► Maserati MC20 prototype review
► Supercar kickstarts new era for Maser
► We test a late prototype ahead of launch
The clue is in the badge. The Trident emblem on the new Maserati MC20 has been subtly updated and the typeface for the MC20 rewritten; ‘MC’ stands for Maserati Corse, of course, referring to a racing heritage dating back a century to the 1920s, while ‘20’ refers to 2020, the start of the brand’s new era. Yep, Maser is relaunching again - and this delectable slice of exotica is kicking things off in some considerable style.
But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Can Maserati really rely on a stellar supercar to gain credibility? Whither the smaller SUV, the EVs in the pipeline, the more affordable sports cars to increase the volumes the company desperately needs to survive and thrive?
We’ve snuck an early drive in the new halo car to see if the raw ingredients are there. Read on for our full Maserati MC20 review, as we drive a late-stage prototype ahead of the full launch.
The new range-topper is mid-engined and clothed in suitably dramatic bodywork. It’s been many years since the company tried to do something this driver-focused and don’t forget that this car ushers in a new era - it’s the first time in 18 years that Maserati has made its own engines.
Instead of merely buying in crate motors from Ferrari (not a bad donor), it’s now building its own V6 Nettuno engine family, named after the Italian for Neptune, as in the trident badge. The MC20 is assembled at the Viale Ciro Menotti plant in Modena, which until a year ago was building the GranTurismo and GranCabrio.
Underneath the disguise of the car we’re driving today, the MC20 is the first model to use Maserati’s new eco-friendly paint shop. It comes in six colours, all created for the MC20. Bianco Audace, seen here, is a yellow-ish white with a bluish mica that supposedly merges the white and dark blue of the Birdcage.
Developed in part in the Dallara wind tunnel, the MC20’s bodywork – with its captivating butterfly doors (above) – has been shaped to be sleek up top and busier down below. The upcoming Spyder version (with a retractable hardtop) was designed at the same time, for added engineering integrity and stiffness.
Maserati MC20 interior: what’s it like inside?
The slim-fit cockpit is notably simpler and less gaudy than recent Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lambo or McLaren cabins. There is no head-up display, no inflationary use of assistance systems, no gesture control and no voice activation.
Lurking a little too close behind the multi-function, three-spoke steering wheel are the world’s longest shift machetes, which operate to the parameters set via the drive mode controller: Wet, GT, Sport and Corsa. To select Corsa, press the selector for two seconds. Those courageous enough to wrestle ESC Off must keep it pushed three seconds longer (we know… We took some brave pills and tried).
The gear selector buttons are labelled R and D/M for Drive and Manual. Pull both paddles simultaneously and you’re in neutral. It’s a fairly straightforward and functional layout except for the six hard-to-decipher push-buttons tucked away in the small roof console, and the shortage of oddments space.
Maserati is immensely proud of the new V6’s key innovations: ignition pre-chambers, side sparkplugs that fires when the pre-chambers are bypassed, and the dual (direct and indirect) high-pressure fuel-injection system. By igniting the mixture in the pre-chambers ahead of full combustion, two thermo-dynamic sequences are unleashed within milliseconds of each other. The result? High swirl and multiple flame fronts for enhanced power and efficiency.
Contrary to rumour, the engine did not start life as an evolution of Ferrari’s V8 F154, and the car was not originally kicked off at Ferrari as a future ‘new Dino’. It is true, however, that Maserati did hire for this project a number of engineers who previously worked for the prancing horse on Via Abetone.
But don’t think of the MC20 as a reimagined Ferrari F8 Tributo. It isn’t a direct McLaren rival either, its character is very different to that of Aston Martin’s Vantage and it spreads its talent over a much broader range than the Lamborghini Huracan. The MC20 is a radical yet reasonable driving machine which excels when it matters. It pushes the bookends of sports car DNA a good bit further apart than any of those alternatives. It flashes its wild side when challenged, but can also assume a more easygoing personality. How has this been achieved? By starting with a clean sheet of paper (probably several, in truth) without conceptual restrictions, compulsory synergies and cost-driven compromises.
While the tyre sizes are 100 per cent Ferrari F8 Tributo front and rear, the suspension features a more compliant set-up, with one top link and two bottom links at each corner. At 1470kg and 621bhp, the MC20 has a strong power-to-weight ratio. It also excels in aero performance and stability thanks to a small frontal area, efficient heat dissipation, low drag, minimum front axle lift and maximum rear downforce at speed. All this wind cheating is achieved without adaptive spoilers, which add weight and corrupt the looks.
