In the world of automotive heritage, passion and exotica, very few nameplates cover all of these bases the way Maserati does. For most of us, the word Maserati conjures up images of good looking (Italian) people driving beautiful cars, very fast. The company celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014 and is moving towards becoming a full range provider of luxury/exotic vehicles. For the first time in the company’s history, they are going to be offering an SUV with the launch of the Levante in 2016. Maserati currently offer two 4-door sedans, the Quattroporte and Ghibli, and the 2 + 2 GranTurismo coupe and convertible. They currently do not offer any 2-seater sports cars and are leaving that up to their corporate siblings at Ferrari and Alfa Romeo – all of which are owned by parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
We set out on a 600 mile/1,000 km journey from the beaches of Malibu to the mountains and deserts of Palm Springs, to sample the most mainstream – and hopefully still exotic – Maserati currently available, an eye-popping Blu Emozione (Blue Emotion, an $890 option) all-wheel-drive Ghibli S Q4.
From the moment you fire up the 3.0 litre twin turbo 404 hp V6 engine, you feel like you are about to pilot an exotic car. The large shiny Trident Maserati logo in the centre of the steering wheel does a good job of setting the tone. And to start things off on the right foot, when you reach for the starter button where you would normally expect to find it – to the right of the steering column or on the centre console – it’s not there. Instead, it’s to the left of the steering column, as is the case with the larger 4-door Quattroporte (the GranTurismo uses a key to the right of the steering column).
By pushing that start/stop button you release the sound from the quad-tailpipes that you would expect from this Italian marque. Starting the car in the morning, after cooling overnight, and pressing the Sport Mode button on the centre console, releases a grin on the driver’s face that you would expect to see on an adolescent child about to go out and cause some mischief. This car can be very loud, when you so desire, which is definitely a good thing.
But the Ghibli is a car of contrasts. Maserati wants their entry level vehicle to be the bestseller of the brand and for prospective buyers to think of it as a practical daily driver. And it is, but when you reach for the “normal” looking gear changer on the centre console, and (try to) engage reverse or drive, it acts like an exotic car. After several days behind the wheel, you start to figure out the one-step-at-a-time pumping motion that is required to go from park to reverse to drive then back into park. Only once did I inadvertently try to turn off the engine and get out of the car while it was actually in reverse and not park.
Our S Q4 was extremely well equipped with the Premium Package ($2,600), Luxury Package ($3,300), Sport Package with 20” Urano wheels ($4,550) and carbon fiber trim ($1,440). Surprisingly, regardless of how much rain, dirt, sand and dust Mother Nature threw at our “Blu” car over five days, it always looked like the beautifully styled Maserati that it is. MSRP of our test car was $90,680 plus freight and PDI.
Blind spot warning/lane change assist, which we have been told will be offered in the future, would have been very useful, but outward visibility is ample.
We averaged 27 mpg from LA to Palm Springs and 29 mpg from Palm Springs back to LA. One factor that increased our fuel efficiency on the return to LA was the engagement of I.C.E. mode (Increased Control & Efficiency). It was not only developed for use in icy conditions, but is also designed to offer an even quieter and smoother ride with reduced fuel consumption, and it works. We managed 21 mpg or 11 litres/100km over the five days of, more often than not, quite spirited driving.
Maserati Ghibli S Q4 at the Malibu Pier
We picked up the car in Beverly Hills and drove to the Malibu Pier, a southern California landmark in the heart of the local surf culture. We made our way there via the winding and hilly Sunset Boulevard, one of my favorite roads in LA. Everyone in Los Angeles is in a hurry and you definitely don’t want to be responsible for slowing them down, so you push hard to keep up. We put the windows down, opened the sunroof, turned off the radio, engaged Sport Mode and made full use of the optional paddle shifters in Manual Sport Mode. When you are on an off the loud peddle in an aggressive manner, rowing up and down through the 8 gears via the silky-smooth ZF transmission, you play conductor to a symphony of beautiful, exotic, Italian engine notes that emanate from the 6 cylinder combustion chamber orchestra.
Not only does this car turn heads because of its style and colour, but also because of the racket emanating from the exhaust. However, when you want to cruise along under the radar, turn off Sport Mode, put the transmission in auto, engage I.C.E. and you’re back in a luxurious, very quiet and civilized daily driver.
Getting up close and personal to the legendary Hollywood sign is one of the most intricate and cringe-inducing driving experiences you can have. The roads in and around the Hollywoodland neighbourhood are likely some of the most narrow, windy, and hilly roads in LA. And not even the easy to use 8.4 inch Maserati Touch Control (MTC) with Garmin navigation display could assist us. But the effortless and sure-footed handling of the Maserati Ghibli S Q4 shone, navigating this densely populated area of ridiculously narrow streets, parked cars, garbage cans, and a seemingly endless parade of large trucks. And the Ghibli is not a small or light car. Weighing in at more than 2 tons (1,870 kg) and 195 inches long/4,971 mm, the same length as the Jaguar XF, Audi A7 and Tesla Model S. The ample supply of power and 406 pounds-feet of torque in Sport Mode easily motivated the car up, down and around any hill or bend that came between us and the infamous sign. Eventually we found our spot to capture that classic photo with the Hollywood sign.
Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione (foreground) at the Riverside International Automotive Museum
We then set the nav for the desert and were witness to one of the coldest and rainiest days they have had in recent memory. For all of us who have to survive winter driving in Canada, we fully appreciate the benefits of all-wheel drive. And the AWD S Q4 was the perfect choice for our drive. It didn’t matter how hard the rain came down, at speed, it provided ample confidence and sure-footedness. With a set of snow tires, this car could easily handle our Canadian winters, as long as the snow didn’t get too deep – the low front spoiler would eventually act as a snow plow. In normal conditions all of the drive is sent to the rear wheels, but if the rear wheels start to lose grip, in just 150 milliseconds, power is distributed to the front wheels to a maximum of a 50/50 distribution, front to rear.
Next stop was to see the largest collection of Maserati’s in North America. The sad news is that the 55 year old man who to put this collection together, Doug Magnon, died from cancer in February. Doug and his father Ray built this collection over the past several decades. We were fortunate to meet his widow Evonne and take a tour of their cars at their Riverside International Automotive Museum.
Doug Magnon built the 20,000 square foot facility which opened to the public in 2007. It is unique in that it features examples of every Maserati model sold in the United States since 1951.
Of the more than 40 cars in the collection, 26 are Maserati’s, Including a 1951 Pininfarina-designed A6G 2000 coupe, 1965 Mistral coupe and Spyder, a 1968 Ghibli coupe, two 3500’s from the early ‘60’s – one previously owned by actor Dan Blocker, best known as Hoss Cartwright in the 60’s TV series Bonanza – a 1973 Bora, two 1970’s Merak’s, a 1980 Kyalami, eight Quattroporte’s from the 1960’s to 2005 and a 90th Anniversary 2005 Spyder. There are also three Ferrari’s and two Alfa Romeo’s including the most vibrant red 8C Competizione I’ve ever seen.
Maserati MC12 Stradale and restoration area (right)
Evonne said that Doug was always asked which car was his favorite. His response was always the same, they were all like children to him and he loved each one equally, for different reasons. But of all of his children in the museum, you can’t help but be instantly drawn to, the impressive white and blue 2006 Maserati MC12 Stradale, which are currently changing hands in the $2 million range.
Doug was known for not letting his cars collect dust. All of them are in working order and each street legal car is driven on a regular basis, including the extremely rare MC12 – only 50 road-going examples were ever built.
Doug’s widow Evonne said that her goal is to try to keep the museum going. “It was one of his passions and has become mine as well. I’ve grown very fond of Maserati’s. They are my absolute favorite car.” She said. “We would like to get the museum more exposure and plan more events. The goal is to get a fulltime manager/curator to help with the tours and event planning so that we can continue Doug’s legacy and what he created. We’re trying to put a board together comprised of Doug’s friends who were all car guys and very supportive of the museum. We’re going to do whatever it takes to make it happen to see this place flourish.”
Maserati MC12 Stradale
On our drive into Palm Springs, in addition to marveling at the endless views of harsh desert and mountains, one is literally “blown away” at the site of the oldest wind farms in the United States. Developed in the 1980’s, it is one of three major wind farms in California. These 2,700 impressive wind turbines range in height from 65 to 299 feet and have massive blades that range from 15 to 140 feet long.
Palm Springs feels like one of the most spread out small towns in America – its population is just 46,000. It seems to take forever to get anywhere. But you don’t mind when you’re surrounded by the incredible desert landscape and the performance, luxury, and pampering of the Ghibli. We can’t vouch for the climate control system – we assume it works well – because we almost always had the sunroof open, windows down and stereo hushed. Nothing on the radio, satellite or otherwise, comes close to the music you can generate with the seemingly endless array of barks and burbles emanating from the quad exhaust. According to the manufacturer, the S Q4 accelerates from 0-60 in 4.7 seconds. We made it sound even faster than that – sorry Palm Springs!
Maserati Ghibli S Q4 at the Palm Springs wind farms
The Maserati literature states that the Ghibli is designed to make “Inspirational motoring an everyday occurrence”. We drove the 2015 Ghibli S Q4 628 miles (1,010 KMS) over five days, in torrential rain, with temperatures ranging from just +8 degrees Celsius to +28 degrees, from sea-level to 2,600 feet at the base of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and this car constantly delivered an inspirational motoring experience. And the best part is, as the driver of this car, you get to determine how inspirational you want the drive to be. The Ghibli can be luxurious and tame, or flat-out screaming exhaust, paddle shifting, wind-in-your hair fun. And with a transferable four year or 80,000 kilometre limited warranty, it should be worry free fun too. As long as we could get the car into the desired gear, we experienced the sounds and driving dynamics that should give any new Maserati Ghibli owner grins every time they get in their car, until they put it away at the end of the day – hopefully in park.
Maserati Ghibli S Q4 interior
Side note: A first for me
Our Ghibli was equipped with the optional front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera, which work extremely well and are a must if you want to keep your Maserati clear of obstacles while parking. On our final highway run from Palm Springs to LAX, while cruising in heavy traffic at the posted limited of 70 mph (112 km/h), our parking sensors went off when a typically aggressive motorcycle rider chose to exercise his right to “lane split” and passed between us and the car in the next lane. Lane splitting is illegal in all of the U.S. states except for California, and the motorcycle riders there never seem to hesitate exercising their right to pass between lanes, regardless of how thick traffic is or how fast it is moving. I have never experienced parking sensors going off at more than 110 km/h on a very busy highway, until now. I wasn’t expecting that!