Today we test the Maserati Grecale, the new midsize SUV from the Italian firm whose arrival has had to be delayed due to issues such as the lack of semiconductors. We’re likely to finally see it in spring 2022, but in the meantime, we’ve been able to drive it. Although this is a camouflaged prototype, this car is practically the same as the one that will go into production.
Today we are with chassis software engineer Giovanni Bussalai at the large Stellantis test track in Balocco, halfway between Milan and Turin, and he is perfecting the final set-up. Over 250 prototypes have been built, and only one session in the Arctic with the development team remains to be done in the coming months.
Interestingly, Bussalai says that he and his people are the best of the bunch for this part of the engineering process. All current cars are the sum of their software coding, and Grecale’s template will become the benchmark for other Stellantis SUVs. So this is an important car and not just for Maserati.
The Grecale aims to democratize the Maserati brand without sacrificing its charisma – the only thing that cars with the trident insignia have over their rivals. Against such models as the BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, and Porsche Macan, Maserati optimistically states that the Grecale is and will be the best in its class in space, drivability, acceleration, sound, and materials.
It is certainly an imposing car: it is 4.8 meters long and 1.67 meters high, and its almost 3-meter wheelbase offers ample space in the rear seats – it is 100 mm more than in a Macan. Maserati says the Grecale can accommodate 99% of humans in the front and rear.
There is no question that Grecale has to position the great brand firmly on the radar. Porsche now manufactures more than 300,000 cars a year, most of which are SUVs, without suffering any collateral damage to its image. It’s an automotive Jedi mind trick that Maserati would love to pull off.
New technology and the same essence in the cabin
The Grecale feels good the moment you get on board. It uses a recessed electric handle to enter, with a soft button inside to open the door and exit. This helps aerodynamics and weight savings, says Maserati. Inside, the seats are above average, and the driving position matches that of a large SUV and a low sports car.
Since this is a prototype, the dash and center console are covered in fabric, but we take a look anyway. Highlights include a central 12.3 ”’ultra HD’ touchscreen with MC20- like graphics and interactivity . There is a second 8.8 ”touchscreen underneath for climate control, heated seats, etc.
The traditional Maserati clock is still in the center of the dash, but it is now fully digital and can be changed via various displays: time, G-force, direction, and brake or throttle pressure. The instrument cluster can also be configured in various ways, as is the case with most of today’s premium cars.
The three-spoke steering wheel is large and has the usual arsenal of buttons located throughout, and a small controller on the lower right side. The key, however, is that the Maserati Grecale doesn’t feel like a heavy SUV disguised as a sports car.
This part of the Balocco complex is a 6-kilometer loop that does a great job of mimicking your favorite minor road, including parts that the local city council cannot repair. Fortunately, the Grecale is one of those cars that score well in the 50-meter test.
First impressions are all of the non-sports variety – the ride on the Grecale with the 20-inch wheels is very well done, although it is important to note that the car we are in is equipped with an air suspension that is paired with its adaptive damping – there are standard steel springs on the entry model.
What else? It’s extremely refined at normal speeds – the side windows are double-glazed – and its steering is impressively linear, if not bursting with sensation. But who buys a car like this, even one with a Maserati badge, in search of a precise direction?
Its prowess should come as no surprise because the Maserati Grecale uses a modified version of the Giorgio platform from the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio. It’s a flexible setup, with a bit more roll than usual, but with agility and poise. Bussalai and his colleagues are still finishing the Vehicle Dynamics Control Module (VDCM) that will govern the chassis.
Exciting but controlled driving
There are four driving modes: Comfort, GT, Sport, and Off-road. They work with the usual parameters and the algorithms do a good job of distributing torque and braking to a specific wheel based on mode. Keeping the Grecale on the Balocco tarmac, even when it’s slippery and the driver is acting like an idiot, is more fun than it should be.
There’s a rear-wheel-drive bias on the Grecale as we go through the modes we tested. The open differential can be upgraded to a limited-slip one and an electric one is in development. Maybe it could do with a bit more braking feel, but this is a very round car despite its size and its requirements to perform as an off-roader.
And it also has real character. There are no problems with the ZF eight-speed automatic, or the oversized paddles behind the wheel if you want to shift manually. And you will, which says a lot.
Engines of the Maserati Grecale: a V6 Biturbo in the most powerful
Amid the Stellantis synergies being developed, the faster Grecale will be powered by a laid-back version of the 3-liter Nettuno V6 Biturbo that powers the MC20. There will of course also be an all-electric Folgore version, which will likely be just as fast while charting different emotional terrain.
For now, we have to settle for the lightweight 48-volt, 2-liter four-cylinder hybrid producing 300PS, which puts out a fairly robust exhaust note even when stationary. There is a built-in starter generator for faster stopping and starting, as well as charging an additional battery under the boot floor.
This also powers an electric compressor, which Maserati refers to as an ‘e-booster’, to avoid any turbo lag. It should provide a win-win situation for performance and efficiency, and it also helps to raise a useful 448 Nm of torque.
Interesting how any preconceptions about cylinder shortages have been dispelled. This is an engine with character and it works well in this case. It’s raucous enough without going crazy and fast enough to keep that chassis on its toes.
Maserati has always dreamed big and several factors have conspired to derail this grand plan, but salvation may still come in the form of a D-segment SUV. We do not know how much it will cost or what the consumption and emissions figures will be like. Yes, the intrigue is mounting for the new GranTurismo, but the Grecale is the Maserati that will pay the bills.