This is Maserati’s answer to the Mercedes CLS and Audi A7, a midsize sports sedan that’s the core part of a ballsy plan to go from producing 6000 cars in 2012 to 50,000 in 2015.

Loosely based on Maserati’s new, much larger Quattroporte luxury sedan, it comes with a two different V6s, a 345 hp version with rear-drive, and as the S Q4 with four-wheel drive and 404 hp. There’s also a diesel for Europe, but it won’t be coming here yet. We’ve driven it and you’re not missing much.

That Ghibli name sound familiar? It’s been used before, first on a pretty front-engined GT in the 1960s, then on another square-edged V6 coupe in the wilderness years of the 1990s.

Do yourself a favor and find the extra $10k for the Q4S. The basic 345 hp Ghibli posts 0-62 mph in 5.6 sec, but only really delivers the goods in the upper half of the rev range. It’s not just the SQ4’s 0.8 sec advantage that’s so appealing either, but its effortless mid-range performance too.

And far from being a killjoy, the S Q4’s rear-biased four-wheel drive system only sends enough torque to the front axle to make you feel like a hero. Both cars have a 50:50 weight distribution and feel sweetly balanced; both have hydraulic steering that’s heavy but only moderately talkative; and both have a ride that can get caught out with sharp ridges.

The Skyhook adaptive dampers are optional with both engines, but the standard passive setup is close to Skyhook with the sport button pressed, so only shell out if you need the extra comfort, not better handling.

You just know Maserati is holding the best stuff back for now, like the 523 hp V8 from the Quattroporte that will eventually make an AMG rival of the Ghibli. The Maserati name might sound exotic, but to succeed in this market, the Ghibli has to get the sensible stuff right, too. So interior room up front is strong, and passengers in the back get a much better deal than those in a Mercedes CLS when it comes to headroom.

Standard equipment includes leather trim, reversing camera and an eight-speed ZF automatic, while extended leather trim, adaptive dampers, 19, 20 and 21in wheels, a 1280w Bowers and Wilkins sound system, and even electrically adjustable pedals are just waiting to be plucked from the options list. One of the best touches in the car is the huge gearshift paddles made from real metal, not some cheap plastic facsimile. Yes, we’re looking at you Jag.

One option not on the list but probably worth lobbying your dealer for is a bulkhead-foam delete checkbox. Both engines make a great noise, just not enough of it. You can’t help but feel that people watching from the sidewalk are getting a better deal.

The Ghibli is an interesting attempt to break the German stranglehold on the premium car market. Is it the best car in its class? No, but it’s a serious contender, and it has soul, that unquantifiable quality that has traditionally helped Italian carmakers part fools from their money. This time though, the rest of the package is strong enough that being a fool is not a prerequisite.

Ghibli: 2979cc 24v twin-turbo V6
Horsepower: 345 hp
Torque: 369 lb-ft
0-60 : 5.6 sec
Ghibli S: 2979cc 24v twin-turbo V6
Horsepower: 404 hp
Torque: 406 lb-ft
0-60: 4.8 sec

Tags : 2014 Maserati Ghiblispotlight

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