Steps away from greatness
THE GOOD
  • Ferocious Ferrari engine
  • Carbon fibre everywhere
  • Brand cachet
  • Stylish
THE BAD
  • Ergonomic issues
  • Lack of cohesion

Maserati is a storied Italian luxury brand with enough prestige to be mentioned alongside such powerhouses as Lamborghini and Ferrari.

When it comes to big names with this much history, two scenarios are typical: a brand like this can forever use its own high standards as motivation to strive for absolute perfection, continually raising the bar for itself and others; or it could get too comfortable at the top and rest on its laurels.

Doomed by its own reputation for being fabulous, Maserati has perhaps gotten too comfortable, and seems to have trouble living up to the hype and keeping up with the Joneses (or rather, Rossis). After some major updates, I was hopeful that the 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo would be a stunning showcase of performance and craftsmanship, but it left me thinking that the brand could have pushed itself further.

Style: 8/10

If looks could kill, the Ghibli would slay. The car looks angry, its headlights scowling and the bulges in its hood reminding me of a heavily furrowed brow. The grille is sharp and fabulous, the lines are understated, and the sedan’s curves and vents are in all the right places. Maserati differentiates this Trofeo model with red accents and hides all sorts of delightful Italian Easter eggs throughout the design.

Although its proportions are slightly off when seen from the front three-quarters (something about how much the hood slopes down is slightly awkward), I like the somewhat restrained approach Maserati took with this sedan. It’s stylish, looks exotic, and gets a lot of attention from passersby.

Inside, the cabin feels old-school, which isn’t a criticism. The layout feels familiar and the contrast stitching and gorgeous carbon-fibre trim pieces give it an obvious sporty/luxe vibe. The high points are exquisite, but the low points are still present. Certain trim pieces and control switches or buttons can still clearly be identified as borrowed from the Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep parts catalogue, and in a high-end cabin lined with leather and carbon fibre, the plastic bits stick out and drag the fanciness down a level. The start button and its housing, for example, are made of the cheapest black plastic, and the button wiggles around a bit, so there’s a clear lack of attention to detail in the Ghibli’s cabin. As a major touchpoint that I used all the time, it drove me nuts that it wasn’t fancier.

Power: 8/10

The word “Trofeo” means trophy in Italian, and Maserati reserves this badge for its most hardcore performance models. Like BMW’s M, Mercedes-Benz’s AMG, or Audi’s RS models, a Trofeo vehicle represents the pinnacle of performance for Maserati.

The 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is powered by a snarling 3.8L twin-turbocharged V8. Pop the sculpted hood and you’re greeted by a beautifully designed Ferrari-sourced engine with a carbon-fibre cover and stunning red details. If the Italians can do anything, it’s make something look fancy even when no one’s looking. The V8 outputs 575 hp and 583 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Numbers-wise, the rear-wheel-drive Ghibli Trofeo lags behind its competitors, all of which have all-wheel drive (AWD) and big V8s pushing around 600 hp: the BMW M5 CS outputs 627 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque, the Mercedes-AMG E63 S+ gets 603 hp and 627 lb-ft, and the Audi RS 7 has 591 hp and 590 lb-ft. Maserati says the Ghibli can accelerate to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds. The M5 CS does it in 3.0 seconds, the E63 S+ in 3.4, and the RS 7 in 3.6 seconds; so again, the Italian lags behind.

It’s not that the Ghibli Trofeo doesn’t have enough power – 575 hp is more than enough for any sane person – and there’s more to a car than its on-paper numbers, but in a race where numbers give you a big advantage and bragging rights, the sedan doesn’t earn that trofeo.

Driving Feel: 7/10

Purists may try to convince you that true performance vehicles and sports cars need to be rear-wheel drive, but when you’re creeping close to 600 hp, these cars need to get power down as effectively (and safely) as possible, and there’s no better way to do that than AWD. From a standstill, when you put your foot to the floor, the Ghibli Trofeo struggles for a beat to launch, and when it finally finds its footing it doesn’t give you the explosion of violent speed I’ve come to expect from cars of this calibre. Sure, the Ghibli is quick, and its turn of speed is satisfying; but the urgency just isn’t there, and drama is important in this class.

In normal mode, the Ghibli Trofeo feels almost underwhelming, but it has a bit more personality in sport or corsa (track) modes, snarling like an angry Italian V8 should and egging you on to misbehave.

