Stellantis, you are spoiling us!
In less than a couple of months we have witnessed the arrival of two new SUVs from the auto conglomerate’s revered Italian high-performance marques. We have, however, previously expressed reservations about the distinctly mass-market componentry underpinning the Alfa Romeo Tonale. As with the Alfa, this month’s debutant, the Maserati Grecale, represents a move downmarket for the marque, but the ingredients are rather more original and appetising this time around.
At its world premiere in the Alfa Romeo Museum, the Tonale featured two F1 racing drivers and brand CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato as presenter and host. In marked contrast, the Grecale had a duo of Italian actors in a film studio; Matilda de Angelis and Alessandro Borghi, with Maserati Design VP Klaus Busse cast in the straight man role, an unwitting butt of jokes, in the manner of a two-metre tall Ernie Wise. It’s either rather charming or just excruciating, like an overplayed piece of drama school coursework: are these actors really so beguiled by this overtly boastful, but ultimately rather shallow machine?
We should be wondering what constitutes ‘everyday exceptional’ or marvelling at the powertrain options, but my preoccupation was just how much Stelvio there was under the Grecale’s skin. It sits on the same Giorgio platform and is built in the Cassino factory that has produced Alfa’s SUV for the last five years.
In my cynical and untrusting way, I was quick to check the comparative dimensions. Here’s a handy cut-out-and-keep guide, with a necessary footnote:
The Grecale has an 83mm longer wheelbase than the Stelvio and is 144mm longer overall. The larger dimensions are enough to place the newcomer neatly between the Stelvio and Levante. Although the Grecale is described as a Porsche Macan rival, it is dimensionally closer to the Cayenne.
Compare the side profiles and the claimed €800 million investment in tooling the Cassino factory seems credible.
With the proviso that aesthetics are something I usually leave to those at DTW better versed in the principles and unique lexicon of automotive design, I’ll briefly observe that, while its profile has a close affinity with the Levante, the Grecale’s frontal appearance is stronger than that of the larger SUV. The Levante suffers from undersized headlights overpowered by an overscaled grille, the same unsatisfactory format widely adopted by mass-market manufacturers for their SUVs.
I see at least a hint of the 3200GT in the Grecale’s front-end treatment, which is a good thing, yet Maserati refers to the influence of the 1998 coupé only in the design of the new SUV’s tail lights, which incorporate a boomerang shape in LEDs. In reality, it’s a tame gesture: other carmakers use LEDs with far more boldness and creativity.
Wishful thinking in hindsight, perhaps? The best that can be said about that rear-end treatment is that it is restrained and it just about succeeds in disguising the Stelvio hard-points.
Engines are the very soul of the top-tier Italian carmakers and Maserati offer something truly special in the Grecale Trofeo. For those in less of a hurry, there is an up-to-the minute version of a more widely used FCA-developed power unit in the lower-order GT and Modena.
To summarise briefly, the engine line-up comprises a two-litre four-cylinder 300PS mild-hybrid from the FCA GME family for the entry-level GT model. The Modena specification, one step up, has the same engine, but with another 30PS. In both, the belt-driven hybrid system is based around a 48-volt motor and battery pack. There are no full hybrid or PHEV options, nor is a diesel available.
The real drama is provided by the Trofeo’s 90° V6, which delivers 530pS and 457lb ft of torque. This achieves a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 178mph. Some sources state that this engine is the Nettuno from the MC20 supercar, but Maserati’s own description states that it is “based on the Nettuno”. In the Grecale, it has wet-sump rather than dry-sump lubrication and a system of collapsible tappets  which allows the right-hand cylinder bank to be switched off in part-load conditions.
All-wheel drive is standard across the range, using an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission controlled by push buttons and steering wheel paddles rather than a traditional selector lever. There is no manual gearbox option. All engine options have Maserati’s exclusive Vehicle Dynamic Control Module system with a choice of up to five driving modes; Comfort, GT, Sport, Corsa (Trofeo only) and Off-Road.
