Success will depend on pricing, but the fundamental Grecale proposition seems strong, with good ride and handling, and more character than most.
We arrived at the Balocco Proving Ground expecting to feel the frost that comes with being designated persona non grata, given our recent low ratings of the Maserati Quattroporte Trofeo.
Our brief first taste of the upcoming Grecale suggests it is categorically not heading down the same path as the Quattroporte Trofeo, which has been a disappointment. This is just as well, because the Grecale is undoubtedly Maserati’s most important car for a long time.
It aims to bring a level of luxury and flair as yet unknown in the big-selling mid-sized SUV class, and it’s going to be pivotal to Maserati’s finances and also to its journey into the pure-electric sphere.It is tipped to arrive in Australia late 2022, and will likely be the brand best seller.
Under the Folgera line – Italian for ‘lightning’ – an electric Grecale will be shown in 2022, and that car will eventually sit alongside similar versions of the new MC20 supercar and the upcoming replacement for the Granturismo.
Our pre-production Grecale is a ‘synthesis’ vehicle. It exists as an amalgamation centre for the massive number of subsystems being honed on some 250 other prototypes. It means that at any given time, this particular Grecale is the most advanced Grecale, and it is currently close to being the finished article. Were it not for the shortage of semiconductor chips, development would already have been halted and the car would be on sale. As it is, the launch has been stalled until late spring, and the tweaking can continue a little longer.
One thing we can’t really assess today is the interior, because the dashboard is covered up on our test car. Still, we have a peek underneath the fabric cladding. There’s lots of leather, and a broad, glossy infotainment touchscreen halfway up the dash. The traditional Maserati clock is also now digitally represented, with the royal-blue dial able to be switched between showing the time, g-force, heading and brake/throttle pressure. Elsewhere inside, the front seats strike a good balance of softness and support, and their scalloped backs means there’s unusually generous second-row leg room (to match the excellent head room).
In terms of powertrain, with the exception of the electric version, all Grecales will use an eight-speed automatic gearbox from ZF, which is then mated to either a 2.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol with 221kW, as driven here, or a detuned version of the 463kW Nettuno 3.0-litre V6 built by Maserati in Modena and currently serving amidships in the MC20.
All Grecales also will use four-wheel drive: the very same Q4 set-up employed by Alfa Romeo. It can split torque 50:50 between the axles, but Maserati’s engineers say that in certain drive modes and for certain models – for a Grecale Trofeo, perhaps – torque can go solely to the rear axle and can be remain there even as the car goes beyond the tyres’ limits of grip and traction. All very ‘dynamic’.
Heading out onto Balocco’s Langhe track – at 5km long, a proper adventure, and designed to emulate the twisty, undulating, often poorly surfaced and today greasy roads of the Piedmontese region after which it’s named – the Grecale feels familiar. Anybody who’s driven Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio will recognise the nice blend of cornering balance and agility, and the manner in which the car doesn’t try to eradicate body roll, Porsche Macan style, but almost to allow it, for better sense of flow. The steering, which is a little synthetic but reassuringly weighted and well geared, also suits Maserati’s GT car intentions with the Grecale. And you quickly learn to take lock off earlier than expected because of the conspicuously rear-led manner in which the car powers out of corners. Again, all encouraging things.
The general sense of familiarity is because the Giorgio platform that makes both the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio such satisfying driver’s options in their classes also serves this new Maserati. The Grecale has wider tracks than the Stelvio, predominantly so its maker can claim best-in-class interior space, and the car’s staggered wheel and tyre package is different (sizes from 19-inch to 21-inch will be offered, and our car wears the 20-inch option), but fundamentally it’s the same base. Even the Stelvio’s suspension geometry has been mostly copied, with the only real adjustments existing to accommodate mode-selectable, three-chamber air suspension units, which are substantial and need careful guiding through the front axle’s double wishbones.
The Grecale will also be available with traditional coil spring suspension, with either active or passive dampers, although given the pliancy with which our car moves at both low and high speeds, I’d expect the top-rung set-up to be popular, and on this evidence, ride quality will be right at the sharp end of the class. The Grecale seems to have a rather lovely long-wave gait, and is unflustered by rougher surfaces, which along with interior quality is where the Stelvio comes up slightly short. Interestingly, alongside its air suspension, the Maserati also uses hydraulic suspension bushes, where its cousin makes do with rubber ones.
What’s also interesting is to try Maserati’s proprietary VDCM chassis brain. It keeps the Grecale on your chosen cornering line by first trimming the engine’s torque output if the system thinks understeer is brewing, but then also by selectively nipping individual brakes, if necessary. It means you can corner with the accelerator welded to the floor and the system only releases torque as your steering opens up and the tyres can actually use it. Keen drivers won’t necessarily appreciate such a synthetic process, but the way the VDCM keeps progress neat and quick despite very heavy-handed driving is genuinely slick, and it ought to give more casual owners the satisfaction of feeling they’re really working the car.
The exhaust tuning will play into that. Maserati regards a fruity soundtrack as something of a brand hallmark, and with the car in Sport mode (there’s a Ferrari-style manettino dial on the steering wheel), this strong and flexible 2.0-litre unit makes a more characterful din than any mild-hybrid four-cylinder deserves to. It’s not fake, either, as you’ll discover if you lower the window, then tug the almost comically large aluminium gearshift paddle, and then floor it.
Childish impulses aside, on this evidence, the most accomplished mainstream Maserati for many years will be an SUV.
That’s not the most romantic sentiment, but the fact is that the company responsible for the Birdcage is now an SUV company: by 2025, the Grecale and Levante are expected to account for three-quarters of sales. At least, being less stony-faced than an Audi SQ5 or Porsche Macan, and more refined over distance than an Alfa Stelvio, the Grecale seems on track to be quite an accomplished and desirable example of its type.