RENO, Italy – Maserati blows with SUV gales. Sedans remain an important part of its heritage, but they are no longer a major part of the new car market, especially not in the United States. Investing time and resources to fill sedan-sized gaps in the lineup would be like moving the lounge chairs on a sinking cruise ship. The Italian company is therefore taking another path to growth by expanding its range of SUVs. Named after a Mediterranean wind, the Grecale is positioned below the Levante and takes direct aim at the Porsche Macan.
It’s not a supercar, but the Grecale is arguably the most important car Maserati has ever released, one that could ultimately account for almost half of its sales. I traveled to a town called Reno (not where Johnny Cash shot a man) to get a feel for the smallest trident.
First, let’s dispel a myth: the Grecale isn’t just a re-bodied Alfa Romeo Stelvio. Sure, both Italian movers are built on the Giorgio platform (which also underpins the Giulia and the latest Jeep Grand Cherokee), but several key changes have been made in-house by Maserati.
“We started with the Giorgio architecture, and we added the features that are usually found in the upper segments: an air suspension system, for example,” explained Federico De Medio, responsible for the validation of the company vehicles. “We were given the option to further improve this platform, and we were able to increase the wheelbase by (about 3 inches),” he added, adding that electronic adjustments had also been made.
The base Grecale GT therefore spans 190.8 inches long, 76.7 inches wide and 65.6 inches high; the Modena and Trofeo trim levels are 77.9 inches wide, while the latter is 191.3 inches bumper-to-bumper due to its specific body kit. Either way, the Grecale is relatively large for its segment: Porsche’s Macan, its closest competitor, is 184.3 inches long and one of the smallest in the segment. The weight of the Grecale ranges from 4,431 to 4,629 pounds.
A look at the front of the Grecale shows what Maserati meant when it announced that the exterior design of the MC20 would influence the rest of the range: swept-back headlights are positioned above a wide grille with the trident emblem proudly positioned front and center. It’s not a clone of the MC20, but the family resemblance is noticeable. Beyond the nose, the three vents that have become part of Maserati’s design language are positioned on each fender, below the badging that indicates trim level, while the roofline peaks above the driver and slopes down. towards a spoiler integrated into the hatch – the designers put more emphasis on sport than utility. And, the shape of the rear lights echoes the blocks fitted to the 3200 GT released in 1998. Curious choice? Not really: don’t forget that was nearly a quarter of a century ago!
Inside, the Grecale offers just the right amount of technology. All the features buyers expect from a luxury car in 2022 are catered for, like a digital dashboard, but none are overwhelming. Drivers looking for a larger screen than the original Mini will have to shop elsewhere. Maserati explained that its goal was not to make the Grecale look like an iPhone on four wheels.
“Screens were never something we were known for. And, to be honest, I don’t think we wanted to be known for screens. Is the industry at its peak? But, at the end of account, we also want to reduce the amount of clutter in the car, so the result is what you see here,” the company’s design director, Klaus Busse, told me during the unveiling of the car. It’s an approach that should influence many cars to come.
It works too: the dashboard design is clean, sleek, and all the controls are placed where you’d expect to find them. One of the coolest features is the round display positioned right in the middle of the dash, above the still fairly large 12.3-inch touchscreen that displays the infotainment system. It’s almost like a smartwatch in that it can be configured to display a clock, a compass, a meter that displays pedal inputs, and a g-force meter. It also displays a phone-shaped icon when the wireless device charger sends juice to your phone.
For a company rooted in luxury, Maserati has made some notable missteps in recent years: raiding the Fiat-Chrysler parts bin for some of the Ghibli’s interior parts, for example, looked better on a corporate balance sheet than in the showrooms. Fortunately, there are not many in the Grecale. The cabin is built with quality materials that resemble those of a luxury car, although the steering wheel buttons are shared with the aforementioned Grand Cherokee (which, to be fair, has a legitimately luxurious interior). My test car came with gorgeous red leather upholstery and cool carbon fiber trim that was left bare, so it’s textured to the touch rather than shiny. There are countless other ways to configure the Grecale, of course, including different upholstery, stitching and trim choices. And, the sky (or, more realistically, your wallet) is the limit with Maserati’s Fuoriserie program.
