Will this be Maserati’s most luxurious and practical offering yet?
- Luxurious yet practical
- An electric option is in the works
- Moderate levels of body roll
- Need more time on the road for drive impressions
Maserati has long been preparing to launch the Grecale – its second dedicated SUV after the five-year-old Levante. However, the ongoing semiconductor shortage, which has seen the global automotive industry reduce production dramatically in recent months, has forced the Italian car maker to push back the planned unveiling of its crucial new model until April 2022.
The decision, taken because of supply chain limitations that would not allow it to hit planned volumes during the vital production ramp-up phase, means we’ll have to wait a few more months before we get to see the Grecale, which is planned to be sold with a choice of both petrol engines and pure electric drivelines, in all its production glory.
As an alternative, however, we’ve been offered a drive in a prototype of the eagerly awaited Porsche Macan rival at Maserati sister company Alfa Romeo’s Balocco test track in northern Italy. The pre-production Grecale remains camouflaged, though there is no denying the influence of the larger Levante in the shape of its five-door body and detailing – both of which feature unmistakable Maserati design cues – as we see it up close for the first time.
New Maserati models don’t come along very often. Even so, the Grecale is potentially more pivotal to its future sales and overall financial well-being than any current or past. It competes in what its program chief, Rainero Bertizzoli, describes as the world’s fastest-growing market segment. Along with the Porsche Macan, the premium brand competition includes the popular Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
The starting point for the new price-leading Maserati is the Giorgio platform, as found beneath the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio – alongside which the new Maserati will be produced alongside at Alfa Romeo’s plant near Cassino in southern Italy following a $AU1.2 billion investment in the site.
It retains the longitudinal engine mounting that Maserati says is paramount to providing the Grecale with a “near to 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution”. However, it has been heavily modified with new dimensions and added stiffening aimed at increasing its already impressive rigidity among other detailed measures.
The modified platform is allied to a largely bespoke chassis featuring a longer wheelbase and wider tracks than that used by the Stelvio. It, in turn, is supported by what Maserati describes as a heavily revised version of the Alfa Romeo’s double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension with either passive or adaptive dampers or, as optional on selected models, a newly developed air suspension.
At 4846mm, the Grecale is 159mm longer than the Stelvio. A good deal of this can be attributed to the wheelbase of the new Maserati, which is 83mm longer than that of the Alfa Romeo at 2901mm. To put this into perspective, the larger Levante runs to 5003mm in length and boasts a wheelbase of 3004mm.
Bertizzoli told Drive it will not only be the “most practical” car but also the “most luxurious” in its class, too. “We have put a lot of thought into the packaging. It offers more occupant space than any rival,” he says, adding, “It also features typical Maserati luxury inside. We think it will appeal to both males and female buyers alike.”
As with the exterior, we can’t reveal too much about the interior. An inquisitive look beneath the fabric hiding the dashboard of the prototype, however, reveals it receives a brand new design with contemporary elements aimed at ensuring the Grecale will appeal to a wider and altogether younger group of customers than existing models.
There is a new multi-function steering wheel with an integrated start button as well as a rotary Manettino drive mode dial, large shift paddles fixed to the steering column, digital instruments and a centrally-mounted curved infotainment display that also houses the ventilation controls – all supported by a newly developed MIA (Maserati Intelligent Assistant) operating system.
The classic Maserati clock retains its pride of place high up in the centre of the fascia, but it is now digital and can be programmed to display a compass, g-force as well as throttle and brake application. The traditional gear lever has been replaced by four individual buttons – P, R, N and D/M – integrated into the central display. This frees up space within the broad centre console between the front seats for a number of useful storage bins, including a wireless charging pad, a recess with both a standard USB and USB-C socket as well as two largish cup holders.
The cushioning of the front seats is well struck, providing comfortable qualities and excellent support. Overall accommodation, meanwhile, is quite generous, especially in the rear where that extended wheelbase comes into play. Indeed, there is an impressive amount of leg- and headroom by class standards, and Maserati tells us the Grecale’s boot offers 535-litres of luggage space underneath the cargo blind. This is 10-litres more than the Stelvio and a useful 77 litres more than the Macan.
Maserati plans two in-house-developed and produced petrol engines for its second SUV model. Included is the 2.0-litre four-cylinder mild-hybrid unit already offered in the Ghibli and Levante and fitted to the prototype driven here, as well as a detuned version of the Italian car maker’s newly-developed twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 ‘Nettuno’ powerplant launched in the mid-engine MC20 supercar earlier this year.
Both units run in combination with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as well as a four-wheel drive system from the Stelvio as standard. The latter provides a nominal 50:50 apportioning of drive front to rear but is also able to channel the majority of drive to the rear for what Maserati describes as “very dynamic qualities”. Four drive modes feature on the four-cylinder model driven here: Comfort, GT, Sport and Off-Road. More powerful six-cylinder models will also receive an additional Corsa mode, we’re told.
