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The Maserati Ghibli Trofeo Is the Oddball’s M5

Maserati has finally put a V-8 in its midsize sedan, creating a super-sedan that is more interesting but less sophisticated than the German competition.

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When you hear the name “Maserati,” what comes to mind are grand tourers of heroic proportions, classic race cars, quirky supercars, and imposing sedans. Despite their differences, they all effectively communicate the brand’s essential proposition. The essence of a Maserati is aesthetic and sentimental. When the Ghibli first came out in 2013, neither description seemed quite right.

It’s always been classy without being stuffy, but the Quattroporte’s design flourishes don’t work on the more pedestrian canvas of a midsize sedan. The whole thing looked unimaginative. That went below the surface, too, as any dreams Maserati had of disrupting the segment were scuttled by the Ghibli’s lack of ground-breaking tech, weak interior, and V-6 powertrains that made no attempt of usurping German performance supremacy.

Maserati is finally addressing the latter point. The Ghibli Trofeo has a Ferrari-bred 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 580 hp. Not quite German or American standards, but the promise of a Prancing Horse V-8 in what was already a solid chassis gives hope that Maserati may finally deliver an emotional product. The carbon trim, 21-inch wheels, red brake calipers, and bright yellow paint moved my Ghibli tester a bit closer to “beautiful,” too.

Climb inside and there’s little evidence of the Ghibli’s newfound ambition. Even with a set of seats with a woven carbon-texture and carbon trim plastered everywhere, the cabin is dated, dull, and full of components that any Chrysler 200 (rip) owner would recognize. The large panel gaps and hollowness of the individual pieces give little assurance that this cabin is sturdy. It’s a shame for the starting price of a Trofeo, which is $117,100.

Once you get the Ghibli on the road, you’ll begin to appreciate it more. I’m smitten by the rumble of the V-8 engine. The noise from the tailpipe is mighty but under control, more of an assured rumble than a blaring roar. The engine’s responsiveness is superb, but the Ghibli can be caught off guard occasionally if the ZF eight-speed is left in automatic. And that’s for the best, because it means you’ll get to make even more use of the cabin’s undisputed star feature—the massive carbon paddles.

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Thankfully, the response of that powertrain can be decoupled from the adjustable suspension, allowing the rowdiest engine mode without ruining the ride. If the ride quality is as good as they say it is in the Ghibli, I wouldn’t want to miss out on that. Smooth and relaxed on the highway or city streets, it offers more compliance than the stern Germans without the floaty disconnection of an under-damped Lexus.

The Ghibli’s performance is occasionally stunted by the more forgiving setup, but not in the ways I’d anticipate. On the low-speed twisty sections, the car is welcoming, the body roll a means of conveying with my instincts. Driving a Ghibli hard involves feeling every part of the weight transfer, just like in a Miata or an early-2000s BMW. High-speed travel is the only time this casual approach to body motion becomes unsettling. Having the body sway ever-so-slightly over every bump makes it tough to muster the courage for serious speed.

The Ghibli is much more enjoyable when taken at a leisurely pace suitable for a winding road. Even though there isn’t much feedback from the road to the steering wheel, the weight and accuracy of the steering are excellent. Here’s where the body roll comes in handy to set the tempo. In a hairpin, tuck the nose in, widen the line just a bit, and hit the gas soon after the apex. It is shocking how much mechanical hold the Ghibli uses. The Trofeo is able to handle the power without the aid of the traction control system, despite having 538 lb-ft of torque tugging at the rear wheels at as low as 2250 rpm.

It begs you to keep trying new things, just like any high-quality performance vehicle should. After each turn, I put more weight on the car’s massive six-piston Brembo brakes, put more pressure on the tires, and get back on the gas sooner. Though I’m not moving as quickly as I would in an M5, I enjoy this vehicle more because of the increased sense of involvement it provides. It’s a tricky situation that appears to have a workable solution, and the solution itself provides you with just enough information to get the job done.

I keep playing until the road opens up. Long, winding, empty canyon bends have taken the place of the tight switchbacks, and they demand excessive speed if I want to feel the chassis sway. That’s it, I’m backing down. There’s not much of a reason to do that on public roads, and especially not in a car that can’t seem to find a comfortable cruising speed.

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Without a second thought, an M5 could completely destroy that road. It would blow the minds of those in the know due to its increased speed and technological sophistication. In contrast, I had a lot more fun in this silly, bright yellow Maserati on the section of road I could attack without risking arrest. I wouldn’t recommend spending $117, 000 on it, but I can see the allure of mindless entertainment.