First Drive: 2018 Maserati Ghibli

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MONACO – It’s relatively easy to resurrect a car brand, doubly so if a) the brand in question has a long and storied past, and b) said long and storied past also happens to be, say, pockmarked with the manifold troubles that have always been a part of the automotive industry’s fringes. The first promises immediate brand recognition, absolutely essential to curry favour with a shallow and attention span-challenged clientele; the second sets expectations to promise-little-deliver-much low.

Maserati certainly fits that bill. Storied past? Absolutely, everything from the famed to 6C 34 to the “Birdcage” seared into automotive lore. Checkered past? Absolutely. All that you need to mention is that previous owners Alejandro de Tomaso as proof of a turbulent history. In other words, the rejuvenation of Maserati’s offers the comeback story’s perfect combination of immediate awareness and low expectations.

Which Maserati — now owned by Fiat Chrysler — thankfully exceeded. The remake of the Ghibli into sporting sedan was very well received. The introduction of the Levante capitalized on rapid sport utility takeover of the luxury market. Even the Quattroporte, long but a bit player in the uber luxury segment, is seen as a legitimate, if niched, alternative to the BMWs and Mercedes of the world. Maserati, for the first time in its 103-year history, has been accepted as a real automaker.

With that acceptance, however, comes greater expectations. Call it the automotive equivalent of the sophomore slump, but the hardest task in automotive engineering is the mid-model refresh of a proven product. And while the concept of Maserati as mainstream automaker is still fresh, the Ghibli, introduced in 2014 as a 2015 model, is starting to get long in the tooth. Time for an update.

And a fairly fine job they’ve done. Along with the almost expected increase in horsepower — up to 350 (plus five) for the base Ghibli; 430 hp (plus 26) in the SQ4 — comes a host of, let’s call them maturing, upgrades that help continue the evolution of Maserati from niche segment alternative to mainstream luxury contender.