There is a secret hidden deep in every Maserati that you will not find however long you spend looking around one of the carmaker’s elegantly designed showrooms.

Yes you can appreciate the sweeping sporting lines and the lavish interior, but it is only when you press the starter button that this marque really bursts into life.

Because what sets this iconic Italian company, with its more than 100-year history of engineering tradition and sporting success, apart from the rest is the unmistakable sound that resonates from the exhaust pipes.

Anyone who has listened to an MV Agusta or Ducati accelerate away from the Ramsey hairpin up towards the Mountain section on the Isle of Man TT circuit will never forget those spine-tingling sounds.

Like its Italian two-wheeled counterparts, Maserati manages to capture that free-spirited sound of excitement on four wheels.

And like those equally iconic motorcycles, a Maserati has the added bonus of being a relatively rare sight on the roads, thanks to the carmaker’s restrained ambitions for worldwide sales.

With the Levante sports utility vehicle lined up alongside the Ghibli, Quattroporte, GranTurismo and the GranCabrio, Maserati covers every sector of the global luxury car market.

I was given the chance to try a range of models at a recent driving day and will concentrate here on the four-door Ghibli saloon that is pitched as a rival to the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-class.

Even the least expensive version of the Ghibli costs more than £50,000, before you start to add the inevitable personalisation options, so you are within your rights to expect it to be well-equipped.

All versions come with at least 18-inch alloy wheels, a full leather interior with electrically-adjustable front seats, 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a range of advanced safety and driver assistance systems.

The car I drove had the extra GranLusso package complete with adaptive LED headlights, chrome exterior detailing, body-coloured side skirts, black brake callipers and 20-inch alloy wheels.

The luxurious seats had inserts in Ermenegildo Zegna silk and polished wood trim on the dashboard and centre console. Other GranLusso touches include soft-close doors and a Harmon Kardon Premium Sound system.

The car is a proper practical five-seater with a decent-sized boot, but its appeal lies as much in the romanticism that surrounds the Maserati name and the famous Trident logo, created by the artist of the family, Mario Maserati, with inspiration from the famous statue of Neptune in Bologna.

Sporting heritage and distinctive looks are backed up by performance which lies at the heart of the Ghibli experience.

Whether you choose petrol or diesel the output is impressive. The 3.0-litre V6 petrol units, built by Ferrari at its Maranello plant, are fundamentally the same, with the top-end Ghibli S offering a whopping 430 horsepower from the twin-turbo engine.

But even the less powerful model produces 350 horsepower and does it with a growl, thanks to a system that opens valves in the exhaust at high revs or engine load to raise the volume of the engine note. Thankfully it all remains civilised and quiet at low speed or when at a constant cruise.

All engine and trim choices come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox with nicely-spaced ratios and a smooth gearchange – the optional paddles behind the steering wheel giving excellent manual control.

The car’s set-up can be altered at the push of a button from Normal, through ICE (Increased Control and Efficiency), to a Sport setting.

Sport primes the gearbox and weights the steering and, on models with the optional Skyhook damping control, stiffens the dampers and opens those exhaust pipe valves to deliver the resonant sound.

Even the diesel with its 275 horsepower Euro 6-compliant 3.0-litre V6 engine – developed by Maserati in collaboration with VM Motori – manages to emit a full-blown roar thanks to a pair of sound actuators, fitted near the exhaust tailpipes, designed to accentuate the engine’s most distinctive tones.

It is entirely possible that you might have more fun driving a 5 Series BMW and be more comfortable in an E-Class Mercedes, but chances are you will not turn half as many heads.

Sounds good to me.

Auto facts

Model: Maserati Ghibli 3.0 V6 GranLusso

Price: £76,600 as tested

Insurance group: 50 (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 31.7mpg

Top speed: 166mph

Length: 497.1cm/195.7in

Width: 194.5cm/76.6in

Luggage capacity: 17.6 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 17.6 gallons/80 litres

CO2 emissions: 207 g/km

Warranty: Three years/ 100,000 miles