Maserati Ghibli S Q4 in Aspen, Colorado

Practical Italian

"Not just a great Maserati, a great car" said David

"Of course, when you do want to act silly, this S version of the Ghibli is more than cooperative"

"The interior is (thankfully) very much Italian"

We came for the weather. We got a fantastic sports sedan.

The idea - part of Maserati's push towards practicality - was to come to the winter wonderland that is Aspen, Colorado, drive the company's new all wheel drive version of the Ghibli, attest to its winter bona fides and thus prove that Italian cars need not all be sunny-day trailer queens. All year round everyday motoring is a new  - and I can hear you cynics out there saying "ambitious" - message for the storied Italian brand, more renowned for primped and papered sports coupes than slush-fighting, four door winter warriors.

Though billed as its condescension to everyday driving, Maserati's Q4 all wheel drive system is still slanted to the sporty side of safety. Essentially a rear-driver, Maserati grafts an electronically-controlled clutch to the rear of its eight speed ZF automatic gearbox, routes a prop shaft through the engine's sump to the front wheels and then, when the road gets its slipperiest transfer, a maximum of 50  percent of the twice-turbo'd V6's torque to the front wheels. A dashboard mounted gauge monitors the Ghibli's torque split, the rapidity with which it alternates between a 50/50 split and 0/100 (and everything in between), a testament to the sophistication of the algorithms controlling the AWD system. In most circumstances, however, much less is actually transferred - typically defaulting to a 20/80 front-to-rear torque bias and, above 125 km/h, directing almost all of the engine's power heads rearwards. Whatever the case, on the snow, mud and luck that surrounded Aspen this past early March, what really stood out was the sleek Maserati's ability to keep up with comparatively clunky Jeeps when the roads got slippery. For those of us accustomed to Maseratis of a more, well, impractical nature, it was quite a revelation.

And yet, despite all of its newfound pretense to practicality, the Ghibli is still very much an Italian sports sedan. The aforementioned turbocharged V6 - block cast in America, machined and assembled by Ferrari in Maranello, but designed by Maserati - is all puff and pomp. There's 404 horsepower to be had from just three liters, an even stouter 406 pound-feet of torque and that slick shifting eight-speed transmission. One hundred kilometers an hour appears on the big blue speedo just 4.8 seconds after you floor the loud handle. Considering the Ghibli's 1,871 kilogram curb weight, that's hauling, especially, again, when you consider that there's only three liters under the hood.

Making all this speed even more impressive is that I averaged 8.4 L/100 km booting my way to Aspen from Denver International Airport. That was - and this is where I was simply gobsmacked - averaging 130 kilometers an hour, driving mostly uphill and ending up at Aspen's 2,400 meter elevation. Maybe there is something to this pragmatic Maserati malarkey.

Of course, when you do want to act silly, this S version of the Ghibli is more than cooperative. The all-independent Skyhook suspension is definitely calibrated firmish; think M5 rather than 528. Body roll is minimal, grip is prodigious and the steering system - still hydraulically-boosted, thank Italian devotion to handling over fuel economy, rather than electrical - quite communicative. The highest compliment one can pay a heavy(ish) sedan is that it handles like a lithe sports coupe and many would be the two-doors that couldn't keep up with the Ghibli scurrying up the famed McClure Pass.

Inside, the interior is (thankfully) very much Italian. Glove soft leather covers almost every surface not covered in real wood - that includes some pretty exotic stuff like Rovere Chiaro and Ebano - and the chrome/aluminum trim tasteful. And while cynics are always decrying the Chrysler influence on the storied marque to the point of claiming that the twin-turbo Ferrari engine is just a reworked Pentastar V6 when, in reality, the only American influence is casting the basic block. But with Auburn Hills' Uconnect infotainment system being one of the best in the biz, Maserati is well advised to base their "Touch Control" system on the American product.

Of course, the Maserati wouldn't be Italian if it didn't have some idiosyncrasies. The gauges are on an odd angle; best viewed if you're six foot three or enjoy driving with the seat jacked up to its maximum height. Maserati obviously worried that small-fisted drivers have trouble accessing the transmission's manual mode made the steering column mounted paddle-shifters as big as elephant ears. The console-mounted gear selector itself is particularly recalcitrant. Just trying to get from drive to reverse is often an exercise in (neutral or park accidently selected) frustration. Seriously, Maserati, something so prosaic as an automatic transmission's gear selector eludes you?

But, other than the wonky gearshift, the Ghibli's foibles are minor, easily traded off for the fun, style and passion that owning a Maserati engenders. The new Ghibli S Q4 is a wonderful Italian sports sedan. It's also a good car.

Specs:
Engine: 3.0L twin turbo V6, 410hp @ 5500 rpm, 550Nm @ 1750 rpm
ZF eight speed automatic gearbox, AWD
Performance: 0-100 km/h: 4.8 sec, 13 L /100 km Top speed: 282 km/h
Chassis: 1,871 kg

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