2021 Maserati Ghibli, Quattroporte and Levante Trofeo First Drive: Soul Siblings

The Maserati brand is amid a reinvention. After giving us a taste of the Levante Trofeo in 2019, the trident brand is now offering Trofeo versions of the 2021 Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans. Both come with the same Ferrari-built 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8 engine as found int the Levante Trofeo, along with its intoxicating soundtrack. The icing on the cake is Maserati's newest MC20 supercar, a return to form for the Italian carmaker. The MC20 replaces Maserati's flagship MC12 racing model, a limited-edition supercar that won 14 racing championships from 2005 to 2010.

The unusual times we find ourselves in make for unusual drive events, something I had plenty of time to think about heading out to Willow Springs International Raceway in Kern County, California. Following strict social distancing and disinfection protocols, I had the opportunity to safely push the 2021 Levante Trofeo and Ghibli Trofeo around the track. With Ferrari's marvelous twin-turbo V8 spinning at full tilt, the Levante Trofeo was as much a revelation as it always has been. It's a genuine Italian super-SUV that sounds unlike any luxe-truck I've driven, and it also looks the part.

Along with the beastly V8 powerplant, only the Trofeo collection gets Corsa Mode, and the latest models receive unique exterior elements. Standard across the board are new grille designs, Trofeo badging, and bespoke wheel designs. The Quattroporte Trofeo and Ghibli Trofeo have new Maserati logos in the C-pillar and an Italian flag on the B-pillar. Both sedans also heap on a bevy of carbon-fiber exterior trim, including the side air intakes, front splitter, and rear diffuser. Meanwhile, the Levante Trofeo gets the Nerissimo Package, including blacked-out exterior trim, black chrome garnishing, and dark taillamps.

It leaves them more easily distinguished from a standard Levante, Ghibli, and Quattroporte. My love affair with Maserati began with the fifth-generation Quattroporte sold from 2003 to 2012. Back then, Quattroporte V was up against luxury-performance stalwarts like the Aston Martin Rapide and Porsche Panamera Turbo. However, I still prefer the Quattroporte's at-times-bewildering Italian charm, not to mention the sound and mighty shove from its 4.2-liter dry sump Ferrari V8 engine.

Since then, the Quattroporte has retained a special place in my automotive consciousness. With that in mind, I was understandably excited when I spied the Quattroporte Trofeo, the fastest iteration of Maserati's super sedan since the GTS.

All 2021 Maserati Trofeo models have a standard 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 motor with 580 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque. Last year's Levante Trofeo had ten more horsepower and a higher 189 mph top speed, but it still rushes to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. On the other hand, Quattroporte Trofeo goes from zero to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds, while the Ghibli Trofeo finishes the deed in four seconds flat. Both boast a 203 mph top speed – the fastest ever for Maserati production sedans. Against the GTS, the Quattroporte Trofeo has 57 more horsepower and has a higher top speed. Thankfully, Maserati retained those gorgeous trapezoidal exhaust tips from the GTS, a suitable addition of glitter for that unmistakable Maserati howl.

As part of the track experience, the first order of business and, in my opinion, the best ice breaker exercise is launch control. For Maserati, setting up requires switching to Sport Corsa mode, pulling back the left paddle shifter twice, pushing hard on the brake pedal with the left foot, and locking the gas floor, finally release the brake pedal.

There's no getting around feeling all 4,800 pounds of the Levante, which only really makes its surge to 60 the more impressive. Shifting to a short slalom course, it was time to see how much you can push the Levante before getting into trouble. It took a lot of effort and sloppiness in my driving, but heck, it was a ton of fun throwing an SUV around. On the flip side, the Ghibli's essential a scalpel in the right hands. Turn in, turn out, the Ghibli slithered effortlessly through the slalom.

With a Maserati, speed is a necessary part of the equation, but then again luxury can't take a back seat. That's a given since the first-gen Quattroporte back in 1963: the automaker set out to create the ultimate in luxury and sportiness. New for 2021, then, is a Corsa drive mode for the Quattroporte Trofeo and Ghibli Trofeo, for even greater aggressiveness on the track.