The responsive steering and confident handling are highlights, but the brakes verge on being too twitchy and are difficult to modulate smoothly. The transmission also hiccups and, at times, doesn’t intuitively know where it needs to be. Sometimes it shifts smoothly, others it slams into gear with a bang, shaking the whole car in the process. The driving experience feels a bit disjointed – as if its many components aren’t communicating with each other with the harmonious intuition expected of a car that commands six figures.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

The Maserati Ghibli Trofeo’s fuel economy is officially rated at 17.4 L/100 in the city, 11.9 on the highway, and 14.9 combined. Over 300 km of mixed driving, my tester was returning 14.7 L/100 km of 93-octane fuel. This Maserati has a twin-turbo Ferrari V8, so becoming best buds with your local gasmonger is part of the territory.

Practicality: 7/10

The trunk holds a decent 500 L of cargo, though there isn’t a huge amount of space for small-item storage – but the cupholders and a small cubby on the centre console can be covered up to reduce clutter. The rear seats fold 60/40 and are nearly flat with the trunk to provide room to move longer cargo.

User-Friendliness: 7/10

Maserati has updated its infotainment system to run on Android-based software, so the interface is incredibly easy to use, as is finding what you’re looking for. The screen is responsive and quick to load, the graphics are sharp, the menus make sense (for the most part), and the wireless integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is seamless. It also looks higher-end than the previous system that, while user-friendly, is shared with Chrysler and Dodge products.

There are plenty of analogue buttons and shortcuts, so finding certain controls is easy to do with a quick glance while you’re driving. Maserati also has a scroll wheel that drivers can use to control the system, but it’s rather redundant because the touchscreen is so close anyway. The wireless phone charger is also quite well hidden and isn’t easily accessed, which is great for resisting the temptation to reach for your phone at a stoplight, but it also means you should be prepared to forget your phone in the car all the time.

The Ghibli runs into usability and ergonomic issues elsewhere, too. The optional carbon-fibre column-mounted paddle shifters, for example, are beautifully made but are also enormous and block seamless access to the turn signal; I’m not able to use the turn signal unless I take my hand off the steering wheel. Undoing the seatbelts for the front passengers is also needlessly difficult, as access is somewhat obstructed by the bulging centre console storage area.

Anytime there’s friction completing simple tasks in a luxury vehicle, it takes me out of the fantasy, like when you’re eating seafood and you chomp down on some sand that wasn’t supposed to be there.

Comfort: 7/10

The seats are comfortable and supportive, though rear passengers don’t have a lot of room to stretch out. The suspension is relatively balanced and can be comfortable for cruising, as it’s not bone-jarringly stiff over rough roads. The cabin is also adept at isolating the passengers from outside noise.

The issue is with the noise inside. Even in its least-sensitive setting, the Ghibli’s safety sensors love firing off their warning sounds even when there’s no immediate threat, and the beeping is loud and jarring, even in its softest setting.

Features: 8/10

The list of standard features on the Ghibli Trofeo is surprisingly long – a rarity amongst luxury entries. Some highlights include a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, 10-speaker audio system, 21-inch wheels, navigation, integrated Amazon Alexa assistant, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control with lane-centring, 10.1-inch touchscreen, a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot, air quality sensor and soft-close doors. This sedan is thankfully low on gimmicky features and focuses on the important stuff, but it would have been nice to have a head-up display, heated rear seats, and ventilated front seats as standard.

Safety: 8/10

Standard safety equipment includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a top-down 360-degree parking camera, pedestrian detection, and traffic sign recognition. It has all the basics and nothing truly innovative, but this is mostly forgivable because of its focus on performance.

Value: 7/10

The 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo starts at $131,380 plus the non-negotiable $2,200 destination fee. In total, the model I tested rings in at $141,305 before taxes. While it does have a good amount of features, a killer engine, the brand cachet, and all the carbon-fibre something with this price tag needs, it lacks the obsessive attention to detail and dedication to perfection its competitors so confidently offer, making its price a bit tougher to justify.

The Verdict

The 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is a unique option for drivers who want to stand out from the crowd. However, this beautiful sedan from a prestigious Italian automaker is held back from true greatness by little issues that add up to a greater sense that Maserati could have done better. It’s a marvellous car, but next to its peers, it falls a bit short.

At this price, and surrounded by intensely capable competition, it’s a misstep not to offer absolute perfection, so the Ghibli Trofeo ends up feeling quite average and doesn’t offer enough compelling reasons to choose it over other sport sedans in this price range.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.8L   Model Tested 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo
Engine Cylinders Twin-turbo V8   Base Price $131,380
Peak Horsepower 575 hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 583 lb-ft   Destination Fee $2,200
Fuel Economy 17.4 / 11.9 / 14.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $141,305
Cargo Space 500 L  
Optional Equipment
$7,625 – Mica paint, $1,500; Alcantara roof liner, $1,250; Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system, $2,625; Cold Weather Pack, $875; Interior Carbon Pack, $1,375