Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: June 7, 2023
Better late than never. Maserati has finally expanded its lineup with a mid-size SUV called the Grecale. Named after a Mediterranian wind, the Grecale slots under the Levante in size and is similarly offered in three trims: GT, Modena, and Trofeo. A fully electric Folgore model will be coming soon.
The Grecale has its crosshairs aimed straight at the Porsche Macan, Range Rover Velar, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC, but it’s the rivalling Alfa Romeo Stelvio that has us scratching our heads. You see, the Maserati Grecale sits on the same platform as the Alfa (and the Jeep Grand Cherokee for that matter), and are curiously similar thanks to their shared corporate overlord. We’ve got a similar V6 engine configuration, large column-mounted paddle shifters that you can satisfyingly curl your fingers around, steering wheel-mounted dials, a similar exhaust note, and a similar squeak and feel to all the switchgear. Oddly enough, they both make unnecessarily loud signal and door lock noises too - must be an Italian thing. But out on the open road, they’re different animals.
First off is the looks. The Grecale looks stunning, and we think it’s prettier and more visually balanced than the Stelvio. It sports softer lines and shoulders than the Levante but is a tad more elegant and unisex in appearance. It’s a design that feels suited to the moment and in trend, rather than timelessly elegant. Still, its handsome silhouette is more refreshing to look at than the current crop of Teutonic SUVs, and much more unique and distinctive than a Macan or Velar.
The cabin is a discernable upgrade over the Levante in quality and visual appeal. A splendid and luxurious place to spend time in, the interior is flush with upscale materials and a pair of stacked touchscreens. Sadly the displays are constantly marred by fingerprints but that’s a foible not unique to Maserati. A 12.3-inch screen sits above a smaller one that handles more functional features such as the clock display, heated seats, and curiously enough, the side mirror and headlight controls. Yes, everything is modulated with the touchscreen now. There isn’t even a volume dial or a real hazard button.
Disappointingly, the previously analog clock is now digital but that does allow you to customize the clock display to show either the compass, G-meter, or pedal inputs, and it will even act as a home base for voice control functions like a Google Home. The screen is large enough too that the displayed information is actually quite useful.
Maserati’s new steering wheel is an ergonomic and visual joy - it’s no coincidence that we reported the same with the Alfa wheel as they share the same skin and bones. It’s armed with purposeful and nicely labelled buttons that don’t trigger any guesswork - none of those sensitive, haptic touchpads here. Maserati has even kept those small nipple buttons on the back of the wheel like in Jeeps and Dodges, which control the audio and infotainment functions so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. The actual buttons feel plasticky, flimsy, and hardly glued into place, and it makes our eyes twitch knowing that a Dodge Journey that lists for an eighth of the price shares the same switchgear, but the ease of functionality that it provides is undeniable. On the same note, the infotainment system is also sourced from the Stellantis parts bin, but it’s such a vibrant, logical, and easy-to-use system that we could never fault it for that.
Like the Stelvio, the seats are on the hard side and lack the same kind of cushioning you would find in a Mercedes GLC or Lexus RX. We aren’t sure why Italians prefer to sit on rocks, but trying to find a comfy seating position also had us wondering why the left paddle shifter was closer to the wheel than the right paddle. Huh. Spacious rear seats though, definitely more head- and legroom than the Macan and X3, and similar to the Velar and F-Pace.
Like the Lexus NX, Maserati has migrated to electrically-operated door handles that activate with just the push of a button. They work well, but what we’re not so convinced about are the drive selector buttons located on the center stack, sandwiched between the touchscreens. The Drive gear is frustrating the furthest from the driver, so you have to actively get off your seatback every time, and it doesn’t help that the buttons squeak when pressed - not a positive sign of a very luxurious six-figure rig. And putting the buttons right above the lower touchscreen means it’s inevitable that your wrist and palm will accidentally trigger some buttons. It happened to us an unspeakable amount of times. Aiming to hit Reverse? Prepare to also trigger the air con to the maximum. Want to engage Drive? You will probably increase the audio volume as well.
The absence of a gear lever has freed up precious center console real estate, and Maserati commissioned an oddly shaped, trap-door style cubby, which looks neat but in practice, it just gets in the way and could have been more functionally designed. It reminds us of the Mercedes center cubby, an example of form over function. But we love the weighty new key fob. It’s slimmer than the previous obelisk but no lighter, and we love how it stands as a fashion piece to go with the rest of your fancy keychains.
