► New Maser Grecale tackles Porsche Macan
► Battle of the premium compact SUVs
► Entry-level Grecale GT vs Macan T
Maserati wants to be Italy’s Porsche, and judging by rumours of a potential stock market listing, so does parent company Stellantis. Unfortunately, Maserati is more like Italy’s Jaguar, another brand with a history we’d probably call rich and colourful if many of the best bits hadn’t occurred so long ago they only happened in black and white.
But the winds could be changing for the brand whose naming department has always loved a good breeze. The firm’s MC20 supercar has been a critical hit, boosting the brand’s credibility, especially among younger buyers, and the new GranTurismo’s choice of Folgore electric and traditional combustion power options gives it a USP among GT cars. But Maserati really needs a volume player, particularly since the slow-selling Ghibli saloon is about to check out. And you can’t get much more ‘volume’ in the premium sector than a medium-sized SUV.
Modena is betting big on the Maserati Grecale you see in these pictures, a car with some respectable DNA we’ll explain in a minute, and one aimed directly at Porsche’s most popular car, the Macan SUV. Porsche sold 86,724 examples of its smallest SUV in 2022, almost four times Maserati’s entire output for the year, so the opportunities are huge.
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Like the Macan, the Grecale is available with various chilli counts. Horsepower junkies with pockets so deep they can scratch their knees without taking their hands out will go for the £99,700 Trofeo, a twin-turbo V6 weapon with 523bhp that can storm from rest to 62mph in 3.8 seconds. But most buyers will be downsizing to the tune of at least two cylinders and 200 horses and, with only four cylinders, that tune isn’t going to be anywhere near as musical, sadly.
Testing the entry-level Grecale GT
The £67,810 Modena swaps the Trofeo’s air springs for steel coils with adaptive dampers, and its 3.0-litre V6 for a 2.0-litre MHEV four kicking out 326bhp. Our entry-level GT gets the same basic hardware but loses 30bhp and the Modena’s adaptive dampers and limited-slip differential. At £61,570 it’s the cheapest way into a Grecale, if certainly not the cheapest way into a big-name premium SUV, and it’s the route most buyers are expected to take.
But with £1585 of optional rims adding an inch to each wheel to match the 20 inches of hardware fitted to the Modena and Trofeo, the base GT doesn’t look much less glamorous from the outside, the main difference being the chromed rather than black window trim (you can black out the GT’s surrounds for £1260) and grille gnashers, which conspire with our car’s Bianco Astro paint to give the car a look that might go down well in Florida, but comes across as a little chintzy here and exaggerates its, ahem, fuller figure.
Things are better in the cabin, which is a dead ringer for the one in Maserati’s new £150k GranTurismo coupe. Three digital screens for instruments, media and climate control, plus decent plastics, mean the ambience is light years ahead of the stuff in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, whose Giorgio platform Maserati borrowed, then stretched by a full 83mm.
Still, it could be better: the seat won’t drop low enough for all tastes, and the pushbutton gear switches on the dash feel about as sporty as they did when Maserati’s current step-brother, Chrysler, came up with the idea in 1956 for its two-speed PowerFlite. The 5500rpm redline also looks disappointingly mid-century – although not bad for a diesel, I think for a fleeting moment as a rattly chunter permeates the bulkhead… Then I snap back to attention and remember there is no diesel option.
So we’re not off to an entirely winning start as we prepare to leave the office car park on an A- and B-road route that winds its way down to Reading through four counties for a rendezvous with the Grecale’s nemesis. It’s more of a 3-3 draw, until the Italians sneak another one past the post by handling some crusty asphalt with surprising sophistication. Even this most basic Grecale GT with its steel coils and passive dampers rides incredibly well – and, given that Maserati is supposed to be a luxury brand as much as a sporting one, that’s important.
But to find out if it can do more than waft we ditch the slow-moving A45 for some narrower chunks of tarmac where traffic is light and my foot’s pressure on the right pedal needn’t be. The 2.0-litre engine sounds far more fun that it did idling in the car park, and will pull to 6000rpm, but its pronounced flywheel effect and turbo lag mean it’s not the most responsive motor. Strong, though. That’ll be down to the 332lb ft of torque on hand between 2000rpm and 4000rpm. Maserati quotes 5.6sec to 62mph for the GT (versus 5.3sec for the Modena), but pausing to play with the on-board performance meter I record 5.1sec to 60mph and 13.3sec to the ton, which is monster go for a four-banger SUV weighing 1870kg.
Arch rival: the Porsche Macan T
More go than the Porsche Macan T we collect from Porsche’s Reading HQ two hours later can offer, that’s for sure. The £58,400 German only costs £1400 less than the 375bhp V6-powered S, and gets by with just 261bhp of inline four seen in everything from the Skoda Kodiaq to the Golf R in varying states of tune.
What it does offer is a list of standard goodies over the base Macan and S, including lower springs, adaptive dampers, 20-inch wheels, the Sport Chrono pack, and sports seats and wheel. So instead of thinking of its as a gussied-up base Macan, you might consider it a GTS without the under-bonnet fireworks.
Less engine means less weight, and in this case that’s a sizeable 58.8kg reduction in the mass slung over the front wheels. That, together with the retuned chassis, explains why the T feels so agile. The steering is beautifully accurate and Porsche engineers hit a bullseye with the weighting, allowing you to hunker down in sports seats that might be a little too cosy for the fuller-figured driver, but do a fantastic a job of holding you upright through bends as the 10mm-lower springs do the car itself.