The drivetrain offering will be completed with the arrival in a year’s time of the Grecale Folgore, a battery-electric version based on 400-volt technology, but still using the Giorgio platform.
At the presentation, the Grecale’s technology came a close second to the motori. The t-word once meant engines, gearboxes and suspension. Now it means infotainment, connectivity and driver assistance. Thankfully, Maserati is far too exclusive and rich in history to express ambitions to reinvent itself as “a sustainable mobility technology company”. Across the Grecale range, there are three display screens; a 12.3” central screen, another 8.8” display for the secondary controls and a third for the passengers in the rear seats.
Rather pleasingly, the clock, mounted high and centrally, is the portal for the voice and touch-screen controlled functions. It is possible to change the skins for the clock display, but Maserati does not state whether the Biturbo-era Mandorla is included amongst the choices.
Unsurprisingly, MIA (Maserati Intelligent Assistant) provides “a seamlessly connected experience for everyone onboard“, unless she’s gone Missing In Action, of course.
To my delight, Sonus Faber is now Maserati’s featured audio brand. A few years back I berated the people on the Maserati stand at the Geneva show for using Bowers and Wilkins branding on the new Quattroporte’s audio system, explaining that it was a mass-market British brand, selling £200-300 speakers in non-specialist outlets while offering some high-end products for prestige value.
I suggested they investigate well-regarded high-end Italian high-fidelity manufacturers such as Sonus Faber and Unison Research. I very much doubt that I planted the germ of an idea, but at least they’ve done the right thing, going for an long-established and well regarded Italian manufacturer, albeit one that is now American-owned. The Grecale should be a treat for the hi-fi connoisseur, with 14 speaker units in Premium Level trim, and 21 if one opts for High Premium.
The Grecale is, as expected, no thoroughbred, but is cleverly positioned between the Stelvio and Levante and has performance and appointments worthy of the Trident. No mention has been made so far of pricing, nor of production targets, but the hefty investment in the Cassino factory suggests that far larger numbers than the Levante are envisaged.
Unlike Alfa Romeo, Maserati is not a brand in distress: in 2021 its global sales grew 41% year-on-year with a total of 24,269 vehicles worldwide. According to Stellantis’s figures, the brand’s operating income margin stood at 5.1% and net revenues were €2,021 million. The Levante has been the marque’s best-selling product since its introduction, giving assurance that customers see no contradictions in a Trident-badged SUV.
If there is any disappointment about the Grecale, it’s the lack of stylistic progression since the 2017 Levante and Stelvio. Others, including Maserati and Alfa Romeo’s Stellantis stablemates, do the SUV business with more flair and boldness, but at least Maserati has avoided the horrors turned out by certain firms on the northern side of the Alps, who really ought to know better.
 Was Maserati CEO Davide Grasso too taciturn to take on the task, or felt that the design chief had more star quality? It’s disappointing that Klaus Busse has not even a trace of West Midlands intonation from his time as a student in Coventry.
 There are even longer Giorgio platform variants underpinning the 2021 Jeep Cherokee in standard (2,964mm) and long wheelbase (3,091mm) lengths.
 Collapsible tappets sound rather alarming. In reality it’s an electro-hydraulic actuator system, similar to Honda’s VTEC, although put to a different purpose.
 Does this mode replicate the constantly annoying driving style of a rat-faced youth in a small Vauxhall fitted with a waste-paper bin in place of a silencer?
 Hyundai and Kia are already offering 800-volt technology in far cheaper cars.
 A geometric figure formed by the overlapping of two circles, and considered sacred by some as a symbol of female power.
 Bentley has Naim, Aston Martin has Linn and Mercedes-Benz has Burmester. The audio makers’ input varies in such cross-branding; sometimes very much hands-on, for others not much beyond superficial details and a final tune-up.