King Canute's ill-fated order for a rising tide to stop was directed to the North Sea; almost exactly a thousand years later he'd likely be equally frustrated - if less wet - if he commanded the onrush of high-end SUVs to abate. For an indication of where the sharp end of the car industry's priorities lay consider how I've spent the last seven days: driving the Lamborghini Urus and then the Aston Martin DBX 707 for future stories, covering the unveiling of the Lotus Eletre, attending a technical preview of a new Land Rover I'm not allowed to talk about yet and then a trip to Milan to experience the Maserati Grecale. You don't need to like the way our world is changing - but you can't deny it's happening.
The Grecale isn't Maserati's first SUV, yet even company executives admit that the bigger Levante is struggling to get considered by those in search of a pluto-'ute. The new model is slightly smaller and destined to be cheaper, and is therefore burdened with one of the toughest jobs in automotive showbusiness: persuading potential Macan buyers to defect.
Three versions of the Grecale will be offered when the car goes on sale here later this year. The entry-level GT has a mildly hybridized 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine making 300hp, the Modena gets a slight upgrade to 325hp from the same base engine and various dynamic and design tweaks including adaptive dampers and a mechanical limited-slip differential. The range-topping Trofeo comes with a slightly downtuned version of the Nettuno 3.0-litre V6 from the MC20 which makes a very serious 530hp - nearly 100hp more than the Macan Turbo - and gets standard air suspension plus an electronically controlled rear differential. On Maserati's numbers the Trofeo can dispatch the 0-60mph benchmark in 3.6 seconds and go onto a top speed of 177mph. Regardless of engine, all Grecales will have all-wheel drive and - in petrol form - eight-speed automatics.
While the Trofeo feels like the most PH of the line-up the luck of the launch draw saw me assigned a Modena for the bulk of the test drive. Don't worry, I did blag a quick go in the Trofeo later.
First impressions are pretty positive. The Grecale isn't a spectacularly original piece of design, but it is a handsome one, following the Macan's example of integrating a sports car headlight graphic onto a raised bonnet. The Maserati grille beneath looks a bit toothy with its widely-spaced strakes, and at first glance the DRL elements look very like those of the Ford Puma. But the proportions are good and the side-on profile is closer to a heightened hatchback than a traditional SUV. In the metal it's got plenty of presence.
Getting in brings the first mild surprise - touch-sensitive electrical door switches inside what look like conventional handle apertures. This has allowed small release buttons on the interior door trims, although the minimalist chic is then diminished by the need for secondary mechanical actuators lower down to provide redundancy if the power goes out. Beyond this complication switchgear has been comprehensively culled, with almost all functions controlled by the twin touchscreens. The UI works cleanly enough, although a fair number of minor functions need to be dug out of subsidiary menus. The Grecale is roomy front and rear - subjectively no smaller than the Levante's - and trim feels impressively plush and solid. There's also a digital clock which can be reconfigured with a variety of different faces and displays.
The Grecale's steering wheel has two round controllers, shared with the MC20. The one on the right cycles driving modes: Comfort, GT and Sport on the Modena, with a separate button in the centre to allow the dampers to be toggled from soft to firm regardless of mode. The knob on the left isn't actually a dial, it's an engine start-stop button, although being the same shape and size it feels like it should also be turnable. There are sizeable metal gearchange paddles behind the steering wheel with a nice weight and clacky action, but drive, park, reverse and neutral are still selected by push buttons on the centre console.
All good so far, but starting the Modena sends a couple of sizeable flies buzzing towards the ointment. The first is definitely sound. Maserati has long been an engine-defined brand, one where the promise of a charismatic powerplant is integral to the ownership proposition and - the be brutally honest - sometimes pretty much all of a car's appeal. That took a knock a few years back when the brand started to use the industrial VM diesel, and it's immediately clear that the new turbocharged engine isn't going to be going down as an experiential highpoint either. The Grecale isn't the first four-cylinder Maserati - the Levante and Ghibli hybrids both have them - but the busy thrum of the new 2.0-litre engine at idle feels immediately at odds with the upmarket positioning.
Performance is respectable and delivered without any undue stress. The engine isn't keen to rev out, it requires manual gear selection to persuade it to the 6,000rpm red line, with full auto always shifting before then. There is a small amount of lag low down, although the 48-volt starter-generator can add some assistance, it doesn't bring enough to fill this. But once the turbo is puffing the combination of solid mid-range plus the gearbox's multitude of ratios and deft reactions mean it doesn't need to be worked hard for rapid progress. It's not long since the Modena's claimed 5.0-second 0-60mph time would make it one of the segment's rocketships. The exhaust note gains a harder edge when worked harder, but never harmonises into anything special.
