2023 Maserati Grecale review: International first drive

The Maserati Levante’s smaller sister is clearly targeting the Porsche Macan, but does it stand a chance?

What we love
  • Elegant design
  • Great interior
  • Storming performance of the V6 Trofeo

What we don’t
  • Unresolved handling
  • Four-cylinder soundtrack
  • Unforgiving Corsa suspension mode

Introduction

It is now five years since Maserati launched its first SUV, but it’s fair to say that the world never really fell in love with the Levante, despite its combination of handsome design and – in brawnier versions – strong performance.

Which is a large part of the reason Maserati is moving into a busier and more dynamic part of the market with the new Grecale – which is slightly smaller and, we’re promised, set to be considerably more affordable.

Will it be second time lucky?

It’s certainly a looker.

The Grecale sits on an extended version of the Giorgio platform, which sits under the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, but elegant proportions make it look slightly shorter. The headlamp position and shape is strongly reminiscent of the Porsche Macan, no great surprise given Maserati’s ambitions for it, but the rest is sleek and handsome.

After spending a day looking at it I couldn’t find any bad angles. But this is definitely a crossover rather than a car with even slight pretensions to be taken seriously as an off-roader; there’s less ground clearance under the low bumper than on many hatchbacks.

Getting inside means encountering the mild surprise of touch-sensitive door release panels located inside what looks like they will be conventional handles. Electrical operation allows for small operating buttons on the inside of the doors, too – although the minimalist ethos these give is cancelled out by the legal requirement for mechanical releases in case of power failure, these being located further down.

But trim feels upmarket, construction solid and there is good room front and rear – subjectively no less than in the Levante.

Beyond the double door controls, switchgear has been comprehensively culled from the cabin.

There are still buttons on the steering wheel for cruise control and ADAS functions, but pretty much everything else is now controlled by twin touchscreens. These are running Maserati’s new UI system, which the company is very proud of. It’s a big improvement on the clunky old system and works cleanly and intelligently, with climate control functions remaining permanently on display, but some minor functions do need to be dug out of sub-menus.

There’s a neat digital clock with reconfigurable faces, and Maserati has persisted with its tendency of using PRND buttons for the gearbox rather than a conventional shifter.

I got to drive two versions of the Grecale at the launch in Milan.

I spent most time in the Modena that will sit in the middle of the range, this using a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that makes 243kW and incorporates mild assistance from a 48-volt starter-generator. (The base GT has a 221kW version of the same powertrain.)

I also got a brief spin in the Trofeo that will sit at the top of the range, this using a 390kW version of the 3.0-litre ‘Nettuno’ V6 that also powers the MC20 supercar. Spoiler alert: it was the exciting one.

The Grecale isn’t the first four-cylinder Maserati – the Ghibli and Levante GT Hybrids use them – but the busy thrum when the Modena fires into life puts an immediate ding in its upmarket aspirations.

Key details 2022 Maserati Grecale Modena
Price (MSRP) TBC
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, 48V mild hybrid
Power 243kW @ 5750rpm
Torque 450Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission Eight-speed torque converter automatic
Drive type All-wheel drive
Weight 1895kg
0-100km/h 5.2 seconds

It finds a cleaner voice as revs build, but it never harmonises into a compelling soundtrack. When you think of the great-sounding Maseratis that have gone before – pretty much all of them – it feels like a step back.

Yet the 2.0-litre is impressively quick.

Maserati’s claimed 5.2-sec 0-100km/h time would have been enough to make it one of the quickest SUVs in the world less than a decade ago, and although the engine doesn’t particularly enjoy being revved – the only way to get it to the 6000rpm redline is by holding it in gear through the manual override – it has enough mid-range brawn for rapid, unstressed performance.

It’s an effective engine, but not a characterful one.

The launch cars in Italy were all riding on Pirelli Scorpion winter tyres, despite conditions being warm and dry on the day I drove them.

These could only generate modest grip on the Modena, making it easy to push the front end beyond the limits of adhesion – but even with the limited adhesion, it was clear that the front-to-rear handling balance is impressively benign.

The Grecale’s powertrain is predominantly rear-wheel-drive, with torque only diverted forward by an electronically controlled clutch pack when it is required.

Suspension settings are soft, too.

The Modena rides on standard steel springs but gets adaptive rather than passive dampers. With the shock absorbers in their softest Comfort setting there was noticeable roll on cornering plus squat and dive under acceleration and braking, to an extent that feels unusual in what is generally a fairly firmly sprung segment; big bumps would often set up harmonics the dampers would need a second go to fully quell.

Shifting to the tighter GT and Sport dynamic modes improved chassis discipline without turning the Grecale harsh, though.

Key details 2022 Maserati Grecale Trofeo
Price (MSRP) TBC
Engine 2.9-litre V6 turbocharged petrol
Power 390kW @ 6500rpm
Torque 620Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission Eight-speed torque converter automatic
Drive type All-wheel drive
Weight 2027kg
0-100km/h 3.8 seconds

Steering was unimpressive, with a springy, unnatural-feeling resistance around the straight ahead and a lack of any meaningful feedback.

The Modena’s brake pedal was more impressive, with good weight and feel despite its detached electrical booster.

The Grecale Modena feels like a competent, likeable car – but not an exciting one. That not being an accusation that could be levelled at the Trofeo which, on first impressions, is almost too thrilling, one that seems set to make rivals up to and including the Macan Turbo feel a little slow and sensible.

The Trofeo’s ‘Nettuno’ V6 is the undoubted star of the show.

This works with a wet rather than a dry sump and produces 73kW less than in the MC20, but it still seems set to be the fastest car in what is already a speedy segment: Maserati’s claim of a 3.8-sec 0-100km/h time feels entirely feasible after just one full-throttle run.

The engine has the sparkle the four-cylinder lacks and more, with a menacing wob-wob idle and a screaming top end. It’s an absolute peach.

The Trofeo’s standard air suspension gives it two new dynamic modes. Corsa sits above Sport, and quickly proves to be too firm and harsh for even Italy’s generally smooth roads, with even minor imperfections sending shivers through the Grecale’s structure; fortunately, it is possible to toggle the dampers to their softer setting while keeping the other Corsa settings in place.)

A new off-road mode also gives the chance to benefit from the air spring’s ability to raise the Trofeo’s ride height by up to 30mm, although this still doesn’t feel like a vehicle that’s likely to see too much of the wilderness.

In the less aggressive dynamic modes the air suspension turns surprisingly pliant, the softened dampers allowing plenty of body motion under cornering, acceleration and braking loads. Initially, this felt odd, but within a few minutes, I was dialled into the roll and pitch and quite enjoying the extra sensation of speed that this gave.

The Trofeo’s active rear differential could also be felt working hard to maximise traction in slower corners, and the steering felt much better than the Modena, with less assistance and more natural weighting. Yet strangely the brakes felt less good, light and hard to modulate despite larger six-pot front calipers.

While the Trofeo feels much closer to being the sort of Maserati we’ve known and loved in the past, albeit built to a standard far in excess of most of them, the lesser Modena is almost certainly closer to the brand’s future. The four-cylinder motor makes plenty of rational sense even if it lacks something in emotional appeal, and Maserati is certain it will make up the majority of sales in every major market. It’s a good car, but not a charismatic one.

Yet the Grecale range is set to get quieter still, with the arrival of the Folgore version next year – Maserati’s first full EV.

I suspect that one really will feel like a culture shock.

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