Italy’s newest hybrid headed for Australia
It's not very impressive on paper, but on the road the new Maserati Ghibli Hybrid is something else … a surprisingly polished performer that's fast and fun.
The long-lived Italian brand has never before produced a hybrid, or any other kind of electrified car, for that matter. There was, to be blunt, no reason to expect their first-ever petrol-electric model would be very good.
When technical details of the car's power unit were revealed back in July, they didn't make for exciting reading. The Ghibli Hybrid uses very mild hybrid technology; there's a compact 48-volt battery pack in the sedan's boot, while a belt-driven starter-generator unit is bolted to its engine.
Maserati was honest about its priorities. The main aim with the Ghibli Hybrid was better performance. Improving fuel efficiency was a secondary objective.
Its engine is a 2.0-litre four, closely related to the one in the Italian-made Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV, as well as three Jeep models manufactured in the USA and China. Maserati, along with Jeep and Alfa, Fiat, Dodge, Chrysler and Ram, are all owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
For decades, a big part of Maserati's appeal has been the always powerful and often loud V8 and V6 engines used across its entire line-up. How could a hybrid-boosted four possibly live-up to the brand's carefully cultivated image?
High-pressure question. But Maserati's engineers had some high-pressure solutions. For the Hybrid they added an electric compressor, powered by the 48-volt battery, to ram air into the engine at low revs. As revs rise a conventional exhaust-driven turbo takes over.
As any true rev-head will explain, more turbo boost means more power. So the engineers working on the Hybrid really turned up the dial. So much, in fact, that the engine needs a special high-strength engine block to cope with the extra stress.
The finished 2.0-litre hybrid for the Ghibli is very nearly as powerful as Maserati's existing 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 in basic, non-'S' form. And the petrol-electric unit's efficiency and CO2 emissions are very similar to the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel quietly dropped from the Ghibli range two years ago.
Driving the rear wheels through the same eight-speed auto used other Ghibli models, the Hybrid's power unit does a fine job. It's strong and smooth at low revs, and the electric compressor also makes it feel responsive. Then the big exhaust turbo takes over to deliver a powerful rush to redline with a nice raspy growl from the exhaust.
Though the Ghibli Hybrid is a hefty chunk of machinery, weighing in at over 1900kg, it feels quick, very eager to please and suavely refined.
With a lighter four-cylinder engine up front and a slab of battery pack in the rear, the weight distribution of the Hybrid is closer to ideal than other Ghiblis. It feels lighter on its feet when changing direction, better balanced when cornering at speed. The direct and precise steering creates a real sense of connection with the road.
The Hybrid has the same much-improved infotainment system that's going into all 2021 Ghiblis. It uses the Android Automotive operating system and has a larger, frameless-look touchscreen.
The Ghibli Hybrid will go on sale in Australia in the early months of next year. According to Maserati importer Ateco Group, the petrol electric sedan will be priced below the base-grade V6 model, currently $140,000.
This will put the Ghibli Hybrid in a difficult position. BMW and Mercedes-Benz both have four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrids around the same size as the Maserati, priced around the $120,000 mark.
While the Ghibli is a plain hybrid, the 530e and E300 e are both plug-ins. They're capable of electric-only driving, while the Italian car isn't. But the Ghibli Hybrid does seem to have rather more soul and spirit than the efficient Germans …
MASERATI GHIBLI HYBRID VITALS
Price: $125,000 (est)
Safety: 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl e-boost and turbo low (or mild, if preferred)-voltage hybrid; 243kW/450Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto; RWD
Thirst: 8.1 to 9.4L/100km WLTP Combined (no NEDC data supplied)
0-100km/h: 5.7 secs
Originally published as Italy's newest hybrid headed for Australia