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Executive saloon brawl: Maserati Ghibli vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6

Time:2018-02-10 22:10Turbochargers information Click:

Drives Group tests

When Maserati named its Tipo 115 two-door, two-seater grand tourer in 1967 after a hot and fierce Saharan wind, it was with good reason. Modena expected its Giugiaro-penned V8-powered machine to blow away rivals like the Ferrari Daytona and the Lamborghini Miura. And it did, at least in sales numbers. Now, more than four decades later, when the Trident resurrects the legendary Ghibli nameplate, it’s still with good reason.

With this new car, Maserati enters uncharted territory and aims to entice customers on an unprecedented scale and in the process to sweep away previously unlikely rivals like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and the Audi A6.

Whether the mid-sized four-door will provide the initial spurt that will help Maserati achieve the eight-fold increase in global sales, only time will tell. But we didn’t want to wait until then to see if it can really live up to the illustrious name, so we got a BMW 535i, which is the car to beat in the premium mid-sized saloon category and an Audi A6 3.0T — often overlooked but a rational choice in the segment.

With a starting price of Dh285K (the S version tested here starts at Dh325K), the Ghibli drops the badge’s value to the lowest in the company’s 100-year history. That means you could get a base Ghibli S for the same money that you’d pay for a fully-specced BMW 535i, and about 30 grand more than a top-end 3.0T A6.

We’ve noted on previous occasions that the Bimmer’s twin scroll turbo six-cylinder is one of the best petrol engines around, and with an output of 306bhp and 400Nm of torque it’s got ample power to handle anything you throw at it. Thanks to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox with seamless shifts, it’ll get you to 100kph from rest in a tad over six seconds.

Mated to a seven-speed S-tronic transmission, and putting out 310bhp and 440Nm of torque, the Audi’s supercharged 3.0-litre is no slouch either, with super-smooth performance that gives the 535i’s mill a run for its money.

However, both these machines look as pale as death in front of the glorious twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 under the Ghibli’s sculpted bonnet. Designed by Scuderia engineer Paolo Martinelli and built by Ferrari at Maranello, the engine comes to life with a snarl so loud that you’d go back to the spec sheet to check whether it’s not actually a naturally aspirated V8.

The resonant exhaust note will have your senses spellbound in a way no other engine in this class will ever even dream of doing. Add to this the fact that Martinelli has managed to squeeze out a good 100 horses more than the BMW 535i’s six-pot and 110Nm more of twist than
 the Audi A6’s supercharged lump, it’s more than enough to stir the Ghibli into 
a superlative performer.

Coming to performance, the rear-wheel-drive chassis of the BMW is still one of the best in class and is superbly composed and taut, making the two-tonner feel much lighter than it actually is.

Although at first glance eight gears might seem like two speeds too many for a 3.0-litre straight-six, the 535i’s precise and smooth progress
on the road somehow makes it look like just the right number of ratios. And the front double wishbone suspension and the rear multi-link set-up make sure that despite its eagerness to smoke the tyres at the drop of a hat, you’re well in control as you point the BMW’s nose into one corner after another.

The 535i’s electric power steering with its variable feedback and weight offers crisp and sharp response to every input. The Audi, too, displays great body control and plenty of grip thanks to the Quattro all-wheel-drive system. However, this doesn’t translate to an overall great driving experience as the indifferent steering and the mushy brake pedal take a lot away from it.

There’s no doubt that for a car of its proportions, the Audi is remarkably nimble, but it’s not as enjoyable as the BMW or the Maserati, which again trumps the Germans here. The chassis, suspended by double wishbones up front and a five-bar multi-link system at the rear and featuring Maserati’s Skyhook adaptive damping system, feels balanced and neutral around the sharpest of bends with little understeer.

Unlike the Germans and most other carmakers nowadays, Maserati has opted not to get electric assist for the Ghibli’s steering system, which is a speed-sensitive, servo-powered hydraulic set-up with an aluminium rack.

The eight-speed gearbox is near flawless, and changes cogs with the highly gratifying mechanical clunk that you get from every Maserati. While using the paddle shifters is an immensely rewarding experience, the transmission does a superb job even when it’s left on its own, finding the perfect ratio according to your throttle inputs. This, combined with the Ghibli’s extremely rigid chassis, 50:50 weight distribution and the aural pleasure accorded by the roaring exhausts, make driving the Ghibli S an exhilarating experience that’s unmatched by any of its German rivals, including the BMW 535i.

Although the Ghibli’s styling isn’t any more exciting than the BMW’s or the Audi’s when viewed from the side or the rear, the front end is suitably exotic with the prominent Trident-adorned grille giving it an immediate edge over the rivals. Looking more like a shrunk Quattroporte, the Ghibli doesn’t have any striking stylistic detail that sets it apart, but still manages to attract attention in a way the similarly priced BMW can never do.

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