What It’s Like Driving the World’s Fastest Sedan: Maserati Ghibli 334 Ultima

How do you say goodbye to Ferrari-made V8 engines? Try 208 miles per hour.

January 4, 2024 6:34 am
The world's fastest sedan: the Maserati Ghibli 334 Ultima, which we drove and reviewed in Italy
Should an automaker even make a four-door sedan that goes 208 mph? Too late. Maserati did it.

It takes me a couple of miles to find some courage on the tight mountain roads near the Italian ski town of Livigno, but eventually I remember what the right pedal is for and begin to push it toward the floor. The tachometer rises and falls as dramatically as the Alps I’m throttling past while behind the wheel of the Maserati Ghibli 334 Ultima, now the fastest production sedan in the world. 

The folks in Modena claim this four-door, rear-wheel-drive beast can hit a top speed of 208 mph (one tick better than the former title holder, the Bentley Flying Spur Speed). Of course, I’m not going to get anywhere near that velocity on public roads, zig-zagging along cliffs, being a sane man who fears death (as well as Italian prison). But I’m more than happy to push the power toward the red.

End of a V8-Powered Era

Maserati announced the demise of their V8 line earlier this year, with production to cease in early 2024. The Ghibli 334 Ultima, along with its SUV sibling, the Levante V8 Ultima, represents a celebration of life for the V8s that have anchored the brand since the late 1950s. Their most recent version of the engine, known as the F154, was developed in partnership with, and built by, Ferrari. (Maranello uses a higher revving flat-plane crank in their cars, while Maserati employs a smoother cruciform, or cross-plane, version). The direct-injected, twin-turbo F154 puts out 572 hp and 528 lb-ft of torque that will propel the 334 Ultima from a dead stop to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. 

Maserati Ghibli 334 Ultima
Every 334 Ultima comes in a unique color called Scià di Persia.

Oddly, the nuts and bolts here are nearly identical to the now outgoing Ghibli Trofeo. Maserati hasn’t wrung out any extra juice from the motor; the ZF eight-speed transmission and the suspension are identical; but the 334 Ultima manages its way to 60 mph three-tenths of a second faster and boasts a top speed that’s six miles per hour faster. (The 334 moniker is a nod to the top speed in kilometers per hour instead of miles.) 

How did they do it? The engineering team improved the aerodynamics of the new 21-inch Orione wheels and added a carbon fiber rear spoiler that minimizes drag at high speeds. They also made it lighter by reducing the amount of insulation, among other weight cuts by subtraction. Lastly, they added bespoke Pirelli P-Zero tires that get off the line quicker. 

“Tires are critical for speed,” Davide Danesin, Maserati’s chief engineer, tells InsideHook. “So we needed to develop a new specific tire for this car.”

Another question worth asking: why? Why build the world’s fastest sedan with an outgoing power unit? Certainly Maserati is a brand known for making absurdly fast cars, most capable of speeds in excess of 185 mph, but creating a car that can perform well over 200 mph is almost reckless, and certainly a gauntlet toss at competitors. 

“For sure speed is important for Maseratis,” Danesin says. “But in a way, it’s a message of the quality behind the project and a statement of quality of the design of the car.” 

The world's fastest sedan, a Maserati, driving through the Alps in Italy
This four-door can outrun your roadster.

On the Road in a Record-Breaker

It’s a cold day in the mountains, just hovering around the freezing mark. But it hasn’t dipped into uncomfortable territory, so I’m driving with the windows down to better hear every octave of this V8 requiem. 

Torque comes on quick, with nearly every bit of the max ripping by the time the tach moves past 2,200 rpm. Push the engine above 4,500 and it starts to growl like a monstrous jungle cat. Closer to 7,200 rpm, the V8 reaches a fever pitch on the edge of euphoria.   

In automatic mode, the 334 Ultima is fine but doesn’t seem to intuit well unless you’re languidly slouching through traffic or pushing the pedals hard, something I’m doing more judiciously since there’s a fair bit of slush on the road surface. Manual mode, however, is where it’s at for maximum control. Shifts are quick, though not quite as instantaneous as more track-focused Italian lightning rods, and the column-mounted aluminum paddles offer an incredibly satisfying little “ping” when engaged. (It’s the little things you fall in love with.)

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Despite being an intimidating vehicle, the Ghibli 334 Ultima is a nimble, easy-to-drive car. Input responses are sharp, even on winter Sottozero Pirellis, and the stout, six-piston Brembo brakes are more than effective. The normal and winter driving modes are supple and quite comfortable, but in sport mode the adaptive dampers offer a sort of happy medium between sports car firm and touring soft. The road never feels rough and bumps don’t send shockwaves through my spine, but there’s still plenty of feedback. It’s a nice feature for a daily driver, but that Goldilocks paradigm does seem an odd fit for a car that boasts a “world’s fastest” title (though the Flying Spur Speed presented the same contradiction).  

The wet road seems not to phase the rear-wheel-drive sedan one bit, thanks to traction and stability control, which you certainly notice when it intervenes to get the rubber back to the road. The virtues of those systems were made quite plain later in the day when driving the lower-tier Ghibli Trofeo on an ice track with the traction control turned off. (Yes, I spun it into a snow drift…twice.)

The steering wheel on a Maserati Ghibli
To get the 334 Ultima up to its record-breaking speed, Maserati cut weight in the Ghibli where they could.

This One’s for the Loyalists

On the outside, the Ghibli 334 Ultima looks much like the Trofeo variant, just with a few carbon fiber bits and bobs on the rear bumper plates, door handles, mirror caps and B-C pillars. The 334 Ultima also only comes in a specific blue-green Scià di Persia color — an homage to the first Maserati equipped with a V8, a 5000 GT ordered by the Shah of Iran — and features a painted 334 logo on the fender.

Inside, the seats in every car will come upholstered in terracotta leather and grey microfiber with headrests stitched with Trident and 334 logos in the front. As in the slower variants, the front seats are comfortable and spacious, but the back is less so.

Maserati is limiting production to 103 Ghibli 334 Ultimas, the same project number for the original 5000 GTs. Clearly, the conceit is to appeal to ardent collectors and brand loyalists. As always, exclusivity and nostalgia don’t come cheap: the sticker price clocks in at $165,000, a $40,000 premium over the Trofeo and only $10,000 shy of a GranTurismo Modena

While the Ghibli 334 Ultima may offer buyers the highest top speed of any sedan on the market, it’s hardly the quickest internal combustion engine-powered sedan to 60 mph. Porsche’s Panamera Turbo S, Cadillac’s CT5-V Blackwing and a few of BMW’s M series four-doors are all faster and cost substantially less. 

But that’s not quite the point. The 334 Ultima is the last Maserati sedan you can buy with a Ferrari-made V8, which is an emotional argument for anyone passionate about Italian cars — and one I understand well. 

The first time I heard a modern Maserati V8 was at the 2006 U.S. Grand Prix in Indianapolis. Michael Schumacher showed up in the parking lot behind the wheel of a Quattroporte (with a F136 V8) and revved the engine hard, insisting pedestrians move out of his way. Che figa! It sounded so good, even in the company of the F1 V8s of the day. If you heard one you couldn’t help but want one.

A lucky 103 people will get to add the Ghibli 334 Ultima and one of Maserati’s final V8s to their collection, which is great for them. But there’s good news for the rest of us, too: Maserati has made more than 100,000 V8-powered road cars since 1959. So if you really want one, they will still be out there long after all 103 of these swan songs have taken flight. 

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