Right, Maserati MC20: good car or bad car?
Good car. Genuinely. Which comes as a pleasant surprise, doesn’t it? Maserati has operated at the fringes for so long, been so inconsistent, that we’re not even sure what the brand stands for any more. Thanks to the GranTurismo and Quattroporte we thought it was a more GT-ish Ferrari, but then along came the Ghibli and Levante and it looked like they were chasing BMW into mass market sales.
And now we have a supercar.
Taking Maserati in a direction it hasn’t been since, well, the Bora back in 1971? The MC12 barely counts since it was a reconfigured Enzo and they only made 50 in total across race and road versions. So what sort of supercar is the MC20? That’s the question. The church is broad these days, covering everything from Porsche 911 Turbo and McLaren GT at the cosier end to angry trackists such as the Lamborghini Huracán STO and AMG GT Black Series.
The Maserati’s identity is a little confused: rear visibility is dismal, there’s a plexiglass engine cover and a pretty barebones cabin, which seems to steer it to the more hardcore end, but the ride is, well, wonderful, refinement is downright impressive, it does 30mpg on a long haul and is light, easy and undemanding to drive.
So it’s unlike anything else?
Unlike any other Maserati that’s for sure. With a carbon tub at its core there’s a sense that it’s akin to a more languid McLaren. It feels light and skims along like an Alpine A110, there’s overtones of Lotus in its mannerisms (and less auspiciously its interior design and quality). McLaren, Alpine, Lotus: this is encouraging. And the more I drove it the more I liked it – it’s beguiling and sophisticated to drive.
But it’s powered by a V6…
I know and there was a fair bit of hoo-hah about that, not just because of the downsizing, but early videos of it revving made it seem sluggish to gain and lose revs, with too much flywheel effect. That must have been done for static emissions or something because in practice the only issue is the lack of engine braking.
The fact it’s a V6 not a V8? Not really an issue, because this twin turbo is a feisty, energetic, hard hitting motor. No, the sound can’t rival the baritone howl of a nat asp V10 Huracán, but what can these days? What you have here is a fairly plain V6 engine note, but overlaid with effervescent turbo fizz and hiss. It’s pronounced and uplifting and has whip crack responses.
And that’s surprising, because given its comparatively small 3.0-litre displacement, you’d imagine they’d have had to fit big ole snails to deliver 621bhp and 538lb ft from 3,000rpm. But these aren’t inertia heavy blowers, they feel small and lag-free – yet they pack not just response, but proper top end wallop.
You know who else does turbocharging well? Ferrari. Has it had a hand in this?
Not at all. Maserati is at pains to point out that this is “a patented, 100 per cent Maserati engine”. And it’s very interesting, with twin spark plugs, one located in a small secondary combustion chamber above the main body of the cylinder, allowing better swirl and mix in the main chamber.
Considering this Nettuno V6 is the first engine Maserati has built itself since 1998 it’s a masterpiece and does wonders to distance the firm from past overlaps with Ferrari. Each engine is handbuilt over 25 hours in one of six bespoke bays at the factory in Modena.
Twin clutch gearbox only though?
Yeah, an eight-speeder sending all the poke to the rear wheels. It’s very long geared in top (70mph is about 1,500rpm) which delivers the 30mpg cruise, but the 60-litre fuel tank isn’t huge and cries wolf when there’s still about 15 litres in there. It told me I had 14 miles range left and I only managed to get 48 litres in. Which means if you, like me, had just had a good blat around Dartmoor, you’d be looking for fuel after only 160 miles or so.
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Few complaints about the gearbox, but let’s dwell on the useability for a second. Fuel economy falls off a cliff if used hard, I don’t know how they measured the 47-litre front ‘boot’, but it can barely fit the logbook. The boot aft of the engine seems bigger than the 101-litre claim, but stuff gets warm. The rear view mirror is fitted with a screen. The camera view is better than the actual view out the back, but it makes your eyes go funny. The standard six-way adjustable seats are fine, but don’t go low enough, nor hold you tight enough. They’re a bit over-stuffed. The optional race buckets are £5,900. As they swing up, the doors also project out a long way. Park further away from fuel pumps than you think necessary.
