Maserati Ghibli VS Mercedes-Benz E-Class
- Beautiful exterior design
- Beautiful interior feel
- Cinderella point in the range
- Seats lovely but a bit firm
- Confused sense of identity
- Numb steering
- Rear headroom in coupe/cabrio
- So-so warranty
Maseratis make a certain amount of sense to a certain kind of person. As the folks who run the brand in Australia will tell you, its buyers are the kind of people who’ve driven German premium vehicles, but find themselves wanting something more.
They are older, wiser and, most importantly, richer.
While it’s easy to see the high-end lure of Maserati’s Italian sex appeal styling and luxuriously appointed interiors, they’ve always struck me as cruisers rather than bruisers.
Again, they’re for the older, more generously padded buyer, which makes the Trofeo range something of an oddity. Maserati says its Trofeo badge - seen here on its mid-sized sedan, the Ghibli, which sits below the vast Quattroporte limousine (and side on to the other car in the range, the SUV Levante) - is all about the "Art of Fast".
Read More: Maserati Ghibli 2017 review
And it certainly is fast, with a whopping V8 driving the rear wheels. It’s also completely bonkers, a luxury car with the heart of a track-chomping monster.
Which is why Maserati chose to launch it at the Sydney Motorsport Park complex, where we could see just how quick and crazy it is.
The big question is, why? And perhaps who, because it’s hard to imagine who wants, or needs, a car with such severe schizophrenia.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
To say Mercedes-AMG is popular in Australia is like saying the young people are fond of Drake, or that football fans seem to appreciate Ronaldo’s skills.
Per head of population we buy more of the three-pointed star’s go-fast specials than any other country on the globe. Typically, between 15 and 20 per cent of all Mercs sold here are of the AMG variety.
The ‘43’ suffix appeared on C and E Class variants, meaning a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo V6 had been slotted under the bonnet, providing enough grunt for day-to-day enjoyment without the hardcore edge of a big-banger V8.
But the boffins at AMG’s Affalterbach HQ can’t seem to help themselves because the E 43 has been replaced by, you guessed it, the gruntier E 53.
Powered by a 3.0-litre, in-line six-cylinder turbo engine, the 53-series delivers close to 15 per cent more power and a huge dollop of extra torque courtesy of its tricky ‘EQ Boost’ starter/alternator system.
So, has the civility and relative efficiency of Merc-AMG’s only slightly psycho E Class models been maintained, or has another beast been released?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
The Maserati Trofeo Ghibli is a very strange beast, but there's no doubt that it is a beast. Fast, loud and capable on a race track, and yet still closely resembling a classy, expensive Italian family sedan, it is genuinely unique. And genuinely strange, in a good way.
The Mercedes-AMG E53 is a supremely refined and satisfying performance/luxury package. For those who want the practicality and style of a high-spec E-Class, with an extra performance boost (but not the full-fat V8 drama) it’s got to be an appealing option. Plus, the high-tech hybrid drivetrain is brilliantly executed and seamless in operation.
Does the E 53 AMG do enough to warrant the hallowed Affalterbach seal of approval? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
The Ghibli Trofeo is an alluringly beautiful car from just about every angle, with a genuine sense of occasion and presence about its nose, a sleek side profile and a much improved rear end, where the light clusters have been redesigned.
The Trofeo special touches are impossible to miss, particularly from the driver’s seat where you look straight into two vast nostrils on the bonnet. There are also carbon fibre pieces on the front air duct and the rear extractor for a sportier, wilder look.
The red details on the air vents on each side are the highlight, though, while the lightning bolt on the Maserati trident badge is another nice touch.
The interior is simply beyond special and feels even more expensive than it is. Overall, I’d say it again, it’’s alluring. Italian style at its best and the Ghibli is the Cinderella point in the range, because the Quattroporte big brother really is too large, and the Levante is an SUV.
Keen car-spotters will pick the E 53 courtesy of its ‘twin-blade’ radiator grille (in silver chrome) with black mesh insert in place of the standard E-Class ‘diamond’ version, and a distinctive ‘A-wing’ front apron design.
AMG-specific side sill panels link the front fascia to a rear treatment including a high-set diffuser panel and quad exhaust tailpipes finished in high-gloss (black) chrome.
The interior doesn’t vary dramatically from other high-end E-Class variants, the biggest differences being grippier, leather-trimmed sports seats, dark ash wood trim on the dash, console and doors, plus an ‘AMG Performance’ steering wheel trimmed in nappa leather.
A twin (12.3-inch) screen ‘Widescreen Cockpit’ media and instrument array includes the ability to scroll through an AMG-specific digital display, scrollable through ‘Classic’, ‘Sporty’ and ‘Progressive’ configurations.
