A few years ago I sat in the courtyard of a small cafe in Italy chatting to executives from Maserati. I initially thought I had misheard them when they said they plan to produce more than 50,000 vehicles a year. At the time the company produced about 6,000 vehicles.
How did they plan to implement such a massive increase? And what about the brand’s exclusivity? The plan has expanded even more to the point where the company is looking to produce a maximum of 75,000 vehicles. This will undoubtedly dilute the exclusivity, but only to the point where it is on a par with a rival like Porsche. Now part of the Fiat Chrysler empire, Maserati is on a mission. Along with the new Quattroporte, a major part of the expansion is the Ghibli.
The company is hoping to produce up to 30,000 units of this model, which was produced to compete with the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Jaguar XF. Sadly the current exchange rate situation pushes it way out of the league of its planned rivals, with the model finally on sale in SA starting at R1.3m. According to Glen Sealey, general manager for Maserati at the new South African importers, Australian-based European Automotive Imports, the Ghibli is “a more accessible Maserati”.
While the price might alarm some, given that you can pay over a million for a BMW 3 Series in the case of the M3 these days, perhaps it is not so bad after all. Let’s face it, it is a Maserati. The company is not exactly going to sell enough units to threaten the BMW 5 Series, although Sealey says that they already have orders for 20. “SA is an important part of the strategy” for Maserati, says Sealey, pointing out that the country has a strong demand for luxury brands. This is likely to bode well for the operation, which has re-established itself with a new showroom in Bryanston, together with a separate after-sales servicing location.
There are three models on sale in the form of the V6, the V6S and a diesel version, the latter being a prime example of how the company is targeting new markets to boost sales. The diesel comes from the Chrysler side of the business, but has been extensively fettled by Maserati. The V6 will also do duty in other models, such as the 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia and new Ferrari Dino.
All models feature an eight-speed transmission sourced from ZF which has also been tuned by Maserati. It boasts five different shift modes depending on the mood of the driver and the condition of the road on which you are driving. In standard guise the V6 produces 246kW, has a claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 263km/h. Opt for the S version and you get 305kW, a 0.6 quicker time to 100km/h and a top end of 285km/h. The diesel produces 205kW.
What does make the model stand out is its looks. It has all the hallmarks of the trident-bearing brand and even pays homage to the original Ghibli which was first launched back in 1967.
It has beautiful curves, a proud facade and that sporty stance. The rear is equally beautifully sculpted and the interior is an exercise in sporting elegance. Yes, there are a few components from elsewhere, particularly from the Chrysler side, but the interior shows all that handcrafted luxury the brand is renowned for. We have not yet had a chance to drive the Ghibli on home soil but Lerato seemed quite impressed when he drove it on some Italian back roads in 2013: “The Ghibli presents all the hallmarks of the brand in a more compact package, brimming with dynamism and sporty looks. It is a well-sorted car and, should pricing be competitive, will offer something a touch more exclusive than what is currently available.”
While the Ghibli has arrived in SA a little later than the rest of the world, the company hopes to be a bit quicker with its next major model, the Levante. Maser’s first luxury SUV will arrive here in the second half of 2016 and as well as having to take on the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport, it will also have to deal with the new Bentley Bentayga, although we suspect that will be rather more expensive.
*This article first appeared on Business Day Motor News
• Read Lerato’s full first impression of the Ghibli at http://bit.ly/1K9T8XA