Lexus GS VS Maserati Ghibli
- Super-smooth V6
- Lots of interesting tech
- Lovely (if old-fashioned) interior
- Media system
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Okay warranty
- Marginal on value
- Fast but not furious
Ah, yes, the Lexus GS. Toyota's luxury off-shoot had high hopes for the new big boy when I first saw it a few years ago. Not thousands-of-sales high hopes, but the company thought a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan stacked with gear you didn't even know you wanted would be a dead-set winner.
And to be fair, they were right. I ran a GS as a long-termer and it was impeccably-mannered. In hybrid form. It wasn't sparkling, but my goodness, it used barely any fuel; especially impressive given its size.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
So, there’s two hundred grand burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re keen to extinguish the flames by purchasing a premium, full-size, high-performance sedan.
Both can tear the tarmac off the road thanks to outputs in the ‘getting on for 600 horsepower’ range, and dynamic systems finely honed by unhinged boffins in Munich and Affalterbach.
But what if you prefer to follow a less-predictable path? One that sends you due south to Modena in Northern Italy, the home of Maserati.
This is the Maserati Ghibli, specifically the new S version, offering more power and torque than the standard issue.
It’s the famous Italian brand’s take on a serious sports sedan. But the elephant-sized question in the room is, why choose the road less travelled? What does this Maserati have that BMW or Merc’s finest doesn’t?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Weirdly, given all the good things I've had to say about the GS F Sport, it doesn't quite hang together. It's missing that certain something the Europeans have in their chassis, particularly the BMW 5 Series, and with ageing interior tech, it's struggling to keep up.
It's a car built for specific tastes, and they're more California than Straya. And that's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, that doesn't translate to a stampede of buyers. Having said that, none of its German rivals (or its beleaguered Japanese counterpart, Infiniti) could claim wild sales success either.
The GS is a terrific car, underrated but also just not quite there for my taste. The GS F, though, that's another thing altogether.
Does Lexus even register on your big luxury sedan radar? If it does, what stops you from taking the plunge?
Maserati will tell you people are drawn to its motor-racing heritage and sporting DNA, and that the Ghibli offers something different in a world of grey, business-like conformity.
There’s no doubt the M5 and E63 are left-lane autobahn hot rods, stunningly fast but relatively remote. The Ghibli S delivers a more nuanced driving experience. And the design details all through the car actually do connect with the brand’s history.
So, before you go Deutsche you might want to think about a high-emotion Italian relationship.
Does the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport's dynamic character put it at the top of your premium performance sedan wish list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The GS is ageing well, but it's still a bit heavy-handed around the headlights and a little on the slabby side along the flanks. It doesn't look poised for action, even with the F Sport additions, but nor does it look frumpy, mostly due to the whopping blacked-out spindle grille, a Lexus signature.
The rear end is good looking but a bit bluff, again neither surprising or delighting.
Little has changed inside, but it's still a very nice cabin, and always will be apart from a couple of clangers (the gear shifter looks super-cheap).
What's more, it's welcoming, lots of very nice materials, comfortable, seats - it's exactly what it needs to be. Whatever you might think of the looks, one thing is absolutely certain - if anyone builds cars better than Lexus, it's a very, very short list.
For 2018, the Ghibli is available in two new trim levels. Add $20k to the ‘standard’ price tag and you can choose between the GranLusso, with a focus on luxury (including the option of a Zegna silk interior treatment!), or the more performance-focused GranSport you see here, the high-output S version, resplendent in ‘Blu Emozione’.
The GranSport is identified by its unique front and rear bumpers, as well as a chrome concave grille, with two wings and a prominent splitter underneath it.
More recent Maserati design signatures, including three stylised vents in the front guards, and aggressively angular (adaptive LED) headlights, merge with classic references like delicately formed trident badges on each C-pillar to form a distinctively dynamic exterior. It’s aerodynamically slick, too, boasting a low 0.29 drag coefficient (down from 0.31 for the 2017 car).
Then you open the door and step inside. In this case, the bright-blue exterior is matched with a black and red interior. Make that mostly red, in fact mostly very red leather on the seats, dash and doors, with trademark touches like the oval-shaped, dash-mounted analogue clock, hooded instrument binnacle, and racy alloy-finish pedals setting the tone.
Taking a different path to its Teutonic competition, the Ghibli S dash and centre console combination manages to blend gentle curves with an occasional sharp turn. Cover over the trident badge and other brand giveaways inside, and it doesn’t feel like the usual suspects. It‘s a distinctive, characterful design.
Also worth calling out is the fact that when you crack the bonnet open to impress your friends they’ll actually be able to see the engine, or at least major parts of it. Like alloy cam covers, complete with Maserati in old-school cursive script in the casting. Yes, there’s some plastic dressing on top, but the ability to lay your eyes on real metal warms the heart.
Being a big car, there's plenty of room inside. Four passengers will be very comfortable although rear legroom was a bit on the skinny side given the car's size.
The cabin contains a good-sized console bin, four cupholders and each door pocket into which you could conceivably slot a bottle.
