Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 4, 2021
Maserati’s smallest sedan finally gets the performance upgrade it deserves. The Ghibli Trofeo is the quickest and most aggressive four-door that wears the Trident badge, and comes straight out of the box with a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 sourced from Ferrari. The V8 even shares the same internal code name with the Ferrari 458 and 488, F154, but that’s just about where the similarities end. Maserati’s V8 uses a crossplane crankshaft with wet sump lubrication, while Ferraris use a flat-plane crank with dry sump lubrication, hence the difference in RPM limits and the prancing horse’s more exotic exhaust note.
Be that as it may, the Ghibli Trofeo pushes out a healthy 580 horsepower and 538 lb-ft through an 8-speed automatic transmission but here’s the kicker. It's rear-wheel drive only. So what we essentially have is a large V8 engine married to only two driven wheels, an old-fashioned concoction usually reserved for those Hellcat nuts at Dodge and Jeep. I guess it’s not a coincidence that they’re run by the same corporate overlords.
The Trofeo upgrade adds a new Corsa driving mode that spices up the car's dynamics with faster shift times and quicker throttle response. It also activates Launch Control, which will fire the Trofeo from 0-100 km/h in a swift 4.3 seconds, which is actually two-tenths slower than the Levante Trofeo only because of the latter's AWD system. Of note, that acceleration figure is considerably slower than the C 63 AMG, M3 CS, and Giulia Quadrifoglio, all of which run it in 3.9 seconds. The reason being the Ghibli Trofeo is somewhat larger in wheelbase and length compared to those compact sedans, offering slightly more cabin space but is heavier as a result.
The Maserati Ghibli Trofeo sits in a bit of a weird space then. On the one hand, its size, performance, and intended targets are the aforementioned three, while its prestige and staggering price tag of $131,380 (or $139,005 as-tested) puts it more along the lines of the BMW M5 Competition, Audi RS 6 Avant, and Mercedes-AMG E 63.
So which camp does it compete against, and who are its true rivals? Well it’s more of the former. The Ghibli Trofeo is a heavy car, and it lacks the agility to keep up with the latter group. When comparing the Ghibli to the M5, the Maserati stumbles behind in performance and handling but it offers something that the monotonous pool of German breeds don’t, and that’s driver engagement. It only takes a few whirls around at speed to remember just how exciting and refreshing this RWD configuration is. It really is the Trofeo’s key advantage, or disadvantage depending on how you look at it. The Ghibli may be less forgiving but there’s a sense of accomplishment when you get it just right, and it no longer feels like you’re driving on Easy Mode with AWD and an army of safety equipment to keep the guard rails from being painted Blu Emozione.
Put your foot flat to the floor and even on a toasty autumn day with the tires properly warmed up, you will get wheel spin in second gear. The Ghibli doesn’t grip with authority like those AWD chariots but it certainly keeps the guardian angels of traction and stability control from falling asleep. You have to work for your performance, which is not to say it’s difficult to drive. The rear end is quite predictable, and the pinpoint steering helps too. It’s not very crisp or talkative but you can place the nose exactly where you want it, and simply play with the throttle to adjust your line. The cumbersome curb weight is hard to ignore when negotiating lateral movement, but the ride quality is quite good and uncompromised because of it. There’s more rear suspension movement when crashing into expansion joints than the Ghibli S Q4, but the Trofeo is much more comfortable and tolerable on longer journeys than the E 63 and M5.
Acoustically, the Trofeo’s Ferrari-derived V8 is much more theatrical than its rivals, carrying more soul and character in the upper RPM registers. But you wouldn't know it from behind the wheel, as Maserati hasn't pipe any synthesized or extra exhaust noise through the cabin speakers. The V8 is actually fairly quiet and subdued from the driver's seat, even when gargling right up to the limiter. Instead, the full orchestra can only be heard from the outside - good thing that we recorded the whole thing in our latest Exhaust Notes video. Have a listen to the Trofeo in all of its Italian glory.
To further distinguish the Trofeo from the base models, the Ghibli receives black piano finishes on the front grill and its twin vertical bars, red details with the ‘Trofeo’ script on the fender three-hole air vents and Trident badge on the C-pillars, as well as re-styled taillights and unique 21-inch wheels. There are also two aggressive air ducts bulging out of the hood, due to the large V8 engine's cooling requirements.
The interior remains mostly unchanged. Maserati knows how to dress up a cabin with leather and in this case, full-grain Pieno Fiore upholstery. You will find Trofeo badges on the headrest and an upgraded 10.1-inch touchscreen that is faster and larger than before. It’s a vibrant and high-definition unit and generally works well, but we actually prefer the simpler and more user-friendly UConnect interface from the outgoing Ghibli.
Still, we love the fact that Maserati has kept with an analog clock, speedometer, and tachometer, because surely the next-gen models will migrate to a full digital format. On a lighter note, the Ghibli is the only car we’ve ever seen that lets buyers choose a zero-cost option of ‘enhanced size cupholders’. I guess everyone needs a place to put their XL fountain drinks.
Quality wise, the Trofeo utilizes expensive materials and soft leather surfaces but many of the plastic knick-knacks borrowed from the FCA (now called Stellantis) parts bin will surely bother a select few. The signal stalk, window switches, and even the sunroof controls are all shared with Dodges and Jeeps. They function as they are supposed to and we honestly don’t mind Maserati sourcing from downstream, but it’s the panel gaps and disappointing fitment and finish that has us constantly scratching our heads at the six-figure entrance fee. A shame about the miniscule, singular sunroof too, as it doesn’t do much to air out the cabin’s poor packaging and cramped rear seats.
The rear-wheel drive, 580-hp Maserati Ghibli Trofeo is a unicorn riding in a homogenous field of AWD super sedans. It’s an audacious take on an antiquated formula but one that constantly reminds us that driver engagement and involvement are rare qualities in today’s automobiles. The Trofeo is not the quickest, the most ergonomic, or even the loudest out there, but it is near impossible to ignore or deny its idiosyncratic charm and Italian flair. Of course, these are subjective qualities but for the select few where it rings especially true, the Trofeo is a rousing performance sedan with a big heart, a big price tag, and a big load of leather.
Model: 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo
Paint Type: Blu Emozione
Base Price: $131,380
Price as Tested: $139,005
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,971 / 1,945 / 1,461
Curb weight (kg): 2,094
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 580 hp @ 6,750 rpm
Torque: 538 lb-ft @ 2,250 - 5,250 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 17.5