(Pocket-lint) - Maserati is on a mission. Having played second fiddle to Ferrari in the posh Italian brand hierarchy for so long, it’s gone on a product offensive, the main aim of which is to make you pick one of its cars over a high-end Jag, BMW or Merc.

Given that we reckon most people, like us, have quite a soft spot for all things Italian, that’s probably not going to be too hard a task. Especially if they’re going to start making cars like this new Ghibli – launched at the 2013 Shanghai motor show.

Its likely 50 grand price tag means you’re not going to be trading in your 520d for a Trident–embossed key just yet, but it will compete with the top end of the likes of the Mercedes CLS and Audi’s A7 range.

Striking cars those both might be, but looking at the pictures we’re sure you’ll agree that if you’re in the market to drop 50k on a big saloon, you’re probably going to be popping by your Maserati dealership and having a gander at this before going German.

It uses a similar design theme to the larger (and also recently relaunched) Quattroporte. But the shorter wheelbase, truncated rear deck and long, low nose make it a much more cohesive design than its rather long big brother. We especially like the nose treatment – with a big signature Maserati grille that features concave inset bars – just like the coupe Gran Turismo. The slim new lights, too, with feature a shadow gap running into the grille, make it look pretty mean and very distinctive.

The interiors of Italian cars have always been an important selling point, and as you might expect with a Maserati, the smell of expensive cow hide hits you the moment you open the door. No DFS-style leather here, it’s just not the Italian way.

The Ghibli uses a version of the CES award-winning Chrysler uConnect touchscreen system, which you drive through an 8-inch touchscreen. It’s augmented by a full-colour display between the speedo and rev counter and the graphics are pretty decent.

You do lose out on a bit of the special wood and delicate chrome materials you find everywhere in the Quattroporte in here though. And there are one or two bits of hard plastics too. But still – this or a 5-Series interior? We know where we’d rather be sitting. It feels special, especially in the striking claret colour of the show car.

The Ghibli will go on sale later this year. It is driven by a choice of two turbo-charged V6s petrol engines. And, for the first time, you’ll be able to get a diesel at some point after launch, which was developed with Ferrari. Yes, emissions targets mean there’s no V8 sadly, but we wouldn’t worry too much - a Ferrari-developed engine is still likely to sound - and drive - pretty specially. There’ll be no manual gearbox either, instead the same ZF 8-Speed automatic which you’ll find in countless BMWs, Jags and Range Rovers does the work here. No bad thing, as we’ve experienced it before and it’s super smooth and fast-changing, long gone are the days of Maserati’s jerky Cambiocorsa robotised clutch box.

The difference between the Italian and those other cars mentioned, is that none of them let you play at being Fernando Alonso quite as well as the Maserati, thanks to a socking great pair of metal flappy-paddles mounted behind the wheel.

We can’t wait to get behind the wheel and can’t help but think it’s a good thing there’s now another competitors in the market that’s not German, alongside Jaguar. And if it manages to feel as special out on the road as it does sitting in it here in Shanghai, the Italian brand’s going to have a big success on its hands.

Writing by Joe Simpson.