Fancy roof, gorgeous looking, absorbing to drive, surprisingly supple and quiet
Not enough boot space for the long journeys it invites, roof is operated via touchscreen
What is it?
Too many of its apparent rivals are so fast these days, and so stiffly suspended and harsh, that they’re a painful frustration on the real roads most of us have to drive on. The MC20 on the other hand can be relaxed, comfortable and genial when you're not driving like your pants are on fire. And yet it's also huge fun when you do give it the chance to open its lungs and tense its muscles.
So a convertible version makes a lot of sense. It widens that scope even more. When you're just going relatively gently, a dropped roof intensifies the sound of the engine and the passing of the scenery.
How does the roof operate?
It's one of those retractable hardtops that retracts under a cover to lie horizontally above the engine. So it doesn't take up boot space or leave an ugly hump. Mind you that's just as well, because the boot is tiny to begin with.
The roof has another trick. It's made of electrochromic glass. Touch a button in one of the screen menus and it instantly switches between clear and near-opaque. As for the retraction or erection, the full-electric mechanism takes 12 seconds, which is quick. It can happen at up to 30mph but you’ve got to battle a touchscreen – there’s no physical switch. If you’re on a bumpy road, this is an issue.
As with the coupe, the doors open more upwards than outwards. That's good for drama. It also means it's a surprisingly easy car to get into and out of. So when the door opening has got peoples' attention, you won't be embarrassed by flopping gawkily onto the pavement.
I thought open Italian cars were called spiders? Or spyders. What’s Cielo?
It just means sky. Maserati feels obliged to exploit its Italian-ness. And why not? Roll the word Maserati off your tongue. It sounds exotic and fast. It's a word that makes everyone excited. Mind you, for literally decades the brand name has been Maserati's biggest asset. The cars haven't been as good as the company – lost in over-optimism – thought they were. Which means not as good as they needed to be. The MC20 coupe showed Maserati does have the talent.
Any kind of trendy hybrid power?
Nope. It's a V6, but a new one for the MC20. It's a 90-degree V-angle with two turbos. Thanks to an 11-to-one compression ratio it manages to be pretty responsive off boost, but when the wind gets up at 3,000rpm you've got 538lb ft of torque to play with, and 630bhp at 7,500rpm. That's hooked up to an eight-speed twin-clutch transmission, feeding through an LSD for stalwart traction.
The kerb weight is a claimed 1,560kg, which is only 65kg more than the coupe. The tub is carbonfibre, which helps keep weight down, although neither model feels as light as claimed. But carbon construction is especially handy in the Cielo as its structure doesn't lose much strength when the roof is off. Indeed it has slightly thicker lay-up in some areas than the coupe's tub.
So the precision of the handling is more or less intact. We say more or less, because it doesn’t retain its rigidity as solidly as a McLaren – a little shake a shimmy gets in. At least it doesn't twist like an over-full foil takeaway container when the road gets bumpy. You feel the odd shudder, but it's slight.
How does it look on the road?
Wonderful. The aerodynamic work is serious, and has been modified for the Cielo around the rear, for engine intake and cooling, and to keep the rear downforce intact. Most of the channels and ducts for downforce, drag reduction and cooling are arranged in the dark lower-body section. The upper coloured panels have a lovely, curvy classical beauty. It's striking but stops short of flashiness or over-aggression. It suits the car's character.
So it’s striking to drive but not too aggressive?
Yes. It has what you want from a mid-engined car: responsive steering, a capacity for pivoting effortlessly around tight bends, and lots of traction on the way out. It doesn't feel like a serious race car, and we mean that in a good way. It's a bit playful and engaging, even when you're well on the prudent side of the limit. Which on the road is pretty well always.
We grumbled a bit in our coupe review about the engine's voice. Not characterful or forceful enough. With the roof down it comes through loud and clear. Alternatively you can drop the rear window separately. Roof down, it’s your wind deflector. More on all this in the Driving tab.
Is it as expensive as a Ferrari?
Maserati has got the bit between its teeth. Now part of the Stellantis group, a lot of investment has been ploughed in, the cars are improving (not just this, but the new GranTurismo and Grecale SUV, too), and as a result Maserati is positioning itself alongside the class big guns. The MC20 coupe starts at a whisker over £200k, the Cielo retails at £231,885. Before options. You’ve been warned – more on that in the Interior tab.
But it’s a car without many direct rivals. A drop-top McLaren Artura will clearly be along shortly, with similar power and the potentially tempting addition of a hybrid system mated to its twin-turbo V6. Ferrari has the sublime 296 GTS, but that’s £278,000. The Lamborghini Huracan Spyder now looks a bargain at £185,000, but bear in mind it’s an old car now and if you’re tall, you simply won’t fit.
What's the verdict?
It's a car with lots of talents and dimensions. You could use it for a recreational blast and make your heart sing. It's quick, engaging and friendly. Or – provided you have a talent for packing light and enjoy the warmth of pre-heated evening wear – you could enjoy the slow-burn pleasure of a long tour. In each of those uses the disappearing roof would only add to the joy.
The interior does slightly let the side down – it’s a little plain and simple after the glamorous bodywork, and clearly isn’t where the investment has gone.
Owners of cars like this don't as a rule drive them all that often. But we can't see why the Cielo wouldn't give a lot of pleasure, and little pain, if they did.