Maserati Ghibli Hybrid: road testing first electrified vehicle in Italian car manufacturer's history

The technology does not quite tick the emotive box that’s important for traditional Maserati owners

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The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 48V hybrid

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Power: 325bhp

Torque: 450Nm

Price: Dh289,000

For luxury car fans, Maserati is probably the ultimate impulse buy. They sell because buyers want a Maserati and not because they need a new car.

But Maserati realised nearly a decade ago that things needed to change, and so came SUVs, diesels for Europe, a midsized saloon in the form of Ghibli and now a four-cylinder, hybrid to be followed by full electrification.

Maserati evolution

Back in 2012, Maserati sold 6,000 cars, so when the company said it wanted 50,000 sales, frankly no one believed them. In 2013, the number was 22,500 and rose to 36,448 in 2014 before passing its lofty target with 51,000 units in 2017.

But the euphoria didn't last, and it's been a bumpy downhill ride since as the company transitions into developing a full electric car, spending millions revamping Fiat's Mirafiori plant to produce the Levante SUV and the Avvocato Giovanni Agnelli Plant (Agap), both in Turin for the Ghibli Hybrid just as Covid-19 shut the world's car factories in 2020.

Now, Maserati has planned to stop the slide with up to 10 new models to be released over three years that will include the Levante SUV hybrid, the 600bhp, mid-engined, V6 turbo hybrid MC20 supercar and its first all-electric car, the replacement to the GranTurismo and GranCabrio coupes all before the end of 2021.

If everything works, Maserati’s electrification renaissance should triple its sales from 2019 and it all starts with this car: the Ghibli Hybrid.

Electrifying the Ghibli

The hybrid version has a blue-tinted design scheme 

Maserati has sold more than 100,000 Ghiblis since 2013, making it the most successful model in its history and the Hybrid replaces the V6 diesel in Europe which is significant because while Ghibli introduced a huge new audience to Maserati, the diesel represented 80 per cent of those Euro sales.

This one however mixes a turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine from Alfa Romeo with a 48V mild-hybrid system to deliver a combined 325bhp and 450Nm from just 1500rpm. It’s a rear-wheel drive and runs through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Maserati says it gives diesel-like fuel economy of 8.5L/100 kilometres while offering V6-petrol performance of 5.7 seconds from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour and a 255kph top speed with 25 per cent fewer emissions and carrying 80 kilograms less than the diesel.

Unlike some of its competitors, this is not a plug-in hybrid as Maserati says the weight penalty of having to carry a bigger battery to get a maximum 50km of electric running didn't make sense.

Instead, it’s matched to a 48V belt-driven alternator, which doubles as the starter and also acts as a generator under coasting and braking to recover energy to charge a boot-mounted battery. This battery then powers an electric supercharger to fill in the torque gaps before the turbo spools up.

Everything is done seamlessly without the driver knowing what’s going on underneath, so it feels and drives like a very powerful four-cylinder turbo and unlike other hybrids, the petrol motor always runs, sipping minimal amounts of petrol.

Emotional appeal

All well and good, but does all this technology tick the emotive box that’s so important for traditional Maserati owners? Not quite.

The Ghibli Hybrid represents the compromise car enthusiasts need to make in the age of chasing zero-emission figures.

You get the badge, the heritage, the stunning leather-clad interior, the “Italianess” and the performance but at the expense of a spine-tingling exhaust note.

Sadly there’s not even a raspy, AMG-like 4-cylinder buzz to be found, it’s as quiet as an Uber limousine even when pushed hard, so while it ticks all the above boxes, it’s the first Maserati I’ve driven to elicit zero heartstring emotions.

Sad but true, though the upside is that if you’re a user-chooser sales rep, it will also be the first Maserati your accountant will approve as a company car.

Hybrid touches

A few hints will tell you this is the Hybrid version such as the trademark side vents that are now blue-tinted along with a blue thunderbolt in the badge on the C-Pillar to match the blue brake callipers, while inside the leather features blue stitching and embroidery throughout.

The interior is sensational with a much-needed upgrade to the infotainment system that now has wireless charging for your phone including Android and has a faster 25.6 centimetre, high-definition screen in place of the previous 21.3cm unit with the latest graphics and is more user-friendly, even offering voice commands on some functions.

As a premium luxury European performance saloon the Ghibli Hybrid wins on many levels, not least it’s doing so while cutting down on emissions but as a Maserati, it misses the important touchpoint of emotion from under the hood.

Though if 80 per cent of European Ghibli buyers opted for the diesel, then clearly I’m the one wearing the rose-tinted glasses and in the minority of people wanting a piece of new-age Italian exotica. Thankfully, I don’t run the car company.

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 48V hybrid

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Power: 325bhp

Torque: 450Nm

Price: Dh289,000