Along with the combustion engines, a new electric driveline is also under development at Maserati’s headquarters in Modena, Italy. It will be offered on a zero-emission version of the Grecale due out in 2023 as part of a program that goes under the name Folgore – Italian for ‘lightning’ – and also planned to include electric versions of the next GranTurismo and MC20.
As we head out onto Balocco – a twisting and undulating track that aims to simulate the often poorly surfaced public roads in the surrounding north Italian region of Piedmont, the new Maserati feels fittingly enthusiastic. With a belt starter-generator and 48-volt battery providing boosting properties via an electric compressor, its four-cylinder engine offers strong and smooth step-off response along with agreeably flexible and punchy qualities through the mid-range – all of which makes it very straight forward to drive.
With around 220kW and 400Nm of torque, there’s certainly no lack of performance, either. Maserati is yet to provide us with official claims, though with the benefits in traction brought by the Grecale’s standard four-wheel drive system it says we can expect a Porsche Macan beating 0-100km/h time of less than 6.0sec, along with a top speed above 250km/h.
The automatic gearbox swaps ratios with impressive fluency and speed in Sport mode, though with large shift paddles, fixed to the steering column as in other Maserati models, it is more satisfying to shift gears manually. The mild-hybrid engine is happy to accept revs without becoming thrashy, encouraging you to explore the upper reaches of the tachometre whenever a suitable opportunity arises.
The exhaust tuning leaves little doubt about the new SUVs origins. A distinctive and characterful soundtrack has always been part of the Maserati experience, and this tradition has been upheld with Grecale. It is relatively subdued by the Italian car maker’s standards in GT mode, but the exhaust note builds handsomely in both volume and intensity when you turn the Manettino to Sport mode and load up the throttle.
The prototype we’re in is one of 250 Maserati says it has been constructed for testing and development purposes ahead of a planned start to production for the Grecale during the first quarter of 2022. It bodes well for the production version, delivering an appealing combination of agility and everyday ease of use.
The steering, a new electro-mechanical system supplied by German engineering specialist ZF rather than Bosch as in other existing Maserati models, is a little short on overall feel but it is nevertheless nicely weighted. Turn-in is relatively sharp, though not at the whip crack levels of response displayed by the Alfa Romeo with which it shares much of its mechanical package.
The optional air suspension, meanwhile, boasts a good deal more travel than the inherently stiff steel sprung set-up used by the Stelvio in all driving modes.
There are moderate levels of body roll. However, the cornering speed is ultimately dictated by prevailing grip – and with the Grecale engineering mule running optional 255/45 ZR20 front and 265/45 ZR20 rear Continental EcoContact tyres, it remains strong and dependable even on damp patches of bitumen in near freezing conditions thanks to the continual apportioning of drive to the front or rear wheels as well as the quick acting qualities of the new model’s VDCM (Vehicle Dynamics Control Management), a central control unit which selectively brakes individual wheels when it detects a lack of grip in a bid to keep everything on an even keel.
The dependable dynamic qualities are part and parceled of Maserati’s aims to ensure the Grecale appeals to a wider group of buyers than any model in the past. “We’re looking to satisfy a request for daily usage,” says Bertizzoli.
Still, the new Maserati can also entertain when you desire. Switching into Sport mode brings a distinctive rear-wheel drive bias, with little provocation via the throttle required to see the rear end step out of line at the exit to corners.
We’ll need more time behind the wheel on public roads to confidently gauge the ride quality, though initial impressions gained at Balocco suggest production versions of the Grecale will offer great levels of comfort than the five-year-old Stelvio. Impact absorption appears to be a particular strength of the new air-sprung suspension, which is agreeably subtle in Comfort mode at all speeds.
We’re yet to experience the Grecale in off-road conditions, though in combination with the air suspension that comes as an option on mild-hybrid versions of the new Maserati its dedicated off-road driving mode offers variable ride height that serves to increase ground clearance by as much as 30mm.
It has taken a long time. But Maserati now acknowledges its future revolves around its SUV models. By 2025, the new Grecale and a replacement for the Levante are expected to account for up to 70 per cent of the Italian car maker’s annual sales worldwide.
As with its key rival Porsche, success on the SUV front will allow it to finance development of replacements for its more traditional models, such as the Ghibli and Quattroporte, as well as fund development of new electric models, including the upcoming battery touting successors to the GranCoupe and GranCabrio.
It is a seismic shift for the company, even with the purchasing, engineering and production prowess of parent company Stellantis, home to no less than 14 different automotive brands, behind it. After moderate success with the Levante, it appears to have a potential hit on its hands with the Grecale – a model that promises to appeal to a much wider buying audience and sell in greater numbers than any previous Maserati before it.
Kable is one of Europe’s leading automotive journalists. The Aussie expat lives in Germany and has some of the world’s most powerful executives on speed dial.