Although the Maserati name is typically associated with breathtaking performance and posh appointments, recent years saw the storied Italian marque languishing on the periphery of its parent companies’ portfolios.
While models like the GranTurismo and fifth-generation Quattroporte reintroduced the brand to modern audiences in the early 2000s, and more recent additions like the Ghibli and Levante expanded the company’s roster with BMW 5-Series and Porsche Cayenne competitors, respectively, the lineup often suffered from egregious pilfering of the FCA (now known as Stellantis) parts bin and dynamic capability that couldn’t keep pace with the competition. But things have changed, and Maserati is now in the midst of a comprehensive campaign to reclaim its former glory.
The first product of this effort was the MC20. Launched in 2020, the carbon fiber-tubbed, mid-engined two-seater was Maserati’s first proper sports car offering since the 2004 debut of the limited-production, Ferrari Enzo-based MC12. Boasting a true clean-sheet design, the MC20 also introduced Maserati’s new 621 horsepower 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged Nettuno V6 engine, resulting in a power-to-weight ratio that put the new machine in league with the likes of McLaren and Lamborghini.
But while sleek sports cars are good for grabbing attention, the volume sellers are the ones that keep car companies in business. That’s where the Maserati Grecale comes in.
Designed to go toe-to-toe with luxury crossovers like the Porsche Macan, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC, the Grecale is underpinned by the Giorgio platform, an architecture that it shares with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio as well as the fifth-generation Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Grecale lands in a sweet spot between the Alfa and Jeep in terms of size and weight, offering more space and cargo capacity than the former while maintaining a lighter curb weight than the latter. And unlike most Maseratis of recent memory, a glance into the cabin doesn’t reveal obvious signs of repurposed components from sister brands.
The Grecale is currently offered in three trim levels: GT, Modena and Trofeo. In Maserati parlance, the Trofeo variant (which I tested) represents the most performance-oriented iteration of a given model, and as such, the Grecale Trofeo’s power plant is a big part of its appeal. While all Grecale models are outfitted with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard, the Trofeo is the only one that scores a reworked version of the MC20’s twin-turbocharged V6 (GT and Modena trims are equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder in two different states of tune, offering 296 and 325 horsepower, respectively).
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Even in a slightly detuned state, the Nettuno mill’s peak output figures of 523 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque significantly outshine the 434 hp 2.9-liter V6 in the top-spec Porsche Macan GTS, while also giving the BMW X3 M Competition and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S some cause for concern. Aided by all-wheel drive grip, it’s capable of propelling the Grecale Trofeo to 60 mph from rest in a decidedly brief 3.6 seconds on its way to a top speed of 177 mph.
Those are some legitimately rapid figures, but in an age of 700-horsepower pickups and 1,000-horsepower sedans, serious straight-line performance is practically a given at the Grecale Trofeo’s $105,000 starting price. (The GT starts at $65,300, the Modena at $74,900.) Thankfully, there’s also some substance to back up the numbers.
While the materials and overall presentation won’t completely upend the luxury crossover pecking order, the Grecale’s interior is a big step forward for Maserati. High-quality leather, contrast stitching and “3D carbon fiber” trim give the cabin a distinctive, upscale look, while the digital gauge cluster, the 12.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system and the customizable dashboard-mounted clock-like digital display deliver an aesthetic and user experience that feels up to date but not technologically overwrought.
Like the MC20, the infotainment system benefits from Stellantis’s latest Uconnect 5 software, which offers sharp graphics, fast response and no shortage of customization options. I also appreciated the fact that there’s a wireless charging pad integrated into an easily-accessible area of the Grecale’s center console, and USB ports are also hidden just in front of it in a convenient storage compartment.
However, I do have a bone to pick with the 8.8-inch touchscreen located just beneath the infotainment system display. This interface is mainly used for HVAC control, and the lack of physical knobs and buttons for basic functions like temperature and fan speed adjustments quickly becomes an annoyance when you start attempting to make changes while on the go.
The screen also contains controls for some of the seat functions, which makes a reasonable amount of sense, but with other features like traction control, ride height, hill descent control, auto start/stop and, bizarrely, the headlight settings also located here, it ultimately feels like this screen is where Maserati ended up dumping all of the features that they forgot to integrate elsewhere. Like the button-based controls for the transmission (a design which essentially obligates you to look away from the road in order to ensure that you’ve selected the intended gear), this lower screen gives the interior a cleaner look, but it comes at a tangible cost to the overall user experience.
Interface quibbles aside, there’s a lot to like about the Grecale Trofeo even in mundane driving situations. Trofeo models score air suspension as standard and offer five distinct drive modes (Comfort, GT, Sport, Corsa and Off-Road). Ride height and suspension stiffness are adjusted automatically depending on the drive mode selected, along with throttle response, transmission behavior and other variable attributes.
Despite the performance-focused tuning and 20-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile performance tires, the suspension dutifully absorbed everything that Los Angeles’s marred pavement threw at it in both Comfort and GT drive modes. These more laid-back settings encourage the gearbox to upshift into higher gears whenever possible to relax its behavior and improve efficiency, but I never felt like I had to coax the transmission into providing more urgent response when I needed passing power on the freeway or merged into fast-moving traffic. Factor in the nicely bolstered seats and excellent Sonus Faber audio system, and the Grecale Trofeo felt like a vehicle that I could happily live with every day.
A trek out to the canyon roads of the Angeles National Forest revealed more good news. Clicking the steering wheel-mounted drive mode selector over to Sport tenses up the suspension and puts the transmission on a heightened state of alert, but I found that the track-focused Corsa mode was actually the mode most ideally suited for the task, offering commendable body control at speed in spite of the fact that the suspension tuning ultimately favors compliance in the tamer drive mode settings over outright performance prowess.
I typically like to lock the transmission in manual mode and do my own shifting with the paddles in these types of driving situations, but the Grecale’s paddles are positioned a little bit further away from the steering wheel than I generally prefer, and the transmission’s programming in Corsa mode is so well-sorted that intervention hardly seemed necessary. Combined with strong brake system response, impressive chassis balance and a surprising amount of mechanical grip, the Grecale Trofeo feels lighter on its feet than its near-4,500-pound curb weight would suggest, and more like a high-riding sports sedan rather than a hopped-up crossover.
If there’s one real drawback to Corsa mode, it’s the soundtrack: While the tone of the V6 is reasonably unique, upshifts at wide-open throttle in this mode are accompanied by a disproportionately loud “BRAP” that isn’t particularly pleasing to the ear. A custom drive mode with user-defined settings for the active exhaust system would probably go a long way toward addressing this.
Although imperfect, the Grecale Trofeo is another sign that Maserati is headed down a promising path. Convincing would-be buyers to ditch the established players in favor of an Italian outlier may prove to be the automaker’s biggest challenge, but those that do so will be rewarded for their bravery.
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