2022 Maserati MC20
Maserati’s comeback trail is full of twists and turns – perfect for testing the new MC20.
THE ROAD TO BELLISSIMO
We’re on the Passo della Raticosa. For 300 years this was the main road connecting Florence and Bologna, two of the world’s finest cities. It’s 968 metres above sea level, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, not replete with fast sweepers or good sight lines but a lot of fun all the same. C’mon, this is Italy in full effect. It’s easy to imagine a nuova Fiat 500 fizzing and parping its way breathlessly between villages, or the gladiators of the original Mille Miglia pushing as hard they dare on the mountain hairpins. There’s not much that can save you if the brake pedal goes soft up here.
As it happens, the 2021 edition of the Mille Miglia will be passing through in 24 hours, but having done the event a fair few times it’s a relief not to be getting in the way of 400-odd hard-charging historics in a brand new Maserati MC20. Trust me, idiotic interlopers in modern tackle are the bane of the modern Mille Miglia.
The MC20 is part of that grand history but for once the new takes dramatic precedence over the old. It’s a halo product for sure, but also a significant statement of intent, and it signals Maserati’s stubborn refusal to become a footnote in the automotive annals. Cynics suggest that Maserati should be quietly pensioned off so we can enjoy the likes of the original Ghibli, Khamsin and my personal favourite, the Allemano-bodied 5000 GT, in rose-tinted peace. The MC20 insists otherwise.
Historically, Maserati was more of a grand touring concern and has a greater fealty to the eternally romantic if outmoded concept of trans-European road travel. The MC20 certainly elicits a more fizzy response than the meanly cushioned middle seat of a Ryanair plane and the moronic promise of some scratch cards. Do we need to talk MASERATI MC20 about how it looks? Not everyone was wowed when the wraps came off last year, but what does a supercar have to do to catch a break these days? The snouty, pouty nose is pure Maserati, the cockpit has a concepty domed effect, and the trident motif air intakes on the Lexan rear window are fun and functional. There’s MC12 and Birdcage 75th concept in there, but if ever a mid-engined Italian supercar could qualify as subtle it’s probably this one. There’s something classically tailored about it, which might defeat shouty social media types in UAE condos but doesn’t bother me. Our car is finished in marble-effect Bianco Audace, though Blu Infinito or Grigio Misterio work equally well. (I’m fairly certain that there is no word in Italian for beige.)
“THERE ARE SHADES OF ALPINE A110, ONLY WITH DOUBLE THE POWER”
There’s nothing beige about how the MC20 goes but it’s also not what you might expect. That subtlety, it turns out, is more than skin deep. We pick it up from Maserati’s headquarters in central Modena, home to the shiny new production line on which the car will be manufactured, and ease out into typically sticky and anarchic Italian traffic. Roundabout etiquette is non-existent in this country, and it’s baking hot even for this part of the world in late June. So forgive the workaday first impressions: the MC20 is easy to see out of and its air conditioning is capable of blowing at chilled hurricane force. There are no physical controls for it unfortunately, but the central touchscreen is mercifully simple to use.
Boy, does this thing ride well. Getting onto the autostrada from Modena is a fiddly process, and post-lockdown Italy is busy as hell. There’s a lot of freight traffic and this thundering army of big rigs has played havoc with the road surfaces. Some of these potholes have got their own potholes, and the tarmac ripples and undulates as unpredictably as the Italian political system. But the MC20 just glides over the mayhem. Extruded aluminium subframes are attached to the tub, while the suspension itself is a sophisticated multi-link set-up at the front and rear. It’s made of forged alloy, with two links at the bottom and one on top; it’s the other way round at the rear. It works.
The drive south into Tuscany involves one of the world’s most scenic motorways, punctuated by long stretches of tunnel. These are majestic examples of engineering taken totally for granted by the locals but that we simply don’t have much of in the UK. These days, we’re better at debating infrastructure than actually building it. The MC20 feels stiff yet supple, and settles into an eighth gear cruise of startling serenity. Its carbon fibre chassis has been co-developed with race car specialist Dallara, which employed slightly different strategies for the three models that’ll be spun off this platform: the coupe, a spider, and the pure-electric version. Like McLaren but unlike Ferrari, which reserves carbon composites for its gazillion pound hypercars, Maserati has gone the carbon fibre route for the MC20 for maximum structural integrity and reduced (if not notably minimal) weight.
Maserati says the top half is more design oriented, and the lower half is where aerodynamics have primacy. Highlights include vortex generators at the front, a hump in the floor which rises in the middle to feed air to them before reconnecting with the chassis further along, and door sill ducts to aid airflow to the engine compartment. And it was all done lightning fast: the MC20 was developed in a little over two years using an arsenal of simulation tools in Maserati’s innovation lab. Oh, and the company says that 97 per cent of the car’s development was done virtually.
And so to the MC20’s engine. It’s an all-new, clean sheet unit dubbed Nettuno – for Neptune – which features technology so advanced there are patents pending on it. It’s a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo six-cylinder, with a 90° V angle and dry sump, making 621bhp at 7,300rpm and 538lb ft of torque from 3,000rpm. Maserati claims a specific power output of 207bhp per litre, so the numbers are more than there on paper.
The clever bit is its Formula One-grade pre-chamber combustion – which the firm calls Maserati Twin Combustion – that pre-empts the traditional spark plug to create a bigger and more efficient burn. There’s direct and indirect injection too, working at 350 bar, all in the name of lowering emissions and reducing fuel consumption without sacrificing shove. It’s cradled noticeably lower in the chassis too, with promising consequences for the centre of gravity.
