Car Review: 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo


Contrary to what you may read, the sedan’s Ferrari-based engine is a forza to be reckoned with—though there are other shortcomings

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I think Car & Driver is full of crap. Not in general terms, since C/D is generally considered the most authoritative of the American buff books. In fact, I generally trust their opinions without question, find their reviews trustworthy, and would rank their technical features comprehensive. Nonetheless, I just read the magazine’s review of the Maserati Ghibli Trofeo, and there may be more than a little of the smell of condescension to their evaluation. More specifically, I take serious issue with their opinion of the Ghibli’s engine, a twin-turbo 3.8L V8, and how they keep comparing it – negatively – with its German competition, the 4.0-litre turbo V8s from Mercedes and Audi.

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As ammunition, they point out that that the Trofeo ($131,380 in base trim; $139,005 with Bowers & Wilkins audio system and alcantara roofliner) boasts “only” 572 horsepower compared with the 603 hp of the AMG E 63 S; and the RS7’s 591 ponies. Further data supposedly reinforcing this impression as second-rate is that the Maser officially requires 4.0 seconds to accelerate to 60 miles per hour (96 kilometres an hour) and the German claims are closer to 3.0 flat. Likewise, the Trofeo, they say, is about a half-second slower through the quarter-mile. In other words, the fact the Trofeo should be considered lesser is directly attributable to the engine.

The only issue with blaming this paucity of performance on the engine is that Maserati, in a quest for lighter weight and livelier handling, has steadfastly maintained rear-wheel-drive for the Trofeo version of the Ghibli. The big Germans, meanwhile, are universally all-wheel-drive. In other words, the Trofeo’s launch is not, in author John Pearley Huffman’s estimation, “the gut punch you’d expect from this power.”

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Now never mind, that subsequent testing reveals the Trofeo is actually good for a 3.7-second sprint to 96 km/h, or that, given its head, the 3.8-litre will push the 2,094-kilogram Ghibli to more than 325 km/h. The big V8 is actually built by Ferrari and is, in fact, the same basic engine that powers the company’s 488 super coupe, save for a slightly shorter stroke and a regular cross-plane crankshaft instead of the Ferrari’s rev-happy flat-plane crank. I don’t think I need to reiterate that Maranello doesn’t build dogs, even when they’re badged “Maserati.”

Oh, it doesn’t, as I mentioned, have quite the same jump off the line as the Teutons, partially the result of the aforementioned dearth of traction, but also because, in the engine’s only fault, there’s a little turbo lag right off tip-in (mainly because it has its two turbochargers outboard of the engine block, while the Germans place their turbos in the “hot vee”). Once moving, though, any perceived lethargy disappears, the Maserati-cum-Ferrari V8 more than the equal of its competition, boasting immediate throttle response and exquisitely ferocious punch (and yes, Mr. Huffman, you can feel it in your “gut”).

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More importantly, at least to me, the Maser’s engine feels the part. Where German V8s always sound like American boomboxes, the Trofeo is Italian through and through. It revs hard, bellows even harder, and, were it not for a hard ignition cut-out, feels like it would rev forever. German V8s always sound like they’d be just as happy towing a trailer or powering a truck. Maserati’s V8, in contrast, feels like it was born and bred in a sports car, be it four-door or two-.

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The same dedication to cause pretty much sums up the Trofeo’s handling. An excellent balance between grip and grace, the Ghibli handles as well as the AMG but has a better ride. Or, if you prefer, it’s as comfortable as the Audi, but handles better. Either way, there’s a delicacy of steering that only BMW can match, and the big Brembo brakes have serious bite. Also quite noticeable is the difference in damping in switching from Normal to Sport; in too many cars boasting electronically adjustable suspension, even the princess (and her pea) struggle to tell the difference between damping settings.

A criticism of Maserati since its rejuvenation under the FCA umbrella has been the parts-bin engineering of its interior, the implication that what might be fit for lowly Chrysler or Dodge is not nearly ornate enough for anything wearing trident badging. And truth be told, some of the switchgear — the window toggles, the air conditioning controls and the radio tuning knob — really aren’t elaborate enough for something that won’t see much change from a hundred and fifty large. In fact, they’re exactly the same as in the Durango, although it must be said, the Hellcat version of that truck-ish sport brute I recently tested costs almost as much as the Maserati.

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That said, the Ghibli has a radio-tuning knob (a more than welcome addition in these all-digital times!). More importantly, Chrysler’s Uconnect, on which Maserati’s Touch Control Plus infotainment system is based, is one of the best of the breed, regardless of price or panache. Well-organized, easily deciphered, and powerful as well, there can be no denigrating FCA’s choice to foist its digital technology on Maserati.

Bluetoothing of phone is quick and easy, the air conditioning controls fairly easily deciphered (though the seat heater should still be a physical button), and the 8.4-inch screen’s gilded cage attractive. Throw in sumptuous leather, carbon fibre a-plenty, and a truly pillow-soft alcantara roof liner, and this Ghibli feels plenty sumptuous despite its FCA trim bits.

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Indeed, my major complaint with the Trofeo is that it will be —or, at least, should be — limited to fair-weather transportation. The rest of the field boasts AWD for a reason. All that Ferrari horsepower — and the 538 pound-feet of torque — is going to make rear-wheel-drive problematic in the dead of winter.

Yes, I know I lauded the sprightly handling that driving only the rear wheels engenders, but even the stickiest of PZero Sottozeros are going to have a hard time containing the might of a turbocharged Ferrari V8 when the snow is six inches deep. Lesser versions of the Ghibli, appealing to a wider, more mainstream audience, come standard with all-wheel-drive. As attractive as it may be, that lack of AWD severely limits the Trofeo’s utility here in the Great White Frozen North. But to think that its engine is somehow lesser — well, that’s just completely off base.

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