge on the steering wheel.
The Maserati Ghibli's greatest strengths - the styling, the badge, the distinction from its German rivals - are all superficial, and for that reason it is, for now, a missed opportunity.
MASERATI GHIBLI S
Engine: V6, turbocharged, 2,979cc
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 410hp@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406lb ft@4,500rpm
Top speed: 177mph
MPG: 27.1mpg (claimed)