I’m not totally convinced. It’s an odd unit in some ways, constrained by its need to be efficient while serving up the required sizzle. There’s no doubting that this is a seriously rapid car: it’ll do 0–62mph in 2.9 seconds, 124mph in 8.8 and on to a top speed of 203mph. But it’s oddly – though not unpleasantly – old-school turbo in its delivery, down to a prominent wastegate chumpf, and once we’re off the autostrada I’m far more inclined to use the paddles for manual shifting than let the dual-clutch box do its thing. Like all downsized engines, and despite its power and torque, the MC20’s six-pot needs to be fully lit to do its best work. This is no real hardship until you look at the fuel consumption. A hard working MC20 is a thirsty beast.
Some have also noted that the Nettuno engine is a bit sonically flaccid and we’re a long way now from the banshee wail of say, a Ferrari F355. Put it this way: were you fortunate enough to step out of a Lamborghini Huracán and straight into this, you’d wonder whether half the engine had gone AWOL. Then again, this is the future so I suppose we’d better get used to it and besides, it’s not without charm. Let’s see what the Ferrari 296 GTB and McLaren Artura can deliver.
The front end on this car is just great, though. And its brakes are too, six piston Brembo carbon ceramics that are right on the money once they’re at full operating temperature. A prominent rotary controller, whose design dreams of being a Rolex, offers five driving modes: Wet, GT, Sport, Corsa and ESC off. This adjusts engine boost, pedal sensitivity, the exhaust valve, gear shift, suspension and traction control. A button in the middle of the Rolex allows you to fiddle with the three-stage electro-mechanical dampers, so you can mix and match.
Unsurprisingly, Corsa is all but useless on the road, and the default GT setting seems to cover most of the bases. It’s usually the way. Sport is good on twisty stuff with the suspension in its soft setting for maximum compliance. The MC20’s superb steering and its front end eagerness make light work of these storied mountain passes. There are shades of Alpine A110, only one with well over double the power (and an extra 375kg to lug). Turn everything off and the MC20 will dance to your tune, too.
We find a little building in a town called Pietramala and decide to use it as a photographic backdrop. It turns out to be a methane extraction facility, and not only that but it’s a site once used by Alessandro Volta, the Italian physicist and chemist who invented the electric battery. Florence isn’t far away but not all of Italy’s greatness, it seems, is so grandly celebrated.
Maserati has worked hard to future-proof the MC20. Among other things, it features a digital rearview mirror, which basically replaces the mirror view with a camera screen when you flick the lever. Personally, I find these incredibly difficult to get used to, but you can turn it off and return to the traditional type. At which point you realise you can’t see anything whatsoever and switch it back on again.
The driving position is terrific, the front wings rising sensually into your eyeline, the Sabelt seats good to look at and even better to sit on. The MC20 features a 10.25in digital instrument cluster and a similarly sized central infotainment touchscreen, both of which work well. It’s also fully connected, with Alexa and/or Google smart assist, a wifi hotspot and Tidal streaming. There’s also the option of a high end Sonus Faber audio system to play your tunes through. The cabin blends carbon fibre and Alcantara to memorably desirable effect. Some of the graphics and the switchgear are a bit disharmonious, while the exposed screw heads on the centre console and the doors are aiming for a sort of racy functionality that’s not quite the ticket on a near-£200k car. I’d delete the outsized MC20 badge and Italian flag on the passenger side, too.
One other important issue: a usable GT it may well be as a driving machine, but there’s not a lot of space inside for phones and COVID-19 masks and whatever else you carry about in 2021. Or for luggage: the trunk holds 47 litres, the rear compartment 101 litres. The stuff we had stored in there was hotter than the surface of the sun after a day’s driving. I was worried my laptop was going to end up resembling the bad guy in Terminator 2.
As ever with a Maserati, the MC20 has its idiosyncracies. Only this time, they don’t undermine the whole project. Creating a supercar that meets current regulations means the fancy new engine can feel a little uptight. The bandwidth is there but those 600+ horses aren’t as wild as you’d expect. The trade-off is a car you could really live with and use every day (though not for the supermarket run). It’s a car I really want to try on a track, and the group test that lines the MC20 up against a formidable array of new and established foes from all the big players is going to be one for the ages. But right here, right now, with the sun streaming through the cypress trees and a famous Italian road unfurling in front of us, this Maserati is hitting all the right notes.
“IT HAS ITS IDIOSYNCRACIES… BUT THEY DON’T UNDERMINE THE WHOLE PROJECT”
Ah, Italy – land of tiny coffees, beautiful cars, glorious sun and football. Best not mention that…
Pipe down, Aquaman, this is the trident that’s got real power. Maserati’s future looks incredible, but sounds a bit meh… we can live with that. Jason’s invited in for a drink by someone’s grandma, appears three days later. A crowd gathers as Jason gets pulled over by the Italian police for not speeding.
“ THE MC20 FEELS STIFF YET SUPPLE, AND SETTLES INTO A CRUISE OF STARTLING SERENITY”
- Price: £187,230
- Engine: 3.0 V6 twin-turbo, 621bhp, 538lb ft
- Transmission: 8spd dual clutch auto, RWD
- Performance: 0–62mph in 2.9secs, 203mph
- Economy: 24.6mpg, 261g/km CO2
- Weight: 1,475kg
“THE DRIVING POSITION IS TERRIFIC, THE FRONT WINGS RISING SENSUALLY INTO YOUR EYELINE”
Social distancing rules mean until Jason comes back, no one else can touch the door. The intense look of a man who’s got 20mins to get to his 7pm dinner reservation.