First drive review: 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo adds substance to style

Maseratis seem to put form over function, so I haven’t understood their appeal. But the 2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo adds some substance to back up its flash, and I had the feeling it would worm its way into my heart.

The Trofeo (trophy) models are the fastest, baddest, and most expensive models in the Maserati lineup, and this year the Ghibli and Quattroporte get their own versions with the same engine found in the Levante Trofeo: a 580-hp, 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 538 lb-ft of torque. That’s exciting because the Ghibli is the smallest and lightest Maserati, so it can make the best use of that prodigious power.

For a high-performance variant, styling is rather subdued. The Ghibli Trofeo has a small Trofeo badge on each fender, small bits of color for accents (such as the green/white/red Italian trim on the B-pillar), and functional hood vents. The easiest way to pick it out might be the noise from the V-8 as the car sprints away.

I was introduced to the Ghibli Trofeo at one of my favorite places: Willow Springs Raceway in the high California desert. An afternoon complete with a series of hard launches, a slalom course, and laps around the big track were enough to paint a pretty complete picture of the Ghibli Trofeo’s performance potential, which is considerable.

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

Easy power, easy speed

Maserati designed the Trofeo engine, but it’s built and assembled by Ferrari at its factory in Maranello, Italy, since Maserati does not have an engine manufacturing plant (though that looks to be changing soon for the MC20). It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. 

Many of the Ghibli Trofeo’s contemporaries, such as the BMW M5 and Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, opt for all-wheel drive systems that can put down power more cleanly. I like Maserati’s choice to go exclusively with rear-wheel drive. While it does sacrifice some off-the-line speed (that’s why the larger and heavier Levante Trofeo is faster from 0-60 mph), I absolutely love the throwback feel of these rear-drive machines. Aim for an early apex to let the engine wind out on corner exit, and the Ghibli Trofeo is at its finest.

The powertrain delivers its power quickly and smoothly. On the track, it was easy to modulate the throttle to get the exact amount of push I was looking for, which is especially important on Willow Springs’ ample supply of long, high-speed sweepers that require you to carry just the right amount of speed. Too much power or an uneven application of the throttle and it’s easy to find the gravel.

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The electronically adaptive suspension also worked hard at each corner to maintain balance, which inspired confidence. These systems can sometimes overly numb the driving experience, but this one retained enough feel and rigidity that I felt in tune with the car.

The slalom course did make me wish for some added sharpness in the steering. The nose lacks the immediate turn-in response you find in cars such as the Giulia Quadrifoglio or BMW M2 Competition. But beyond that, it was hard to find fault from a performance perspective. Turns out that a solid suspension and 580 hp is a simple recipe for a good time.

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

Ready for launch

Another addition for 2021 is a Corsa (race) driving mode that includes launch control. It’s one of the easiest to use launch control systems I’ve encountered as these systems can sometimes require menus and submenus galore. While the car is in Corsa, simply pull back on the left shift paddle twice, step on the brake until an indicator registers enough braking force, and floor the accelerator. Release the brake pedal, the tires give a slight squawk, and mayhem is unleashed. The Ghibli Trofeo will accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.0 seconds, though the suddenness with which it unleashes its power makes it feel even quicker than that from the driver’s seat.

Lifting off the throttle or the brake prematurely shuts off the launch control system and the tires spin in 1st, 2nd, and perhaps even 3rd gears. Corsa turns off all of the car’s electric nannies completely. This mode should only be used on the track and and by those who really know what they are doing behind the wheel; even during our hot laps, I left the car in Sport mode with the suspension fully stiffened and the traction control and stability control engaged, though with looser settings, in the name of safety. 

I do wish, however, that Maserati would add a customizable driving mode, which could let drivers choose Corsa’s transmission, steering, and suspension settings but keep the ESC and traction control active. That would be my goldilocks setting for the track or the right twisty road.

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2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

An interior to match

The front seats left me wishing for some extra bolstering on the track. They are quite comfortable, though, and they would help make the Ghibli Trofeo an able, though thirsty, daily driver. The fuel economy numbers are a low at 13 mpg city, 20 highway, and 16 combined mpg. 

Otherwise, the Ghibli Trofeo has a high end interior that befits its price, with soft leather in almost every crevice. An available interior carbon-fiber package adds giant column-mounted paddle shifters and door sills made of carbon fiber, which join a center console that’s already mostly made of the light stuff. The steering wheel feels a smidge too large for my taste, but it didn’t get in the way while driving on the track. However, for taller drivers, head room can be tight while wearing a helmet.

With a standard 10.1-inch touchscreen that replaces the old 8.4-inch unit, the infotainment system is quite easy to use, a benefit of Maserati’s relationship with the former FCA. The system’s processing power, memory, and resolution have all improved this year. The Android based operating system is extremely fast and it never got bogged down. Even switching between Android Auto and the native system was instantaneous—something I haven’t seen before. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility are also standard now, as are over-the-air updates for the system and a wireless charging pad tucked up under the climate controls.

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

2021 Maserati Ghibli Trofeo

I finally get it

The 2021 Ghibli Trofeo starts at $111,385 (including a $1,495 destination charge), and my test vehicle checked in at $117,485. That’s a hefty price for the car to justify, but after an afternoon with it and a quick jaunt in a Ghibli SQ4 to do a deeper dive into the multimedia system, it felt worth the money—as much as a six-figure car can.

The Ghibli Trofeo’s styling, performance, well-integrated technology, and playful attitude left me rather smitten. It nimbly skirts the line between luxury and performance, conflicting parts of its nature somehow existing in appealing harmony. I don’t back down from my previous feelings about Maserati, but I’m glad that this car changed my mind.

Maserati provided a day at the track in the Ghibli Trofeo for Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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