The 520-litre boot is a useful shape, with a sensible load height and a space-saver spare under the floor. The 5 Series and E Class both best the Lexus by 10 litres, so the GS isn't far off the norm.
Front-seat passengers enjoy a spacious feel, thanks largely to the dashboard’s progressive slope towards the windscreen, rather than the hard-edged, upright layout more commonly found in high-end sedans.
There are two cupholders in the centre console, but locating anything bigger than a piccolo latte in them would be a struggle. Same goes for the doors. Yes, there are storage bins, but forget water bottles or anything much thicker than an iPad (in a Gucci slipcase of course).
That said, there are several covered storage boxes in the centre console, as well as multiple connection options including an ‘auxiliary in’ socket, USB port, SD card reader and 12v outlet, plus a specific drawer for your mobile (in place of a now-deleted DVD player).
No surprise then that rear space is generous. I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm height, with plenty of legroom and more than adequate headroom. The gap for your feet under the seat in front is kinda squeezy, but it’s nowhere near a deal-breaking issue. Three large adults across the rear is do-able, but tight.
There are two adjustable vents for rear-seaters, map pockets on the seat backs, small door bins, plus a neatly configured storage box and (small) twin cupholder combination in the folding centre armrest.
The rear seat backs split-fold 60/40 to increase the standard 500-litre cargo capacity and improve load flexibility. There’s a 12v outlet, a side net pocket, and decent lighting back there, too. But don’t bother looking for a spare, a repair kit is standard issue, and an 18-inch space saver is an option.
Price and features
We had the pleasure of the GS 350 F Sport for the week, which is well over $10,000 cheaper than the Luxury and is therefore the 'default. If you're not sure what F Sport means, it's Lexus' answer to an M Sport or AMG pack, without all the high-powered engine shenanigans to go with it. If that's what you're after, the V8-powered Lexus GS F is definitely for you.
Starting at $95,300, the F Sport has a spectacular standard features list - 17-speaker stereo, 19-inch alloys, variable-geared four-wheel steer (!), adaptive suspension, dual-zone climate control (with moisturising function), hectares of leather trim, head-up display, electrically-operated heated and ventilated front seats, rear sunshade, F Sport instrument screen, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, front and rear parking sensors with around-view cameras and a space-saver spare.
The media system is run from Lexus' 12.3-inch screen embedded in the dashboard and controlled from an infuriating console-mounted mouse-clicker with a couple of shortcut buttons. It really is spectacularly irritating and made worse by the rotary dial stationed next to it that acts as the drive mode selector. Why not use that instead?
As ever, the system is mildly baffling to use and hard to look at, but the sound is absolutely lovely from the Mark Levinson-branded speakers. Lexus is persisting with a DVD player but it also has DAB+.
Cost of entry to this exclusive Italian club is $175,990 (plus on-road costs) for the Ghibli S, with an additional $20,000 opening up the choice of Ghibli S GranLusso or S GranSport ($195,990).
No small chunk of change, and in the same territory as the M5 and E 63, so what does that mean in terms of standard spec and tech?
For a start, the S GranSport rolls on 21-inch ‘Titano’ alloy rims, and features an eight-speaker, 280-watt Harman/Kardon sound system (including DAB digital radio). You’ll also luxuriate in extended leather trim (including a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel), carbon and piano black interior highlights, 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, keyless entry and start, sat-nav, LED headlights, power rear window sunshades, power boot lid (with hands-free mode) and soft-close doors.
There’s also dual-zone climate control air, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera (plus surround view), rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, ambient lighting, alloy-finish pedals, a 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, and an 8.4-inch colour multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto present and accounted for.
That’s plenty of luscious fruit, which is cost-of-entry in this rarefied market territory.
Engine & trans
The Ghibli S is powered by 3.0-litre, 60-degree, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, designed by Maserati Powertrain in Modena and manufactured by Ferrari, just up the road in Maranello.
It’s an all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection, variable cam timing (inlet and exhaust), low-inertia parallel turbos, and a pair of intercoolers.
While it can’t match the powerhouse Germans on outright numbers the Ghibli S still produces just over 321kW, or around 430 horsepower at 5500rpm, and 580Nm of torque from 2250-4000rpm. That’s a boost of 20kW/30Nm over the outgoing Ghibli S.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission.
A real world 13.7L/100km is a solid miss of the claimed 9.3L/100km, which itself is hardly earth-shattering. It's a big heavy car and that's the penalty. It drinks fuel fast, so the 66-litre fuel tank does drain quickly and it's worth knowing you have to fill it with the 95 RON or better.
There are things you expect in a Lexus. Quietness. Composure. Smoothness. The GS delivers all three of those things effortlessly. But it has a few extra things in its bag that I can't say I was expecting.
For a start, the 3.5-litre V6 moves the car without any carry-on and in doing so, I was constantly amazed at how quickly the speed in the head-up display reached the posted limit. It just doesn't feel or sound like a six second car, but there you are. The transmission is virtually faultless, the engine sound distant and refined, the power impressive.
It's a heavy car, no question, but two things work to make it feel much lighter. First - and it doesn't matter which mode you choose - the adaptive suspension somehow knocks about 200kg out of how heavy the car feels. The brakes, while a little soft on pedal feel when you first step on them, are very effective and again help to make the car feel lighter than it is.
