/ 26 May 2024

Maserati’s leap into its SUV future

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Sleek: The Maserati Gracale has a modern, high-tech exterior

This is the Grecale, Maserati’s answer to increasing profits and clawing back market share from the glut of luxury SUVs available nowadays. 

Given its smaller proportions and variety of spec iterations, including some beautiful colour combinations and Maserati’s trident-inspired wheel designs, the Grecale has a strong eye on bringing more women buyers into the stable.

The intention is clear. While it is a new model in the Maserati South Africa line-up, there is no doubt the Grecale will become a bestseller within the next few months. That’s the very point of its existence — to bring new buyers to the brand and keep them there. 

Some criticisms have been levelled at its design, specifically its gaping grille, which some say bears a close resemblance to that of the Ford Puma, which was launched in Mzansi recently. While I see it, I certainly don’t think the Grecale is as offensive or as similar in the metal. 

It’s a comprehensively designed vehicle with a focus on keeping Maserati details intact. 

The trident badges on the C-pillars as well as the trio of side air vents finish the design, while the 21-inch Crio Matte aluminium wheels give it stance and presence. 

The Grecale’s newly designed interior is the real showstopper. It leaves you with the impression of a truly modern and high-tech vehicle. The centre piece is a dual-screen layout powered by Google, a double-combo of 12.3-inch above 8.8-inch LEDs. 

These screens house most of the switchgear and cabin controls, which can be quite overwhelming, but within the layers of menus and control surfaces, the screen resolution, system speed and user experience are all top-notch, making it the best infotainment offering from Maserati in a long time. 

Further into the cabin, the mix of materials and the way the design has woven in traditional stitching cues with sculpted air vents that blend into the dash is a tasteful execution from the Italian stable. 

Behind the steering are large aluminium paddles fixed to the stalk, as usual, and they play to an overall sporty, yet trendy, Maserati feel. 

It’s a genuinely well-appointed cabin, with excellent ergonomics all round, and supportive sport seats that can be ventilated and heated. 

The optional Sonus Faber sound is something to have, offering outstanding audio quality but, at over R130 000, this must be something you’re really into. 

You’ll be surprised by the spaciousness of the Grecale, especially in the rear quarters, where it feels more comfortable than its rivals in all respects. 

The boot swallows 540 litres of stuff, and that too bodes well for Grecale, a car that will look to capitalise on those added features and benefits over its ever-popular rivals, namely the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and Porsche Macan — a batch of rather creditable vehicles. 

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So far, so good but how does it drive? In short, it’s like a Stelvio. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo, on which this Grecale is based. The driver feel is similar as far as the steering, ride quality and chassis are concerned. That is to say, very good. 

The electric steering rack is a great compromise between sportiness and everyday comfort, which is really where the Modena specification needs to be. 

The engine is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol with an additional 48V starter generator that is designed to feed additional torque into the system at lower engine speeds but also to improve overall engine efficiency and downplay engine load. 

But this is a Maserati, so performance is a big consideration, even in the mid-spec Modena. 

Thankfully, the performance is there and 242kW is ample power to play with. 

The ZF eight-speed transmission is fantastic, and you can interact with it using those attractive paddle shifters behind the wheel. 

On a side note, you can also use the paddles to switch between reverse (left paddle) and drive (right paddle), when negotiating a parking spot, for instance. Nifty. 

The engine is certainly not lacking in character, with the ability to transform through the drive modes into a burbly, excitable spirit. 

The GTI-esque burp on the upshifts is entertaining, as is the overall drivability of this motor. 

Even with the mild-hybrid system, the Grecale still exhibits some power lag at pull-off before all the systems spool up, but once that happens, it delivers the performance expected at this level. 

It could do with some work on the balance to increase rear rotation, as it does tend to wash out as a default, but you can feel the chassis could give more to make the Modena a little more playful. 

As far as driving modes go, the GT setting is the sweet spot, adequately sporty but erring on the side of comfort. 

The driver’s display and graphics provide various layouts and layers of information that you might need but the one that I found myself looking at most was the battery gauge from the hybrid system. 

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The Maserati Gracale has a modern, high-tech exterior and a spacious, well-appointed interior, however, some of the buttons feel cheap, which is out of keeping with its luxury finishes and price.

Despite the car’s sporty character when you want it, the Grecale Modena is probably going to spend its time in urban settings, doing daily trips at slow speeds. 

Here, the Modena demonstrates impressive levels of economy. I was pleased with under 11 litres to 100km. My economy cycle was able to get the reading down to 9.1  liters/100km over a 60km test route.  

The Grecale scored 7/10 for this reviewer and I have not given all of the reasons for this. 

On the down side, let’s start with the price of R2 320 000. Optional extras can quickly hike that by a few hundred thousand. It is a significant step up in price compared to its direct rivals and entices the consideration of some larger or more capable options. 

This isn’t something Maserati South Africa can change — such is the nature of import prices with a weak rand. 

Another problem is, within its richly textured and modernised cabin, there are concerns regarding the few buttons. 

The steering wheel has the Starter button on the left-hand side and the Drive Mode selection toggle on the right. These are of inferior quality to the rest of the cabin, feeling like cheap plastic. Why, Maserati? 

The gear selector buttons are between the infotainment screens. You might find the layout odd but that’s less of a concern than the feel and quality of these buttons, too. 

It might sound nit-picky, but it’s noticeable and it raises the question again: Why? After spending so much time on the rest of the car, improving and innovating in so many areas, did they forget about these buttons?

Despite this, I can’t help but like the Grecale, as it is exactly what Maserati promised. It is a modern Maser and, even with its small capacity and mild-hybrid drivetrain, it’s a fun, trendy new product on the local market. 

If budget is not a concern and you’re looking for something exclusive, the Grecale is worth a look. As a product, it’s very good. As an SA-market proposition right now? That’s where the points get deducted.