The launch cars all rode on Pirelli Scorpion winter tyres, despite conditions on the day that would have been regarded as summery in the UK. The test route also consisted of urban Milan, speed camera'd Autostrada and some very tight, narrow country lanes - definitely not a dynamic playground for limit exploration. Ultimate grip on the cold weather rubber was unsurprisingly limited, and it wasn't hard to persuade the Modena to transition into understeer. Yet, behind this, the front-rear handling balance of the chassis proved easily adjustable. The Modena's steering was responsive without being darty, but it also had springy resistance and little true feel. Sitting on steel springs, the Modena's chassis actually felt pretty soft - with noticeable roll, pitch and dive in the softest Comfort mode - with the active dampers often allowing a secondary motion after a big load. GT and Sport modes tightened up the shocks and brought more discipline without making the ride harsh. Cruising refinement was impressively good on the Autostrada, too. The Grecale feels like it will cope impressively well with long journeys.
If you're detecting a lack of wild excitement at this point, you are correct. I finished my drive in the Grecale Modena with my heart rate probably lower than when I set out. Which is where my much briefer turn in the Trofeo comes in, the automotive equivalent of an adrenaline auto-injector. Traffic was building by the time I got my go, meaning that opportunities to experience the brutality of the V6's full acceleration were limited, leave even a small gap in Italy and it will be immediately filled by two small Fiats and a Kia Picanto.
But the engine is the star. The 'Nettuno' V6 is making 90hp less than its does in the MC20 and has gained a wet sump, yet it uses the same clever pre-chamber ignition setting. It sounds great all the way from its fruity wob-wob idle to a bellowing top end, this accompanied - in the punchier dynamic modes - with a head-nodding torque bump on upshifts and a matching snap of sound. It is massively quick: after just one dose of full throttle the ludicrous 0-60mph time felt entirely believable.
In addition to its standard air springs, the Trofeo has gained two additional dynamic modes: Corsa above Sport (for those times you want to dominate a trackday in your SUV) plus Off Road which increases ride height by up to 30mm if you want to risk the alloys in the wilderness. Corsa quickly proves to be too brittle for road use, certainly on rough urban surfaces, with the dampers seemingly frozen solid and even small imperfections sending shivers through the Grecale's structure. But the softer GT mode is much gentler, softer than is normal in this iron-fisted bit of the market - with this selected the Trofeo still leans under cornering loads and squats under hard acceleration like a seventies muscle car.
The Trofeo's steering felt much better than the Modena's with a much more natural weighting, although grip was still limited by the test car's winter tyres. Even on the low-grip rubber the Trofeo felt more obviously back endy, with that cleverer electronically controlled limited-slip diff in place of the lesser car's mechanical locker. Yet strangely the Trofeo's bigger brakes, with meaty six-pot Brembo calipers up front, felt underwhelming when compared to the Modena's. There was little resistance through the e-boosted pedal and a low-speed grabbiness that made it hard to achieve a smooth stop.
The Trofeo is welcome proof that Maserati still knows how to build a great engine, and to deliver a visceral experience that will feel familiar to the brand's established fans. Yes, it's an SUV, but it's also definitely a Maserati. It's a car I really want to spend more time in, with grippier rubber and quieter roads.
Praise is more muted for the four-cylinder version, not because of any egregious failures, but just because it doesn't seem to have much character beyond that which comes from its inoffensively handsome styling. It is going to have to be priced and equipped keenly if it is to persuade too many Macan buyers to switch allegiance from what has become the segment's default choice.
Regardless, we won't have Maseratis like this for much longer. The brand has already said it plans to build its last combustion model by 2030. Next year we'll be seeing the first fully electric Maserati, an EV version of the Grecale called the Folgore. That one really will feel like a culture shock.
Specification | Maserati Grecale Modena
Engine: 1998cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 325bhp @ 5750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 332b-ft @ 2000rpm
Top speed: 149mph
Specification | Maserati Grecale Trofeo
Engine: 2992cc, V6, twin turbo
Transmission: Eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 530hp @ 6500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 457b-ft @ 0000rpm
Top speed: 177mph
1 / 10