When I pulled the Maserati Ghibli S Q4 into the parking lot at Cascade Mountain – a generous description of the hill that lay in front of me to be sure – I couldn’t help but feel a little out of place. In a parking lot filled mostly with SUVs, Crossovers, and Subarus, I was one of the few who had piloted a four-door vehicle with a trunk to the slopes that day. There were a smattering of Audis with Quattro and there might have been a BMW 3 series with xDrive, but I guarantee you no one else had the joy of driving an all-wheel drive Italian sedan to the slopes today.
If you love to ski like I do and live in the midwest, you just can’t jet to Alta, Whistler or Zermatt as every winter weekend, as tempting as that sounds. So what’s a ski bum to do when you want to keep your skills sharp but can’t get away to a snowcapped mountain half a continent away? You load your gear in the car, trade in about 1,500 feet of vertical, and drive to one of the small, but surprisingly satisfying, ski areas in Wisconsin.
With the interstate choked with SUVs and crossovers filled with families from Chicago, I mapped out a route that avoided the four-lane parking lot, taking me along the Wisconsin River and through rolling farmlands of the Dairy State to a ski area that wouldn’t even register as a speed bump in Colorado or Utah.
I had hoped and expected I would driving the Maserati over roads covered with snow and ice. This was Wisconsin in February after all. Unfortunately, the weather gods weren’t on my side. The snow that was on the ground when I picked up the Ghibli had disappeared the next day and the temperatures climbed into the 50s and 60s for the rest of the week. So while I didn’t get to drive the Ghibli in as much snow or across a frozen lake as I had planned, I did, however, get to spend a week in a Maserati, and no matter what the driving conditions, that in itself is an immeasurable treat.
The Ghibli is a mid-size performance sedan that’s an alternative for those who might be thinking about a fully-loaded Mercedes E-class, BMW 5 Series or Audi A6, but would prefer a car that’s not so ubiquitous. When compared to these competitors, Ghibli matches their performance, handling, and comfort, but stands out when it comes to design and personality. And, that’s the point.
You drive a Maserati precisely because you don’t want to fit in.
Exhibit One: The exhaust note. Unlike the German’s who’ve managed to refine their engines so thoroughly that they have to pipe sound into the cabin through the stereo to give you some aural satisfaction when you hammer the throttle, the Maserati in sport mode makes sure you experience the real thing. The manifolds, mufflers, converters and pipes have been so beautifully tuned, their resonance would offer stiff competition to the massive pipe organ at the Duomo di Milano. The sound is full-throated, raspy and just spectacular. It’s an especially admirable feat when you consider the 3.0 Liter V6 also has two turbochargers soaking up sound between the engine and the chrome-tipped tailpipes. It makes the kind of noise that will have you slowing down to catch a red light, just so you can accelerate away again when it turns green, treating yourself and everyone around you to a rich Italian aria.
Oh, and about that acceleration. It’s quite good, thank you very much. Maserati claims a 0-60 time a few ticks under 5 seconds but from a seat of the pants perspective, it feels quicker than that. With over boost engineered into the system, there’s plenty of torque at the low end driving the wheels off the line, 405 ft.-lbs. at 1,750 RPM to be exact. I promise you’ll be able to feel every one of them as you’re pressed into the back of your seat. And not just off the line. You’re in the torque curve all the way up to 5,000 RPM which is just shy of the peak horsepower at 5,500. That means acceleration is linear and consistent all the way up to the redline. There’s no surprise turbo boost to kick you out of shape at just the wrong moment.
The power is put down through an 8-speed automatic transmission that you can run in either full auto or manual mode. If you choose to take control, shifts are activated via the center shift lever or massive machined aluminum paddles that are locked in place behind the steering wheel. Up and downshifts are quick and precise, with a satisfying crackle coming through as you decelerate. Where the Ghibli S Q4 separates itself is with its on demand, all-wheel drive system.
For the most part, the car operates as a traditional rear wheel drive sports sedan, but when the system senses wheels losing grip, it can transfer as much drive force as necessary to the front wheels in just 150 milliseconds. You can monitor this in real time through a small information screen on the dash. The result is a car that is both fun to drive and sure-footed whether you’re flying down a dry twisty back road, running down the interstate in the rain, or negotiating city traffic in a snowstorm. The latter situation can be downright boring thanks to I.C.E mode on the drive mode select system which lowers the power output, forces quicker upshifts and engages traction control making it damn near impossible to spin the tires. It also didn’t hurt that the Ghibli was shod with beefy 275/45 R19 snow tires on the rear and 235/50 R19s up front.
The first thing you notice when you get behind the wheel and look around the cabin is the uncluttered design. There are no extraneous switches, buttons or dials. Everything inside is designed to help keep you focused on the road. Simple large gauges on the dash inform you of you speed and RPM – both good things given the nature of the twin turbocharged 404 horsepower V6. Nestled between those dials is 7” TFT display that allows you to select the performance data you’re interested in seeing.
What will impress you most about the Ghibli is fit and finish of the interior materials. The seats are well designed offering a nice balance of comfort and support. The leather covering those seats is nothing short of spectacular, as good or better than anything you’ll find in a Mercedes-Benz or BMW. My Ghibli featured elegant contrast stitching against the black leather and polished carbon fiber trim in place of the traditional wood veneers. All in all, it’s a look that dovetails quite nicely with the performance delivered by the powertrain. Another positive for my purposes was the large trunk and split folding rear seat that provides enough room for skis, boots, poles and all the other accessories one needs for a weekend at the slopes without bolting an unsightly ski rack to the roof.
And that’s something you should never do to a Maserati.
From an exterior standpoint, it would be hard to find a way to improve upon its looks. From the signature front end that channels iconic cars of Maserati’s past, to the sculpted quarter panels with their athletic haunches, to the coupe-like sweep of the roofline, it’s a well-designed piece that draws a lot of attention, even in the very understated Grigio Maratea paint scheme that covered my car. Another nice touch was the painted blue brake calipers that hinted at the Ghibli’s performance intentions.
So what’s not to like about the Maserati Ghibli S Q4? Not a whole lot. The infotainment system in the center console feels like it’s sourced straight out of the Chrysler parts bin. It works well, is easy to use, but just doesn’t quite live up to the quality of everything else in the car. The other issue is also something I love about the car: the sound. As I said, the exhaust note is absolutely perfect, but it is omnipresent. On longer drives, especially long-distance interstate highway driving, I could see the noise becoming both bothersome and tiring. But Maserati had to make a choice, and as far as I’m concerned by giving us that magnificent note, they absolutely made the right decision.
2015 Maserati Ghibli S Q4
4-door, all-wheel drive, luxury performance sedan
Base price: $77,900
Price as tested: $95,325
Optional equipment: Cold weather package, Premium Leather, Sport package, painted brake calipers, carbon fiber trim, Bowers & Wilkins Sound System, Metallescent paint, Rear laminated glass, Skyhook independent adaptive suspension
Engine: 3.0 Liter, twin turbocharged 60° V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters
Peak Horsepower: 404 @5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 405 ft.-lbs. @1750 – 5000 rpm
EPA Est. Fuel Economy: 15 city, 25 hwy mpg