Review: so how does it drive?
When we drive our black pre-production MC20 through the outskirts of Modena, the first eye-opener occurs just 200 metres east of the factory gate on Modena’s Via Emilia Ovest. ‘No need to slow down,’ says Federico Landini, MC20 project engineer, as we approach a cobblestoned speed bump. In a Huracan or a GT3, this would almost certainly require the assistance of a hydraulic axle lift to protect the chin spoiler. The MC20, however, swiftly climbs and descends without crunching.
The bystanders are beside themselves with joy at the sight of the lightly camouflaged MC20, so of course we engage Corsa mode (above), ensuring all exhaust flaps are wide open even at idle speed. And then the Carabinieri dozing in their Tipo wake up, and it doesn’t seem such a good idea any more.
As we get out of town, though, we’ll re-engage Corsa and discover that it also provides maximum boost at the tiniest blip of the throttle, firms up the dampers and celebrates the battle for traction with a shrill cat’s choir and swathes of Profumo di Pirelli. The accelerator becomes hyper-responsive, which further stimulates the feeling of exuberant power and torque.
We deviate to the Autodromo di Modena, where I’m assured I’ll be amazed how easy the car is to drive in the rain. After all, it is not only light but also rigid, and this stiffness is essential for precise handling and accurate feedback. I’m told to forget GT mode on the track. Instead, do a couple of laps in Sport with the dampers in Soft, because the surface has seen better days, then dial in Corsa and enjoy.
This is a short circuit, with a long-ish uphill start-finish straight, a matching descent on the other side, and a dozen or so swirly bends in between. The short-legged eight-speed twin-clutch gearbox is racing through the bottom two gears like a greyhound within snapping distance of the hare. Although the peak 621bhp is available at 7000rpm, the limiter permits 8000rpm before interfering, which is borderline for making third the gear of choice through the difficult bits where the last thing you want is to upset the flow – and subsequently dent the line – with an ill-timed upshift. Conversely, the quickest right-handers are fast enough for fourth gear, which does a splendid job riding the 539lb ft torque surf all the way from 3000 to 5500rpm.
In Corsa, the explosive torque delivery makes the rear wheels wriggle and yelp when third gear passes on the massive twist action to fourth. When the conditions are right, it must be a treat to summon launch control and relish that raw urge as the MC20 beams you 0-62mph in 2.9sec. Likewise, the top speed of 202mph kicks the door to a parallel universe wide open.
Slight delays and minor in-gear hiccups suggest the software adaptation is not quite complete. The gearing is a little off in third, which runs out of revs too early. ESC interferes prematurely except in Corsa, the brake pedal could do with a shorter travel, and the wipers are struggling at 80mph, let alone at 125mph-plus. So, room for improvement. We’re reassured such glitches are being fettled before launch.
At first the steering feels almost too light, too eager, too keen to please. But confidence soon starts to flow, every movement of the wheel bringing about a faithful response in a way that makes life at the limit incredibly transparent and manageable.
Same goes for the brakes. Don’t be afraid to drop the hammer late; just make sure you drop it hard. Maserati’s awesome stopping system simply delivers, no matter how often the driver hits the repeat button.
In the MC20, you get what you feel, and what you feel is the road; pure and simple. Better still, that trusted connection remains intact at all times – on full lock, during quick changes of direction, when braking hard into a bend, over ripples and along longitudinal grooves.
Priced from £187k, the Maserati MC20 does not rewrite the sports-car rulebook. It’s not a head-turning design trendsetter either, an aggressively priced smart buy or a digital marvel. There are sharper and faster cars. Instead, this is an incredibly homogeneous work of art whose many-sidedness never ceases to amaze in the course of a long, grey day. Virtually from nowhere, a new supercar has landed which holds all things dynamic in perfect balance, and in doing so is as super-competent as it is always accessible.
Not as bulky as the AMG GT, lighter than the Vantage and aerodynamically more efficient than the Tributo, the MC20 strikes a compelling compromise which may turn out to be the new gold standard in the GT class. And a GT it undeniably is: uncommonly refined, unexpectedly supple, unusually versatile in the manner it delivers the goods. This GT will be joined later next year by the folding hardtop Spyder, and in 2022 we shall see the 600bhp-plus electric version. Not bad for a marque that’s been written off more than once.
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