Frankly, it’s hard not to daydream about owning a Ferrari. Ripping through the sun-drenched Amalfi coast in a Roma might just be the closest thing to heaven on earth, but few things snap you back to reality quite like your family. They need to get places, too! If back seats, rear doors, and trunk space are non-negotiable must-haves, the 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is one helluva consolation prize.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Ghibli was simply meh. Sure, it’s officially a Maserati and it was a reasonably strong seller — at least until the Levante came along — but it didn’t quite live up to Neptune’s massive trident up front. But credit where it’s due: Maserati has put in work over the years to right the Ghibli’s wrongs, and the new-for-2021 Trofeo is the culmination of this. Who cares that it shares window switches with a rental-spec Dodge Charger when you’ve got a twin-turbo V8 — designed by Ferrari, no less — under that long hood?
In fact, it’s largely the same fire-breather of an engine you’d find in the SF90, F8, Portofino M, and the Roma you keep daydreaming about, minus a few basic tweaks. For instance, rather than Ferrari’s flat-plane crankshaft and dry-sump lubrication system, the Ghibli Trofeo’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 uses a more conventional cross-plane crankshaft and a wet-sump system. There are also minor differences in the bore and stroke, and Ferrari has a much higher redline — anywhere between 7,500 and 8,000 rpm, versus 6,750 in the Maserati.
That’s not to say these so-called compromises diminish the Ghibli Trofeo’s appeal. Quite the opposite; it adds a level of exoticism missing in most other European super-sedans ever since the Audi RS 6 ditched its Lamborghini-derived V10. The Trofeo delivers 580 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels — if you want all-wheel-drive, you’re stuck with the “entry-level” Ghibli with the V6 — via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Maserati says the Ghibli Trofeo sprints from null to 60 mph (96 km/h) in four seconds flat, and if you have enough road, it’ll top out at a Hellcat-like 326 km/h. Those are rock-solid numbers, but the Ghibli Trofeo’s competitors pack more power: the Audi RS 6 and 7 siblings, BMW M5 Competition, and Mercedes-AMG E 63 put out 591, 603, and 617 horses, respectively, and do the 0-60 sprint in well under 3.5 seconds.
Ah, but there’s more to life than spec sheets — and what will you really do with an extra half-second in your life? The Germans know how to make a point-and-shoot rocket that defies gravity, but the Italians know how to make something entertaining. Think of the Ghibli Trofeo as a chivalrous Italian Hellcat in a tailored suit: stomp on the gas and you have to fight the rear end for a moment before it hooks up and shoots forward, even with stability control fully engaged. The lack of AWD may seem like a hindrance, but the Ghibli Trofeo’s fussiness adds a sense of character you don’t really get elsewhere. It’s playful, but it’s also a car you have to respect because if you don’t, it will bite you.
Beyond the engine, the Ghibli Trofeo hits all the right notes, as long as you check some expectations at the door. For instance, the Ghibli Trofeo is mostly well-mannered on the highway, even if it lets in more road noise than you’d expect — but that’s a little obvious, given that it emphasizes sportiness over comfort. Around town, the standard adaptive dampers keep the Ghibli Trofeo well-composed over mild bumps and potholes, not to mention flat on a spaghetti-shaped backroad or a tight highway on-ramp, but even in its most relaxed setting, it’s a little on the firm side over rougher stuff.
The exhaust isn’t as raucous as you’d expect, but it nonetheless sounds excellent when you drop a couple of gears in a tunnel. And while the steering isn’t particularly precise, it’s well-weighted and there’s a surprising amount of feedback; we’d take this over an artificially heavy yet numb steering you’d find elsewhere. Ahem, BMW.
Perhaps the easiest way to tell the Trofeo apart from the standard Ghibli are the standard 21-inch wheels on which it rolls. You also get a gloss black grille up front, various carbon fibre bits and pieces all around, and additional vents on the hood for improved cooling. It’s a handsome package overall, and the subtle Italian flag details on the B-pillars are a neat yet discreet touch, but we can live without the questionably tasteful red trim on the fender vents.
Inside, the Ghibli Trofeo is largely a hit as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the finer details. Everybody loves to pile on the Ghibli for reusing certain bits and bobs from rental-spec Mopars, and it’s true — you’ll recognize stuff like the window switches and start button, and the fact that the infotainment is a reskinned version of Uconnect. But who cares? Fit and finish is top-notch, the so-called Pieno Fiore leather seating is buttery smooth, and Uconnect is one of the most intuitive infotainment systems out there and looks especially crisp on the Ghibli Trofeo’s 10.1-inch display. Besides, the RS 6 uses the same pedals as the Golf GTI, but nobody complains about that!
That said, we do have some bones to pick with the Ghibli Trofeo. The cabin feels largely upscale, but it lacks the pizazz and ambiance you’d find in an E 63, especially at night. The infotainment wasn’t exactly on its best behavior, either: the GPS navigation map was frozen during our time with the car, and the satellite radio kept cutting out — although these particular issues could very well have been limited to this particular Ghibli.
Between the gesture-controlled this, all-digital that, and adaptive-everything assists coming out the wazoo, most luxury sedans today are too complicated for their own good. Fortunately, the Ghibli Trofeo offers a solid suite of active safety tech as standard fare, including goodies like adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic-sign recognition, and a 360-degree camera, although the alerts for the parking sensors were way too loud. Having the option to have them cuss at you in Italian would’ve been nice, or at least the ability to turn down the volume of the beeping and booping even further.
Topping out at a hair over $142,000 as-tested, the 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is an imperfect beast in a tailored suit, lacking some of the precision of its German rivals. But those flaws, imperfections, and not to mention that glorious Ferrari V8 under the long hood undoubtedly add a sense of character and personality — something decidedly rare among today’s crop of super sedans.