Sadly, I had to settle for Sport Mode around Willow Springs International Raceway, and didn't get to test the new Corsa mode. Still, that was more than enough to give me a good sense of how capably it performed on the track.

"Big Willow" is filled with long, fast, sweeping turns with elevation changes and technical challenges that'll test how a car handles through tight switch turns. It's 2.5 miles long and includes 9 turns; most you need to shed speed considerably, but in theory you can hit turn 8 at up to 150mph. No, I didn't get anywhere near that speed, but I did reach 118mph going in and briefly lift, reducing the speed down to 109mph through turn 8 in the planted Ghibli.

It's fun to shift gear manually but, on a fast pace track, it's not necessary since the 8-speed automatic transmission does a great job being in the right gear when you need it. Take turn 3, for example: you need to scrub off a lot of speed beforehand, turn in, remain patient because it's the late apex, then throttle to climb up the hill. This all happens quickly in 3rd gear without upsetting the car too much, as you exit and enter turn 4 at the top of the hill. That should be the slowest section of the track, and sure, you can manually shift gears, but it worked just fine concentrating on the course and leaving the Maserati to figure out the shifts.

Maserati's oversized paddle shifters are easily grabbed at, but it's worth noting that they're column-mounted, not wheel-mounted. Now, it's been close to 18 months since my last track event, but inside the Levante and in particular the Ghibli, I never felt more at home. Being 6'2", pushing 200-pounds in body weight, there was just enough amount of space to brace and support me comfortably around the track.

All in all, apart from not being able to check out Corsa Mode, both testers performed admirably on the track in Sport Mode – and dare I say, they live up the exceptional performance we've come to expect from Maserati.

As for the luxury part of the equation, there the 2021 model year brings various interior and tech updates, not to mention a fresh addition of connected vehicle features. Trofeo models receive a 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen powered by Maserati's next-generation intelligent assistant (MIA), replacing the outdated MTC+ Uconnect-based infotainment system from the old Levante Trofeo.

The newest MIA runs on the new Android Automotive OS with four times the processing power, three times more memory and storage, and with a tenfold improvement screen resolution. You get all the wireless features such as wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, Amazon Alexa, wireless charging, Bluetooth connectivity from multiple gadgets, live navigation, remote diagnostics control, and over-the-air (OTA) updates, along with a reconfigurable home screen like a smartphone. Also standard is a new instrument cluster with white dials, a full black background, and a new 7-inch instrument screen with better graphics.

Standard on 2021 Ghibli and Levante GranLusso/GranSport trims (and on all Quattroporte trims including Trofeo) is Maserati's new active driving assist system. Capable of performing at Level 2 assistance on both highway and non-highway roads, it combines adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and object recognition algorithms to detect road markings while calculating the speed and distance of the vehicle ahead. It'll work at speeds up to 90 mph.

Exclusive to all 2021 models of the Levante, Ghibli, and Quattroporte is an optional Zegna Pelletesuta woven leather interior, the first of its kind in a production car. The material starts as thin strips of Nappa leather, which are then woven together and interlaced like fabric yarn. The result is leather that looks and feels more like carbon-fiber. Another option is Ermenegildo Zegna's mulberry silk interior, combined with premium leather for a classier feel.

Tantalizingly close to the track, but not quite ready to head out on it, Maserati had brought along a static prototype of the 2022 MC20, a super sports car forging a new era for the automaker. It has a brand-new Nettuno V6 engine producing 621 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque, enough to push the MC20 from zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 202 mph.

Hybrid and all-electric powertrains are in the works for the MC20, but I'm allowing myself to bask in good ole' gas power before the entire automotive landscape changes for good. That may well be an inevitability we all have to face up to, but for now Maserati doesn't stint on soul with its Trofeo powertrains and design that lives up to the howl.