Maserati was a little late to the SUV game, with the Levante arriving on the scene long after most of its rivals had already flooded the market with big, high-end machinery.
But if the wait for the Italian marque’s first SUV was long, the wait for its second feels even more tortuous, with a seven-year gap between the Levante’s launch and the arrival of the Grecale meaning the brand has some catching up to do.
The Grecale slots in just beneath the Levante, its sights set firmly on the premium D-SUV segment. In normal terms, that means it’s gunning for the overtly sporty Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace as well as the more luxury leaning Range Rover Velar, BMW X4, Audi Q5 Sportback and Mercedes-Benz GLC - quite the line-up of rivals.
Maserati doesn’t want to dominate any of these models in the sales stakes but does want to offer a credible alternative for buyers not content to follow the herd, so to that end it wants the Grecale to be sporty, luxurious, practical and stylish.
It starts that off with a design that can clearly only be Maserati - from the front, at least. The deeply concave grille houses a massive version of the brand’s famous trident badge and echoes the aggressive face of the MC20, as do the high-set and slimline headlights. On the front wings are the now-iconic triple vents and the clean, simple lines of the flanks are enhanced by flush-fitted door handles and alloys ranging from 19 to 21 inches and all featuring a different interpretation of the trident motif. From the rear, the Grecale is more anonymous, its boomerang tail lights the only stand-out in a rear view that could belong to any premium SUV.
The cabin, which has sometimes let down Maseratis of the past, is a brilliant blend of style, simplicity and space. The broad dashboard is neat and unfussy and finished in wood, leather and aluminium. The only overt hints at anything fancy are the huge digital instruments, multi-faced digital version of the central clock and a low-set touchscreen for controlling secondary functions like heating and lights. That unit flows smoothly into the sharp and user-friendly main 12.3-inch panel.
The fit and finish from front to back is excellent and everywhere you turn there are beautiful materials - from the supple leather seats to the open-pore wood finish to the dashboard. It’s also a pleasure to see a manufacturer embrace variety in the interior, with five leather colours to choose from, including a deep rich red, biscuity beige and silvery grey, alongside the regular black and cream. The Trofeo gets a more sporty aesthetic with perforated leather dash trim and swathes of carbon fibre but, personally, I think the wood and leather finishes have a more sophisticated look and feel.
Maserati is keen to emphasise the Grecale’s practicality as well as its style and space is, frankly, incredible. My co-driver and I had an average height of over 6’ 6” and weight of (mutters incomprehensibly) but could fit comfortably behind even an above-average sized driver. Headroom and shoulder room are also excellent, although the optional panoramic roof does make it tighter for the very tall. For those in the front, there’s generous room to spread out in all directions and plenty of adjustment in the driving position. The Grecale manages to offer class-leading interior space in a similar footprint to the likes of the Velar or F-Pace without sacrificing boot space, which is still a decent 535 litres - 570 in GT spec.
That GT spec represents the entry point in a lineup with three (soon to be four) trim levels, each matched to its own powertrain and chassis setup.
GT models get a 296bhp version of Maserati’s 2.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol engine and standard steel springs and fixed dampers. Modena uses the same drivetrain boosted to 325bhp and gets Skyhook adaptive dampers and a mechanical limited-slip diff. Top-spec Trofeo is the only version to get the 523bhp Nettuno twin-turbo V6. It also gets adaptive air suspension and an electronic LSD. GT and Modena can be specced with the air ride as a £1,400 option.
While rivals offer plug-in hybrid variants Maserati is skipping them entirely - its sales volumes and plans for rapid electrification make the stop-gap between ICE and electric more hassle than it’s worth. Instead, later this year the all-electric Fulgore will arrive with 500+bhp and a 105kWh battery offering more than 310 miles of range.
All three current versions of the Grecale match the sporty ambition of the famously sporty brand. The difference in pace between GT and Modena isn’t huge but neither feels lacking, with 0-62mph taking 5.3 seconds for the more powerful Modena and a still respectable 5.6 for the GT. The 48V hybrid system torque fills while the turbo spools up quickly, so there’s only a touch of lag as you accelerate and the eight-speed ZF transmission works seamlessly. The only letdown is the usual uninspired drone of the four-cylinder, which some enhanced exhaust notes can’t mask.
The Trofeo’s V6 is a more serious prospect, with a sharper mechanical rasp to it, although there’s still some autotune-style fiddling that creates a predictable pop and crackle on the upshift. Its pace is also far more serious, reaching 62mph from a standstill in 3.8 seconds and feeling every bit as lively as you’d expect from a car that shares its engine with the MC20 supercar.
The Trofeo’s chassis is set up to emphasise that thanks to adaptive damping, lower ride, more rear-biased centre diff and a fiercer Corsa drive mode. On faster roads it feels balanced and taut, with steering that’s responsive but not overly quick - Too fast wouldn’t work for a big family SUV but too loose or light would feel wrong with the Maserati’s position as the sporty luxury rival to Porsche.
It may just be a symptom of our fairly easy test route but I’m not sure that even the Trofeo has quite the attack and bite of the Macan, but even basic models feel nicely sorted for twisting country routes, with strong body control and a refined ride. The GT’s damping is perhaps a little more jagged than the air setup but still does a more than acceptable job of isolating the cabin from lumps and bumps. In standard comfort mode, the air system offers a similar level of refinement but also brings the ability to stiffen things up and lower the ride by 35mm for sportier tasks or raise it by 30mm if you fancy tackling tougher terrain.
The Trofeo’s sound and speed are entertaining but I think the Modena is the sweet spot of the range. It doesn’t feel lacking in pace or equipment, and you can still choose the air suspension if you want it.
Modena trim starts at £67,810 -£6,240 more than the GT spec and almost £32,000 less than the £99,700 Trofeo. All version of the Grecale get LED headlights, full leather upholstery, heated seats, the 12.3-inch touchscreen with sat nav, connected services and voice control, plus a “Premium” sound system from Sonos Fabe. It’s disappointing, however, that in a luxury car starting north of £60,000 features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and even traffic sign recognition have to be specified as part of a £2,500 option pack.
Whichever version you consider, you’re paying for exclusivity, with prices a step above key rival. A 375bhp six-cylinder Macan S starts at less than £60,000, for example, and even a V8 F-Pace SVR undercuts the similarly powered Trofeo by almost £15k.
While there’s plenty of choice among the standard exterior and interior finishes, personalisation for the Grecale goes beyond what’s usual in the segment. Not only can you specify some truly wild “Fuoriserie” colours - such as Orange Glow (think hi-vis vest) or the beetle-like Verde Smeraldo - you can also add go-faster stripes in various designs, including running the Italian tricolore the full length of the car. It’s a bold choice but Maserati says customers have embraced the array of decals on models like the MC20.
History shows that the Italian brand has never been able to match the sales of its German and British rivals and Maserati says it’s not chasing volumes with the Grecale, which is possibly just as well given its pricing. But there’s no reason it can’t challenge any of its stated competitors, offering an impressive balance of performance, poise and top-end quality for buyers seeking a distinctly individual flavour.
Maserati Grecale Modena
- Price: £64,625 (£84,170 as tested)
- Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol, 48V mild hybrid
- Power: 325bhp
- Torque: 332lb ft
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
- Top speed: 149mph
- 0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
- Economy: 40.4-32.1mpg
- CO2 emissions: 199-210g/km
Rivals: Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Velar, BMW X4, Audi Q5 Sportback, Mercedes-Benz GLC