OK, and how about proper driving?
It’s a bloody exciting car, it really is. It’s light on its feet, moves gracefully and easily over rough roads, is keen and eager and every time you exit a corner the engine is right there, trying to get ahead of your foot. It makes a Huracán seem wooden, a 911 Turbo a bit square, a McLaren perhaps too serious minded. Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s more Ferrari-esque, but there’s a grace to its movements that I don’t think even an F8 Tributo can match.
The rear-drive chassis is playful and well balanced, approachable and good natured. The suspension rarely seems to have to work that hard, the arms moving easily and calmly. And quietly. No thunks back through the carbon tub (developed in conjunction with race car specialists, Dallara). Maserati claims 1,475kg and the MC20 never feels heavy. It also endows the car with a power to weight ratio of 421bhp/tonne, lending credence to its 0-62mph in 2.9secs claim. 124mph is reached in 8.8secs, top speed is over 202mph.
There must be some drawbacks?
Yes, there are issues. The steering is over-assisted and has little feedback. Road feel (and therefore confidence) comes through your buttocks not your hands. The Brembo CCM brakes have plenty of power, but at low speed there’s no bite at the top of their travel and you’re a few inches into it before anything much happens. And even when it does the pedal is hard to modulate accurately. Traction is good (our test car was fitted with the £2,150 e-LSD which behaved perfectly), but when traction control cuts in – which it needs to on cold, wet British roads – it’s not that subtle.
How are the driving modes?
The modes themselves are fine: Wet, GT, Sport, Corsa. It starts in GT and each click ramps up the engine, exhaust, traction, suspension and gearbox. There’s no individual mode but I never really went looking for one, as each mode allows you to choose between the two most appropriate (of three total) damper modes. And even stiffened right up, the MC20 isn’t unruly.
However, I’m a stickler for manual gears. I want full control, and the MC20 doesn’t let you have it. Put it in eighth on the motorway and it should stay there, but add a bit of pressure to the throttle and it kicks down to seventh or even sixth. Stop it, I want to be in charge.
And then there’s the mode dial itself. Maserati says it’s modelled on a chronograph, but if so it was one that came out of a Christmas cracker. The sprung action feels cheap and it creaks when twisted. Unfortunately, that blends well with the rest of the cabin.
Ah, quality not up to scratch?
Way too many exposed screwheads, that’s for sure. Beyond that it’s the overall impression it gives you. Materials are OK, but nothing special, the design is plain, the dash screen resolution is a little grainy (although it actually functions fairly well).
But it feels like a sports car cabin, something you’d pay £60,000 for, not £187,975. Now, this is difficult because Maserati (like McLaren, Alpine and Lotus…) has none of the resources needed to create Porsche-level interiors. But at this price point McLaren does at least show some creativity.
Is the price hard to swallow?
Not for the way the car looks, acts or drives. It’s a corker, a first rate addition to the supercar pantheon. But Maserati is coming here from a standing start and charging this much is punchy considering the brand’s lack of presence in this area. Maserati has also copied Ferrari and McLaren’s options strategy – the car you’re looking at here was specced to £254,975, which included £34,200 of exterior carbon pack, £3,250 for nose lift and £550 for heated seats.
It’s vital for Maserati to position the car correctly of course, to pitch it at the right level to the right customers. Let’s hope the global economy stays strong for them, because this year much more technically advanced cars such as the Ferrari 296GTB and McLaren Artura hybrids are coming to move the game on. Maserati will fight back – an all-electric MC20 is in the pipeline. But is that really the direction we want the supercar to be taking? This one proves there’s still plenty of life in the existing format. Well done Maserati – we weren’t sure you had it in you.