Maserati offers the Grecale in three versions: GT, Modena and Trofeo. Power for the GT comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that works in conjunction with a 48-volt mild-hybrid system to develop 296 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque. Switching to the Modena unlocks a 325 horsepower evolution of this drivetrain with the same amount of torque. Both come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
Pictured above, the top-spec Trofeo gets a model-specific version of the excellent Nettuno V6 ushered in by the MC20 in 2020. Maserati didn’t quite release the 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight from the MC20. In the Grecale, the six-cylinder features a wet sump lubrication system, revised turbochargers and cylinder deactivation technology that cuts the right bank under light load conditions, such as when cruising on Highway. In total, the Trofeo puts 523 horsepower and 457 pound-feet of torque under the driver’s right foot – that’s down from 621 and 538, respectively, in the MC20. More importantly, it’s more than the 434 horsepower cavalry unleashed by the top-spec Cayenne GTS.
My time behind the wheel was limited to the Trofeo, which is a great way to get familiar with the Grecale. In the MC20, the Nettuno V6 is an advanced masterpiece of an engine full of brio: It’s responsive and sounds good, especially at high revs. It loses none of its character in the Grecale, and the supercar heart gives this family SUV a dose of Italian flair that helps it stand out in an increasingly crowded segment. That’s not to say the Grecale drives like a supercar, it doesn’t and it wasn’t designed for that, but it is very fast. And the eight-speed automatic transmission (a more robust version of the unit fitted to four-cylinder models) initiates quick shifts, either by itself or using the massive steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Don’t shift too early: the engine doesn’t generate its peak torque until 3,000 rpm, and peak power comes in at 6,500 rpm. So it really comes to life as you explore the upper echelons of the rev range.
While the Grecale is all-wheel-drive only, the rear-facing Giorgio platform unlocks the kind of sporty handling normally associated with the Maserati name. It is clear that driving dynamics played an important role in the development of the chassis. However, the set seems designed for comfort, which is to be expected given that the main mission of the Grecale is not to set a record in Monza; it’s for comfortably transporting a family and their gear. The suspension is firm but not harsh (even in its sportiest setting) and the steering is reasonably direct without a ton of feedback. It’s not believed. It’s just athletic enough to satisfy most buyers, and the 3.6-second sprint to 60 mph amplifies that impression.
Huge brakes keep the Nettuno under control; the front calipers are six-piston units supplied by Brembo. If I could travel back in time and join the development team, I’d put more teeth into the braking system. It’s a reassuringly powerful setup, whether you’re weaving through Milanese traffic or slowing down for a toll on both the highwaybut the feel and pedal travel takes a few miles to really master.
One of the interesting (and surprising) things about the Grecale trip is that it gives people who argue rear-wheel-drive (or rear-wheel-drive) cars are cramped inside something to chew on. Whether you’re sitting in the front or the back, you’d have to be NBA-sized to complain about a lack of space. Both rows of seats are roomy and comfortable, even despite the meaty bolsters up front, and the interior is quiet save for the Nettuno engine singing its anthem. Trunk space is adequate despite the sloping roofline.
On paper, the Maserati renaissance began in 2020 with the launch of the MC20. It ushered in a design language, it ushered in the Nettuno V6, and generally speaking it exemplified a new approach to creating cars – that’s the tip of the trident. But, it’s also a halo car, and it stands to reason that the designers and engineers had a lot more leeway during the development process, because an exotic two-seater with a mid-engine isn’t a very sensitive car to the price. Passing on these attributes to the compact SUV segment, a territory in which Maserati has never been present, was a risky decision. Still, my time behind the wheel of the Grecale suggests that the company has succeeded. Simply put: it’s not half screwed. This is a serious and well thought out attempt to grow (especially in America) by enticing buyers with substance rather than incentives.
Maserati dealerships across the United States will begin receiving the Grecale in fall 2022. The GT and Modena Limited Edition trim levels are priced at $64,995 and $78,895, respectively, figures that include fees compulsory destination of $1,495. It’s not yet known how much the standard Modena or the flagship Trofeo will cost, though I bet the latter will command a premium of at least $10,000 over the limited-edition GT. Significantly, this debut issue makes the Grecale the most affordable car Maserati has ever launched on our shores. It costs considerably less than the Ghibli sedan, which currently starts at $78,600. It even undermines the Biturbo – remember that one? The compact case that was offered in the 1980s cost $26,874 in 1986, a figure that is around $69,600 in 2022.
What we have, then, is an attractive SUV with a competitive price that was created for a huge segment. Will it sell? Naturally!