Via the AMG menu it’s also possible to call up read-outs including engine and transmission oil temp, acceleration (longitudinal and lateral), engine outputs, turbo boost pressure, tyre temps and pressures, as well the current vehicle set-up.
From the driver’s seat, the Trofeo Ghibli feels spacious indeed, and while it’s not as vast in the back as a Quattroporte, there’s plenty of room for two adults, or even three small children.
The move to throw sportiness at the Ghibli has led to it having firm but fabulous seats. They’re comfortable, and the leather is luscious, but the actual seat back is constantly letting your spine know that this is no ordinary Ghibli.
Throw it around a track, though, and the seats feel just right, providing the kind of support you need.
Boot space is ample at 500 litres and the Ghibli feels like the sort of car you could take your family in, if only it didn’t make you feel like you were spoiling your children too much.
Despite availability in sedan, coupe and cabriolet form, the E 53 launch drive program focused exclusively on the coupe and cabrio.
Like all E-Class models the E53 offers plenty of space up front, as well as a generous, lidded console box incorporating multiple USB ports.
A second flip-top section in front of the media controller houses a pair of cupholders, oddments space and a 12-volt power outlet, plus there’s a medium-size glove box, and the doors feature long bins including big bottle holders.
Rear room in the sedan is typically E-Class generous, with three adults across the back seat a genuine option on shorter journeys.
Adjustable air vents are welcome, and a fold-down armrest houses two cupholders and a lidded bin, with another two USB ports provided. Door pockets incorporate bottle holders and there are map pockets on the front seatbacks.
The sedan’s boot capacity is 540 litres, more than enough to swallow a pram and accompanying baby ‘stuff’, or our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres). And the 40/20/40 split-folding seat back liberates yet more space.
Backseaters (two only) in the coupe and cabrio are well catered for. Legroom is surprisingly substantial, although with the roof up, at 183cm, headroom for me was just adequate. With the cabrio’s roof down however, that improved considerably. Worth noting that sensors in the front seats’ adjustment system stop them from hitting a rear passenger’s knees. Nice.
In terms of storage and convenience, there’s a pair of cupholders between the seats, adjustable air vents, map pockets, and some oddments space near the outside armrests.
Boot capacity in the coupe is 425L and 385L in the cabrio, with the rear seat splitting and folding to offer through-loading space. An electrically controlled, retractable separator in the soft-top’s boot defines the space filled by the roof when folded (which still leaves 310L).
Tyres are run-flat on all variants, so don’t bother looking for a spare of any description.
Price and features
At a price of $265,000, the idea of “value” becomes a different discussion, but you only need to glance at the Ghibli to realise that it looks like four times that much money.
The interior is also spectacularly boudoir-like, with lashings of carbon fibre and a whole cattle stud worth of full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather, “the best the world has ever seen”, as Maserati likes to say.
Perhaps most vitally, this Trofeo racy edition gets a Ferrari engine; a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 good for 433kW and 730Nm (the first time it’s been seen in the Ghibli), driving the rear wheels only through a limited-slip differential and an eight-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. You also get very nice, expensive feeling paddles to shift those gears with.
Ghibli Trofeo models come with a Corsa, or Race, button for hard-core sporty driving, and a Launch Control function.
There’s also an MIA (Maserati Intelligent Assistant), featuring a rather large 10.1-inch multimedia screen with upgraded resolution.
The Active Driving Assist “assisted driving function”, which has been seen in Ghibli before, can now be activated on urban roads and ordinary highways.
Pricing for the Mercedes-AMG E 53 ranges from $167,129 (plus on-road costs) for the sedan, through $172,729 for the coupe, and $181,329 for the cabriolet.
Then the cabrio is something of an outlier, with the BMW M4 Competition ($165,615) again a smaller but faster and cheaper option. In the hunt for other performance-focused 2+2 convertibles, you’re into the entry-point of Porsche’s 911 line-up with the Carrera Cabriolet ($248,350) representing a close to $70k premium.
All variants are suitably well equipped. On top of the standard performance and safety tech detailed in later sections, the E 53 is fitted with dual-zone climate control, 13-speaker Burmester audio (including digital radio and Apple CarPlay compatibility), keyless entry and start, nappa leather trim, sports seats, ‘AMG Performance’ (flat bottom) sports steering wheel (also trimmed in nappa leather), adaptive LED headlights (plus active high beam), and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Also included are the Widescreen Cockpit display (twin 12.3-inch screens covering multimedia and instruments as well as ‘Linguatronic’ voice control), sat nav, ambient interior lighting (64 colour options), active cruise, a configurable head-up display, electric front seats (heated with memory), wireless phone charging, wood grain interior trim, electric steering column adjust, rain-sensing wipers, and a panoramic sunroof.