But running nose to tail through the corners chasing after the Macan, the Maserati is real surprise. Its body control is also strong, but the biggest takeaway is how keen it is to turn. While the Porsche uses its front-end grip and tight suspension to keep pace with your left-right commands, the Maserati shows us a faint hint of the front-mid-engined character that made the transaxle Quattroporte such a hoot 20 years ago.
Sounds ridiculous, I know, but when we stop for breath halfway along the B660 north of Bedford we’ll lift the two bonnets and see why: the Porsche’s engine is slung almost entirely beyond the front axle line (the Audi-badged intake manifold seems an appropriate touch) while the Maserati’s is almost entirely behind, and the rear-mounted 48v MHEV battery and DC converter further improve the weight distribution.
Ultimately, the Grecale is not a riot to drive. It feels a little too sensible for that – more expensive versions with the LSD, adaptive dampers and more power are better for doorhandling. But it is the kind of SUV you can really hustle across country, and might actually want to. Until you have to really get into the brakes, that it is. What the Porsche gives away on the exit of a corner or from the lights by virtue of its much slower 6.2-second 0-62mph time, it more than makes up for when it’s time to swap pedals and ditch that speed.
Reach for the Macan’s brakes and you’re met with a fabulously firm pedal, huge stopping power and the feeling that the car stays beautifully level the whole time. Try the same in the Grecale and the pedal is so much softer and longer it’s like you’ve just stepped off your patio and onto your water-logged lawn, which is about as close to overloading as owners of these cars are going to get. There’s more dive and you’re aware of the mass building up behind you like you’re in a cartoon, sprawled across the front of a catapult-flung boulder.
To be fair to Maserati, there is more car back there – and far more car than the 5kg on the spec sheet would suggest. The Grecale’s 2901mm wheelbase is 6mm longer than even the Porsche Cayenne’s, so the Macan on its 2807mm platform was always going to feel tight when it came to space comparisons. Not that it’s small exactly. There’s plenty of room for four adults and the 488-litre boot is probably big enough for most family jobs.
Maserati Grecale interior
But the Grecale feels tangibly roomier up front and offers a stack more rear head- and legroom, plus 535 litres of boot space to the Porsche’s 488. The V6 Trofeo offers 570 litres, but the GT and Modena take a hit due to the location of the mild-hybrid kit.
The Porsche doesn’t offer mild-hybrid tech, limiting its economy to a so-so 27.7mpg. Maserati claims at least 3mpg more, though the best we saw was 28.3 mpg on the gentle motorway run between Reading and Bedford. Still, a couple of mpg isn’t a deal breaker when you’re buying a £60k car, and 48-volt help can’t prevent the Maserati from being lumped into the top tax brand with the Macan.
We preferred the Porsche’s interior too, even getting all wistful about the old-tech bits like the physical gearshifter and mostly analogue dials that conspire to let slip that the Macan is coming up to its 10th birthday, having had only minor nips and tucks along the way. The Porsche’s cabin has a sports-car feel and better range of driving positions. Plus, while the Maserati’s supercar-style column-mounted shift paddles might look cooler, they’re no better to use than the Porsche’s diddy ones, which move with the wheel and don’t get in the way of the column stalks. And – arguably far more important than that – the Macan’s paddles control a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that reacts much more quickly than the Grecale’s eight-speed ZF automatic.
The Maserati’s lack of wrinkles means it comes with modern safety kit like automatic emergency braking and a head-up display option, both missing from the Porsche, but some of the other ‘advances’ we could live without. The upper media screen looks slick and feels responsive, but some of the graphics and bits of text are too small and we hate that the audio volume and even the headlights are now controlled through the lower touchscreen.
At least you still get a nice round physical dial to steer the car, even if it is spoiled by tiny, cheap-looking and slightly uneven piano-black buttons and annoyingly shaped spokes that don’t let you grab the wheel like you can in the Porsche, but force you to palm it like you’re dancing the Charleston in a ’20s cabaret line-up.
But none of that is weighing on our minds as we cruise up the last 30 miles of A1 with the £2200’s worth of optional 21-speaker Sonus hi-fi sounds filling the airy cabin. There’s maybe a little more road and wind noise than we’d like, but the Grecale is an easy companion that feels suitably expensive on the inside, and clearly looks it on the outside judging by the attention it receives from other drivers.
But it needs to do both of those things because it is expensive: as pricey as a Macan S or a basic Cayenne, both of which feature V6 power, £3170 above the Macan T and £8170 more than an entry-level 2.0 Macan. According to the lease deals we found, you could save over £200 per month going for the Macan T instead of the Grecale, or get the Macan GTS or a Cayenne E-Hybrid for only £20 more, having put almost £2000 less down in the first place.
And looking at PCP numbers from franchised dealers for each brand based on a £10k deposit, you could pay half as much (£599) to put the T on your drive, though that example does leave you with a bigger end-of-term balloon.
Maserati Grecale vs Porsche Macan verdict
We don’t tend to get bogged down in financial minutiae. But there’s nothing minute about the money you’ll save each month going for the Porsche. The Grecale is a competent car with a stylish interior and gutsy engine, but in the Macan and Cayenne it’s competing against some great SUVs and really needs to have the numbers on its side.
It doesn’t, which means that even modern Maserati’s most mainstream, sensible and accessible car remains a firmly alternative choice.
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