You know the world is changing, and fast, when renowned Italian sports car maker Maserati is suddenly talking about fuel efficiency, electric motors, and batteries instead of the latest V8 engine and its heady horsepower outputs.
But such are the times we live in and like much of the rest of the automotive industry, the famed Modena-based sports and luxury car maker finds itself having to pivot from its singular internal combustion engine (ICE) approach towards hybrids and even full battery electric vehicles.
Released in Australia earlier this year, the MY 2021 Ghibli Hybrid is a landmark model in so far as it’s the first petrol-electric vehicle in Maserati’s 106-year history, marking the beginning of an entirely new chapter of electrification for the storied marque.
As the first tangible evidence of the Trident brand’s changing focus, the part-electric sports sedan points the way for what will eventually be a range-wide offering of new hybrid and electric models.
But for anyone rueing the imminent demise of the melliferous Ferrari-fettled V8s that have been a trademark of modern Maserati, fear not because the company says its hybrid and other electric models are designed to complement, not replace entirely the brand’s internal combustion engines.
Externally, the Ghibli Hybrid looks much like other models in the existing Ghibli range, meaning a sensuously styled four-door coupe body that will hold its own on any automotive catwalk from Milan to Melbourne.
Available in three different specification levels starting from $139,900 (MRLP), all Ghibli Hybrid variants feature the same MY21 styling updates as the rest of the Ghibli range.
This includes a new front grille with prominent Maserati tuning fork and new rear light clusters – the latter inspired by the boomerang shape of the late 1990s Giugiaro-styled 3200 GT.
Other than these changes, only informed “Maseratista” are likely to be able to spot a Hybrid from its V6 and V8-powered stablemates.
Subtle exterior cues include blue pinstriping on the trio of vents on the front guards and a distinctive blue lightning bolt through the “Saetta” logo on the C-pillar.
Our top-spec Hybrid Gransport ($163,990) test car also sported optional light blue anodised brake callipers and handsome 21-inch “Titano” alloy wheels.
Inside the beautifully trimmed cabin, there’s lashings of soft, aromatic leather accented with distinctive blue double stitching and a range of technical and stylistic enhancements.
These include a new infotainment system featuring the latest Maserati Intelligent Assistant (MIA) technology, backed by an Android Automotive operating system that displays mapping, audio, and a wide range of vehicle information on a frameless 10.1-inch touchscreen.
As you’d expect at this price point, the Ghibli Hybrid also boasts an extensive array of safety systems, including seven airbags, plus Advanced Driver Assistance Systems including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, forward collision alert.
Much of this kit has been added since the Ghibli achieved its five-star ANCAP rating back in 2014, so it’s fair to say the current car is likely safer than the model tested then.
Other standard features include adaptive LED Matrix headlights, surround view camera, powered tailgate, soft-close doors, sunroof, wireless phone charging, front and rear seat heating, sports pedals, and dual-zone climate control.
While other Ghibli models are powered by twin-turbo V6 and V8 engines, the Ghibli Hybrid’s motivation comes via a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, coupled with a Belt Starter Generator (BSG), an eBooster and a 48-volt battery that recoups energy when the car brakes, or coasts.
The BSG supports the combustion engine for when more power is needed, regathering energy when the go-pedal is lifted, while the eBooster is essentially an electric supercharger that draws power from the 48-volt battery to pump compressed air into the engine for instant low-rev response, before the exhaust-driven turbo kicks in at higher revs.
It sounds complicated but from the driver’s seat the experience is seamless, the response pleasingly instant and linear, as the Ghibli channels its muscular 243kW/450Nm to the rear wheels via a conventional eight-speed torque converter automatic.
Acceleration is a respectably brisk 5.7 seconds for the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint, which is just two-tenths of a second off the pace of the 257kW/500Nm 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6.
The twin-turbo V8 is quicker again, obviously, but where neither of the pure ICE engines can touch the Ghibli Hybrid is fuel efficiency.
This despite the Ghibli Hybrid being more accurately described as a mild hybrid, meaning there’s none of the shuffling between electric and ICE power that you sense in a Toyota Camry or a Prius, but also limited fuel efficiency gains.
The smaller electrically assisted engine boasts a combined cycle figure of 7.5L/100km, which Maserati says equates to a reduction in fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions of 20-25% respectively over the V6.
Performance is eager enough in Normal mode but switching to Sport instantly sharpens the Ghibli’s reflexes making it feel more like the sports-luxury machine its styling suggests.
The adaptive suspension shifts to a tauter setting, too, and the engine feels instantly more responsive.
Large alloy paddle shifters behind the leather-trimmed steering wheel provide pseudo-manual control of the gearbox and the free-spinning engine rushes to redline with a satisfyingly rasping growl from the quartet of exhaust pipes between upshifts.
The lighter four-cylinder upfront and compact 48-volt battery pack located beneath the boot helps ensure a nicely balanced chassis.
The combination of accurate and well-weighted steering, strong grip, and disciplined body control equating to impressively fluid dynamics.
The four-wheel disc brakes also have the appropriate level of bite and progression expected of a luxury sports sedan and are pleasingly absent of the wooden feeling of many regenerative systems.
The cossetting interior is well-insulated from road and wind noise, the quietly relaxed freeway manners allowing a fuller appreciation of the premium Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system.
Front-seat passengers are well-accommodated in snugly comfortable sports bucket seat, but rear-seat accommodation is on the compact side.
The 500-litre boot is, however, big enough to hold a couple of sets of golf clubs.
Polished, fast, fun, and decently efficient, the Hybrid is an impressive addition to the Ghibli range and a fascinating pointer to the brand’s future.
It’s not the raucous, soul-stirring machine that we’ve come to expect of Maserati, but it’s a nicely resolved and attractive luxury car that offers above-average agility and ability.
The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.