All that stacks up well for a contender in this part of the market. You pay the big bucks, you get all the fruit.
Engine & trans
This will be the last time Maserati gets to enjoy a proper Ferrari engine - a 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 good for 433kW and 730Nm - before it moves to a more electrified future, but it’s certainly going out with a lot of loud bangs.
Deafeningly lovely, the V8, which drives the rear wheels, will shove you to a shouty 100km/h in 4.3 seconds (fast, but not stupidly so, although it feels even quicker) on your way to a very Italian top speed of 326km/h.
We can report that it exceeds 200km/h with consummate ease and has epic amounts of torque on tap.
Already used in other AMG models, including the entry-level version of the just-released flagship GT 4-Door, the E 53’s (M256) in-line six is a 3.0-litre all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection and a single turbo, supplemented by an electric compressor (turbo if you prefer) which builds up charge pressure prior to the main turbo coming on song. Turbo lag, be gone!
The EQ Boost starter-alternator is housed in an electric motor fitted between the engine and transmission, driving a 48-volt electrical system to support the additional compressor as well as the car’s traditional 12-volt functions (lights, cockpit, multimedia and other control units) through a DC/DC converter.
Maximum torque (520Nm) is available from just 1800rpm all the way to 5800rpm, with peak power (320kW) taking over at 6100rpm. But the EQ Boost’s hybrid party trick is the ability to drop in a brief full-throttle burst of 16kW/250Nm. Whoosh.
Drive goes to all four wheels via a nine-speed dual-clutch auto transmission and an AMG Performance turned version of Merc’s ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system, using an electro-mechanical clutch to distribute torque between the permanently driven rear axle and variably driven front axle.
Maserati claims a slightly inexact fuel-economy figure of 12.3 to 12.6 litres per 100km, but good luck ever achieving it. The desire to open the taps and really chew some fuel will aways be overwhelming.
We drove it on a race track and would easily have been exceeding 20 litres per 100km, so our test figure is probably best not spoken about.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is line-ball for sedan (8.7L/100km), coupe (8.8L/100km), and cabriolet (9.0L/100km) variants, emitting 199, 200, and 204g/km of CO2 respectively in the process.
Start-stop is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 95RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 66 litres of it to fill the tank.
We were fortunate enough to drive all three Trofeo models - Ghibli, Levante and Quattroporte - on the track at Sydney Motorsport Park, which really is the only way to fully appreciate vehicles with Ferrari V8 engines, 433kW and rear-wheel drive.
Maserati is keen to point out that other premium brands don’t offer that kind of grunt in their rear-drive cars, indeed most of them are going all-wheel drive, and that level of playfulness is a real USP, it believes.
The thing is, the company also acknowledges that its buyers are older, wiser and wealthier types moving up from the German brands.
The Trofeo range, in particular, then, is a real niche within a niche. I picture Maserati buyers as being slightly sedate yet stylish. Fans of the nicer things in life, but not flashy, or thrashy, about the cars they drive.
And yet, unlike other Maseratis, the Trofeos are flame-spitting beasts that sound like Game of Thrones dragons. Clearly there are people who like their classy Italian saloons to be insanely fast and track ready. And hooray for them, because as weird as it seems to flog a car like this so hard, the Trofeo Ghibli was well and truly up for it.
It’s also the pick of the litter, being less SUV like than the SUV Levante, and less stupidly long and heavy than the Quattroporte.
Its shorter wheelbase and lighter weight make it the most fun and light on its feet when being thrown around. We hit an easy 235km/h on the front straight before hurling into Turn One well north of 160km/h, and the Ghibli just held on tight before using its torque to hurl it at the next bend.
It sounds, as I’ve said, amazing, but it’s worth saying again because it’s a real Maserati (or Ferrari, really) advantage of choosing this car.
The brakes are also up to the task of repeated track-hard stops, the steering is lighter and less talkative than a Ferrari perhaps, but still excellent, and the whole Trofeo Ghibli experience is best described, on circuit, as being better than you would possibly imagine.
Out on the road, you don’t have to put up with the firm ride that pressing the Corsa button compels, and the Ghibli reverts to its smooth, cruiser persona - while still looking sporty as hell.
The only letdown is the seats, which are a little on the firm side, but everything else about the cabin is so luxe you almost forgive it.
While this car makes no sense to me, it obviously excites enough people for Maserati to make a business case, and charge $265,000 for the Trofeo Ghibli. Good luck to them, I say.
It only takes a few kilometres behind the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG E 53 to recognise that it fulfils its job description pretty well.