Other quirks and foibles? Well, it wouldn’t be a Maserati without a few. The rearview camera is low resolution, operates at what seems to be a measly 10 frames per second, and lags. So you could hit something but the screen will only display it a quarter of a second later. We’re also not sure why there’s an endless onslaught of pings, chirps, and warnings when you switch the driving mode to Corsa. The driver display insists on notifying the driver that the safety systems have been turned off, and displays each warning one by one. A useful notification that the Grecale does provide is when approaching red light cameras, but we can’t find a way to adjust the volume. Again, it’s unnecessarily loud and will startle occupants. There is no auto hold button for the brakes, an odd omission in a 2023 vehicle. And while the material quality in the Grecale is exceptional, the bare carbon fibre trim feels cheap. The panels don’t always line up or close shut, and feels like it’s something pulled out from the lowest bidder on AliExpress, rather than a prestigious Italian shop.
In all honesty, every ergonomic shortcoming mentioned above is instantly forgiven and forgotten the moment you start the Grecale Trofeo’s prodigious V6 engine. While the GT and Modena trims receive a four-cylinder, the Trofeo is equipped with the same V6 Nettuno engine as the MC20 supercar but detuned with a wet sump and different turbochargers to produce ‘just’ 523 hp and 457 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough to launch the Trofeo from 0-100 km/h in a brief 3.8 seconds. Yes, it uses the same F1-derived pre-chamber ignition system too.
The engine is an absolute gem, and we found it more soulful than a Macan GTS V6, and more distinctive than an X3 M inline-six. The way it builds speed is like a V8 on full afterburner. It’s fiendishly fast, and sheds speed as quickly as it adds it thanks to strong brakes. The 8-speed gearbox needs some more time in the oven as the manual downshifts aren’t as quick or as polished as we’d expect, but the lightning-quick upshifts are praiseworthy. The gearing is also exceptionally short, so you will be hitting the limiter often, also giving us an excuse to flick those satisfying paddle shifters.
Corsa Mode is the most satisfying, as all systems are turned up to their sportiest settings, and it’s here that the Grecale Trofeo mimics the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, from the way its electric steering feels quick yet accurate, and the way the exhaust sounds like you’re towing a beehive close to 7,000 rpm. Have they just transplanted an Alfa over, CTRL+S and CTRL+V? Not entirely.
The Trofeo feels more alive and shakes its hips like no other 2,000 kg SUV. It’s more playful and the stability and traction control systems are less intrusive, allowing you to unravel a corner using just throttle and steering. It’s absolutely silly how sideways you can get the Trofeo without losing an iota of driving confidence, something the Macan GTS or F-Pace SVR could only dream about. The steering breathes with the road and frankly, we haven’t had this much fun behind the wheel of an SUV for quite some time.
The Grecale rides better too thanks to its adaptive air suspension, which eats up smooth highway tarmac without fuss. Our Trofeo wore 21-inch winter tires but the ride was still perfectly judged and damped to neutralize all but the harshest of bumps. We found it more compliant than the larger Levante too.
Even without a V8 war drum, the Trofeo’s V6 emits a goosebump-raising soundtrack worthy of Maserati’s sportiest trim. It’s high-pitched, gravelly, and raspy in tone, and though it’s not as operatic as we would have liked, it’s distinctive, sharp, and barks and pops on hard upshifts. Strolling around leisurely at low RPMs however reveals an unflattering rumble, like it’s gargling mouthwash in the back. But there’s no way to cut off its vocals, even in the more relaxed GT and Comfort driving modes.
So here lies the question: If the Maserati Grecale Trofeo ($133,100) is so similar to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio ($103,190), why not choose the Alfa that’s cheaper by about $30,000? They’re both charismatic Italian brands after all with their own idiosyncrasies, and though the Grecale feels fresher and more modern, we wouldn’t say its more playful rear end and more compliant ride is worth that delta. But if the trident badge is what gets the blood pumping, then the Grecale will keep it flowing until you’re in tachycardia. Ergonomic foibles aside, the Trofeo is the real deal.
Model: 2023 Maserati Grecale Trofeo
Paint Type: Blu Intenso
Base Price: $133,100
Price as Tested: $149,100
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,859 / 1,979 / 1,659
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6
Horsepower: 523 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 457 lb-ft @ 3,000 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.2
Tires: 255/40R21 front; 295/35R21 rear