The Giovanni Agnelli Plant was once owned by the bold and brilliant Bertone. Here in Italy’s industrial north, in Grugliasco on the edge of Turin, the carrozzeria built avant-garde cars. The Fiat Dino Coupé, and the Lamborghini Miura and Countach were made here. Sadly, the house of Bertone declared bankruptcy in 2009, and at the end of its life only two of the hundreds of workforce remained on this vast production site. When Maserati rescued the plant that year, many of Bertone's team was re-recruited.

Today, Giovanni Agnelli is bursting with life as men and women work the assembly lines, while high-tech robots stamp, shape and weld Quattroporte and Ghibli models. Maserati car-making is a fusion of automation with traditional principles of craft, for these are custom built, luxury motorcars, made in small numbers for a sense of exclusivity. What’s more, these luxury vehicles come with a very, very Italian sensibility. At Maserati, design is for desire.

We are in Italy to drive the 2017 Ghibli. Much like the brand, this trip has had its own unique charm. The journey began in Modena, home to Maserati’s headquarters and second car plant, and of course the birthplace of Ferrari and thus synonymous with the Italian sports car. Yet our tour is more of a culinary one, as the region is also famed for its gastronomy, producing balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano, among other specialities.

Maserati's 2017 Ghibli

First we are guided through the strict codes of Italian cooking with chef Luca Marchini, a rising star here who trained with the esteemed Massimo Bottura. Later we enjoy some Italian slow food in a lengthy, heavenly meal at his Michelin-starred Ristorante l’Erba del Re. The following day we hop on-board the Ghibli, and the all-wheel drive, 404-horsepower, Ferrari-built 3.0 litre twin turbo V6 powerhouse races us across to Turin, and to the Fiat Group empire.

Maserati revived the venerable Ghibli nameplate – think the glorious Giugiaro-designed 1966 GT and Marcello Gandini’s brilliantly boxy 1990s coupé – three years ago to mixed reviews. This was to be its volume production car, designed to sit beneath the Quattroporte in the range as the marque’s offering in the big-selling executive car class. Some feared it would take away from the exclusivity of the brand. Ghibli numbers, though, remain relatively modest and Maserati says it will stay this way. Company owner Fiat provides the bread-and-butter pragmatic products, so Maserati can afford to be more elusive.

The new Ghibli is an altogether more refined package. The marque has tweaked the areas that fell short in the previous models, so one can expect a fully connected infotainment and entertainment system that is now compatible with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The two trim levels have been elevated too. The Sports package sits on 20-inch Urano polished wheels, and comes with sport seats and steering wheel, red brake calipers, and the marque’s Skyhook adaptive suspension, so the driver can alter the dynamic behaviour of the car.

The Luxury package offers 19-inch 'Poseidone' wheels, a leather steering wheel available in back, beige or brown with wooden inserts, and a 900 watt Harman Kardon Premium Audio System. The customer can specify a unique silk woven from Maserati’s fruitful collaboration with Ermenegildo Zegna and an Alcantara headliner. Additionally, the textile maker has designed a capsule collection of clothing and accessories to complement the Ghibli and Quattroporte models.

This latest car certainly is a more complete Ghibli. Whereas the Quattroporte has a big, explosive narrative, the Ghibli offers a more restrained design for an easy elegance. A few days in this part of northern Italy – the drive on country roads, observing macho local driving habits, then cruising the smooth motorway to the more refined Piedmont and onto Casa Zegna – help place the Ghibli in context. You feel the connection between product and place. Our host jokes a number of times that northern Italy’s auto world is all about ‘slow cooking and fast cars’ – which on reflection beautifully sums up the Ghibli.

TAGS: TRANSPORT, CARS