With claimed 0-100km/h acceleration sitting in the mid-4.0sec zone (coupe 4.4sec, sedan/cabrio 4.5sec) it’s fast, but not brutal. It growls without rising to the full-blown roar that’s become the aural signature of the current 63-series AMG V8s.
But don’t take that to mean meek and mild. It’s properly rapid and the sports exhaust, particularly with the drivetrain mapped to the ‘Dynamic Select’ system’s ‘Sport+’ mode leaves you (and everyone in a 200-metre radius) in no doubt that you’re driving something special.
Dynamic Select allows individual calibration of the engine, transmission, suspension and steering. Around town with everything dialled in to ‘Comfort’ the E 53 is as refined and compliant as any other high-spec E-Class.
Despite the standard 20-inch rims shod with low-profile run-flat rubber (245/35 front, 275/30 rear) the ‘AMG Ride Control’ adaptive damping combines with the overall air suspension system to provide excellent ride comfort.
Find a twisting B-road and push into ‘Sport’ or Sport+’ mode and the car’s character changes distinctly. All 520Nm of maximum torque is available from just 1800rpm right up to 5800rpm. And while that’s plenty, pin the throttle and an additional 250Nm (and 16kW), courtesy of the EQ Boost hybrid system joins the party.
Press on and as peak power (320kW) takes over at 6100rpm you’ll notice the horizon is approaching rapidly. The additional electric compressor means power delivery is beautifully linear, and the hybrid boost is undetectable.
The nine-speed dual-clutch auto is as smooth at parking speeds as it is at maximum attack. Manual changes (up and down) are rapid and positive, accompanied by entertaining blips and bangs from the exhaust in the more aggressive drive modes.
The coupe is the lightweight of the trio, weighing in at 1895kg, with the sedan and cabrio sending the needle roughly 100kg further to the right. But despite that not insubstantial kerb weight, and the all-wheel drive set-up, all feel light and nimble for their size.
While the variable steering adjusts seamlessly as lateral forces increase, no matter which mode is selected, road feel is modest at best. But the AWD system shuffles drive to the right wheel without fuss and power down out of quick corners is satisfyingly solid.
With all this performance, on-tap braking is critical, and the standard set-up is perforated and internally ventilated discs all around (370mm front, 360mm rear) clamped by four piston calipers at the front and single piston floating calipers at the rear. After an ‘enthusiastic’ session on the launch drive they remained progressive and strong.
The multi-adjustable sports front seats are comfy when they need to be, and with the side bolsters adjusted inwards, secure and grippy as G-force builds. Top-notch ergonomics complement this satisfying and well resolved dynamic package.
There is no ANCAP rating for the Ghibli as it has not been tested here.
The Trofeo Ghibli comes with six airbags, Blind Spot Detection, Forward Collision Warning Plus, Pedestrian Detection, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Active Driver Assist and Traffic sign Recognition.
You’d expect any current passenger model wearing the three-pointed star to be on the leading edge in terms of active and passive safety, and the E Class range scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in late 2016.
The E 53’s crash avoidance tech includes ABS, EBD, brake assist, AEB, ESC, traction control, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, fatigue detection, a surround camera system, tyre pressure monitoring, and traffic sign recognition.
And if a crash is unavoidable all models feature dual front and dual front side airbags, a knee airbag for the driver, plus full-length curtain airbags… even a first-aid kit.
The sedan features three top tether points and two ISOFIX child restraint anchor positions across the back seat, with a two-and-two count in the coupe and cabrio.
Maserati offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, but you can choose to buy 12-month or two-year warranty extensions, and even a sixth or seventh-year drive-train warranty extension.
When much, much cheaper Japanese and Korean cars are offering seven and even 10-year warranties, this is so far off the pace that such a fast vehicle should be embarrassed. And if you're buying something Italian, a better, longer warranty would seem like a must. I'd be negotiating at sale for them to throw the longer warranty offer in.
Maserati says servicing for the Ghibli has a "ball park costing of $2700.00 for the first three years of ownership" with a service schedule of every 20,000km or 12 months (whichever occurs first)
Also, "please note that the above is indicative only of the manufacturers basic routine service maintenance schedule and does not include any consumable items such as tyres, brakes etc or additional dealership charges such as environmental levies etc."
Mercedes-Benz offers a three-year/unlimited km warranty, with 24-hour roadside assist included for the duration. Not exactly leading edge when you think about Kia at seven years/unlimited km and Tesla’s eight-year/160,000km cover.
Scheduled maintenance for the E 53 is set at 12 months/25,000km, and service plans are offered at silver and platinum levels for up to five years/100,000km.