The idea of a Maserati SUV looks less radical in 2022 than it did in 2016 when Levante debuted, and the Italian brand has broader ambitions for the smaller, cheaper Grecale that is now being launched in one of the most competitive parts of the luxury market. The Grecale’s beautiful, slightly familiar design is enough to show that one competitor is being targeted more closely than another, however: Maserati’s primary task is to convince the Porsche Macan’s intent to defect.
Grecale is based on an extended version of the Giorgio platform that supports both Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Giulia. At the bottom of the range, the Grecale GT has a 296-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four with 48-volt hybrid-assist. This is a copy of the FCA Global Medium Engine, the same as the one on the Wranglers and Alfas. Above that is a slightly more powerful mid-engine called the Modena, which has a 325 hp version of the same engine. It also adds adaptive dampers and a rear limited-slip differential. And at the top of the heap is the more compelling Trofeo, which uses a slightly disassembled version of the Nettuno twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 developed for the mid-engined MC20 sports car (including the same pre-chamber ignition system), producing 523 a horse. The Trofeo also gets standard air springs and an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential.
Most of our first drive in Italy took place in Modena – fitting given that Maserati thinks it will make up the majority of US sales – but we also ran a shorter course at Trofeo. Spoiler alert: It’s the most exciting.
First impressions are strong. You’d be hard pressed to call the Grecale a particularly original design piece, particularly the Macan-esque hood and headlights. Nonetheless, it’s undoubtedly handsome from every viewing angle, with the design team’s decision to avoid the usual gray lower trim which is often short for “crossover” making it look more like a long, elegant hatchback when viewed from the side. The apparent lack of ground clearance is another clear indication that it’s a car designed for the road, not the road.
Entering the cabin means experiencing a slight surprise of the tactile door release switches within the openings of what look like traditional knobs. The small electric release buttons on the interior door panels use the same technology, although the trim look they’re meant to offer has been negated by the need for separate mechanical levers to the bottom to give redundancy in the event of a power outage. In addition to this anomaly, a lot of switches were left out, with most functions controlled by two touch screens. They power Maserati’s new user interface system, which runs clean and easy, although secondary functions are often hidden in submenus. There’s no traditional gear selector, as Maserati continues to use PRND touch buttons like Chrysler’s early 1960s car. Another neat detail is a round digital watch with reconfigurable faces.
The cabin is impressively high-quality, facing the leather-trimmed instrument panel and metal speaker grilles. Space is good for both front and rear seat passengers – the Grecale doesn’t feel any smaller than the Levante inside, with enough room for full-size adults to sit behind each other.
The impression of luxury is reflected when the Modena engine is started. The Grecale isn’t Maserati’s first four-cylinder (it’s owned by Ghibli and Levante hybrids sold in other markets), but the four-cylinder leaves no doubt about what it is with its crowded idle isolation. Beyond that, the exhaust tone finds a cleaner sound, but it never quite meshes with anything convincing.
On the plus side, performance appears respectably fast and delivers without apparent effort. There’s no point trying to hit the rev limiter, and in Drive, the automatic gearbox always chooses to pick up speed before the red line set at 6000 rpm. But the wide spread of torque and the clever use of the eight-speed transmission provide powerful motivation without venturing out of the mid-range. The 48-volt starting alternator allegedly adds the help to mask turbo lag, but a slight hesitation was still evident at lower revs when shifting gears under manual control – although Maserati deserves credit for the feel and weight of the metal shift paddles, a detail many companies neglect Auto industry.
All the cars in Italy were riding Pirelli winter tyres, despite the warm, dry weather on our driving day. Its limited grip made it easy to push the Modena’s front end forward, but also the feeling that the front and rear handling balance was impressively benign. Maserati says the Grecale is primarily rear-wheel drive with torque transmitted only to the front axle when necessary, via an electronically controlled coupling. The sticky rubber should give the opportunity to try it right.
The steel Modena springs feel smooth, certainly with the adaptive dampers in comfort mode, with noticeable roll during cornering and squatting under acceleration. Choosing the firmer GT or Sport modes improved body control without making the ride unduly harsh, and both modes handled high speeds on a twisty stretch of Italian autostrada without drama. The handlebars are less impressive, with spring-load resistance right around the front that denies any meaningful feedback, but the e-bolster brake pedal has good weight and feel.
While Grecale Modena oozes efficiency rather than glamour, our shorter role in Trofeo is more of resetting the balance of excitement. The Nettuno V-6 engine is undoubtedly the star, and while it now sits atop a wet sump and makes 98 horsepower less than it did in the MC20, Maserati’s 3.6-second zero-to-60 mph claim still utterly surprised us. Maybe. Trofeo also gains a Dynamic Mode from Corsa, and choosing either this or Sport gives a bump in torque when shifting. Corsa has also converted the active dampers that are too stiff for road use, even with minor imperfections that send chills through the Grecale chassis, but it’s possible to swap out the softer dampers while keeping the rest of the Corsa’s settings. In gentle modes, the air springs still feel resilient by sector standards, the Trofeo’s body moves noticeably under larger loads.
Although the winter tires are also worn, the Trofeo’s steering fared much better than the Modena, with a firmer, more natural heft. The electronically controlled differential can also be felt at the rear working hard to increase traction in low-speed corners. Oddly enough, the brake pedal was softer and less responsive than the Modena’s, despite the presence of six-stock larger calipers up front. There was little resistance and a noticeable grab at lower speeds.
The Grecale Trofeo is more exciting than the smaller Modena engine, which isn’t a huge surprise, but it also feels like the best solution. As different as the Porsche Macan is, we doubt the four-cylinder will have a hard time in the market, especially with a starting price of $64,995 for an entry-level GT that puts it well above the base Macan.
But the most extreme Grecale will almost certainly be the electric Fulgur, which will be Maserati’s first attempt at an electric car when it arrives next year. This person is really going to feel culture shock.
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