The four driving modes are quite distinct. As usual, Eco makes everything soft and doughy or as I prefer to say, unpleasant. Normal is great for every day, with just the right throttle response and steering weight.
Moving to sport ups the aggro slightly while Sport+, while never harsh, firms everything up to the point where it starts to feel like a different car. Sport+ makes the car feel race-car pointy, the suspension holds the body in check and the power seems readily available without jerky progression
The all-wheel steer is a big part of the change in feel. It's is especially sharp in Sport+ mode. The steering's gearing changes up quite a bit, meaning a lot less steering lock required for your favourite hairpin bend. Of course, at real speed it all calms down because neither you nor Lexus are fond of sneezy lane-changes or Armco-swiping. At first I thought it just made the big car feel a bit too nervous but as I got used to it (and was able to dial it down by switching back into a less racy mode) I found it fun but a little bit out of character with the car itself.
And just because it's the F Sport, that doesn't mean it can't do all the things you'd expect from a Lexus. You can still waft, you can still creep up on people and it's really very comfortable when you're cruising or stuck in traffic.
So, the first thing to say is the Ghibli S GranSport is fast, but it’s not in the same eye-widening league as the M5 and E63. The sprint from 0-100km/h is covered in 4.9 seconds, and if you’re game (and your driveway is long enough) claimed maximum velocity is 286km/h. For reference, the just released (F90) M5 is claimed to hit triple digits in 3.4sec, and the E 63 in 3.5.
The V6 turbo sounds nice and growly in the Sport setting, the soundtrack controlled by pneumatic valves in each bank of the exhaust. In ‘Normal’ mode, the bypass valves are closed up to 3000rpm for a more civilised tone and volume.
Maximum torque is available across a useful band from 2250 to 4000rpm and the twin-turbo set-up helps with linear power delivery, while the eight-speed auto is quick and positive, especially in manual mode.
The sports seats (12-way electric adjustable) feel great, a 50/50 front to rear weight distribution helps the car feel balanced, and the standard LSD helps put power to the ground without fuss in tight going.
And despite a 1810kg kerb weight, it does, in fact, manage to feel lighter and more involving than its high-profile, highly powerful German rivals.
Braking is courtesy of big (red) Brembo six piston calipers at the front, and four piston at the rear on vented and cross-drilled rotors (360mm front/345mm rear). They’re up to the task, and the claimed 100-0km/h stopping distance is impressive at 36m.
The new electrically assisted power steering (a first for Maserati) is light at parking speeds, but it points nicely and road feel improves as the speedo needle twists to the right.
Suspension is double-wishbone front, five bar multi-link rear, and despite big 21-inch rims wrapped in high-performance Pirelli P Zero rubber (245/35 front-285/30 rear), ride comfort is amazingly good, even on patchy surfaces.
The GS scores 10 airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB, active cruise, auto high beams and lane departure warning with lane keep assist.
The GS doesn't have an ANCAP or Euro NCAP rating while the USA's IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) rating is good for each key crash-worthiness measure. The IIHS suite of tests is quite rigorous but differ from our ANCAP/Euro NCAP standards.
Maserati’s ‘ADAS’ (Advanced Driver Assistance Package) is standard on the Ghibli S, and now includes lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and traffic-sign recognition.
There’s also AEB, forward-collision warning, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’, ‘Rear Cross Path’ and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
The 2018 Ghibli and larger Quattroporte sedan are also the first Maseratis to feature IVC (Integrated Vehicle Control), a tailored version of ESP (Electronic Stability Program), using a smart controller to predict driving situations, adapting engine speed and torque vectoring (by braking) in response.
The ‘Maserati Stability Program’ (MSP) also wraps up ABS (with EBD), ASR, engine brake torque control, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’ and a hill holder.
In terms of passive safety the Ghibli is equipped with seven airbags (front head, front side, driver’s knee, and full length curtain) as well as anti-whiplash headrests.
There are three top tether points across the rear for child seats, with ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.
Although ANCAP hasn’t assessed the Ghibli it rates a maximum five stars from EuroNCAP.
There's one area where Lexus smashes the Germans and that's after-sales. While the warranty is hardly ground-breaking at four years/100,000km and service intervals are reasonable at 12 months/15,000km, it's how it all comes together.
For the duration of the warranty, when the car needs a service, Lexus will either come and get it then return it to you, or give you a loan car. Anecdotal evidence suggests this continues long after the warranty runs out. Like, 10 years after the warranty runs out.
This is a small thing, but if there's one thing I hate about car ownership, it's the servicing experience. If I was a betting man, I'd dare you to find someone who genuinely has a problem with Lexus after-sales care.
On top of that, you get a generous roadside assist package for four years.
Maserati supports the Ghibli S GranSport with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is now some way off the industry leading eight years (160,000km) from Tesla, and seven years (unlimited km) from Kia.
But the recommended service interval is a lengthy two years/20,000km, and the ‘Maserati Maintenance’ program offers pre-paid schedules for Ghibli and Quattroporte owners, covering required inspections, components and consumables.