The new Maserati Ghibli marks a significant milestone for the company. It's never had two four-door saloons on sale at the same time and, more importantly, it's the first Maserati to be offered with a diesel engine. Purists will be cringing at the thought, but the business case is clear; Maserati wants to sell 50,000 cars a year by 2015 (it sold less than 7,000 in 2012), and if you want to shift a BMW 5 Series sized saloon in Europe, a diesel is a must.
Based on the a shrunken version of the new Quattroporte's steel and aluminium platform, the Ghibli is 291mm shorter, with a 173mm shorter wheelbase, and weighs 50kg less at 1,835kg. It also shares the Quattroporte suspension architecture and turbocharged V6 petrol engine (designed by Maserati but built by Ferrari at its factory in Maranello), available with either 325bhp or 404bhp. But it's the 271bhp 3.0 V6 diesel we're concentrating on here.
Push the starter button and there's no flamboyant flair of revs, just a typical muted hum from under the bonnet. Slot the eight-speed ZF gearbox into 'D' and the Ghibli wafts down the road gliding over bumps in near silence like a luxury limousine, not a sports saloon. Squeeze the throttle and there's a surge of acceleration, but it never revs with the aggression of a BMW six-cylinder diesel and runs out of puff much sooner.
However, the Ghibli has a trick up its sleeve. Push the Sport button and a pair of sound actuators located near the quad exhausts add a bassy petrol V8-style rumble right throughout the rev range. It might be synthetic, but it brings the driving experience to life. To take things even further switch the skyhook adaptive dampers to their firmer setting, take manual control of the gearbox, and immediately the car feels more alive.
Although the gearbox can occasionaly heistate on downshifts, it's reponds crisply as you move up through the ratios. The variable ratio steering, which increases its effect on the front wheels the more lock you apply, can be frustrating (at first you'll add too much lock, and having to wind some off mid-corner), but once you've got the hang of it, it adds stability and high speeds and means you don't have to cross your hands around hairpins.
With a relatively narrow powerband, you quickly learn to drive the car not with the throttle pinned, letting the engine rev out, but on part throttle, shortshifting and making use of the immense mid-range torque. Do so, and you can make seriousy swift progress, helped by the Ghibli's neutral balance in the corners and lots of lateral grip. Drive like a hooligan and it is possible to break traction at the rear, but the car responds better to smooth, controlled inputs.
It's not just the Quattroporte's mechanicals that the Ghibli shares, there's a more than a hint of its bigger brother in the way it looks. Both cars feature strong creases over the rear wheelarch, a full-width lower grille and a trio of square holes punched in the flanks. To set them apart, the Ghibli gets a much shorter rear overhang, a more angular front grille and slimmer headlights. It doesn't have the immediate jaw-dropping beauty of the GranTurismo coupe, but it's certainly more captivating to look at than than any of the German competition.
It's a similar story inside, where all the major components such as the dials, steering wheel and gearlever are shared with the Quattroporte. The Ghibli's arrangement is more driver focused though and feels sportier thanks to a chunky metal surround for the central touchscreen. The quality is excellent and there are some lovely touches, such as the elongated metal paddles that feel expensive on your fingertips and operate with a satisfying click.
In the back, a six-foot passenger will just about fit behind a six-foot driver, and the 500-litre boot looks large, but actually trails the 5 Series by 20-litres. You can forgive the Ghibli for not being the biggest car in its class, because the bottom line is you can now have a Maserati that drives with panache, returns nearly 50mpg and is yours for £48,830. That's £4,780 more than a BMW 530d M Sport Auto, but given the exclusivity of the Maserati badge it's a premium plenty of buyers will be prepared to pay.