When it comes time to build a performance-oriented SUV or crossover, carmakers have an ever-growing toolbox to make them handle well despite their high-riding mass, from infinitely adjustable air springs to active anti-roll bars and even custom-made rubber. The days in which sloppy handling was just something we’d come to expect from tall vehicles with massively powerful engines are way behind us.
However, in pursuing this physics-defying performance, manufacturers often over-stiffen them, almost forgetting where these SUVs will spend most of their time. Sure, it may rip up a back road like a sports car, but what good is that if it shakes your teeth out on the way to the grocery store?
Enter the 2023 Maserati Grecale Trofeo, a 523-horsepower crossover that finds an often-overlooked sweet spot. Despite the massive output from its MC20-sourced twin-turbo V6, the Trofeo sets aside all-out performance to deliver an exciting but comfortable, balanced driving experience ideal for daily use. It may not be the sharpest tool to carve a canyon but trust me, you wouldn’t want it to be.
|Engine||3.0-Liter Twin-Turbocharged V6|
|Base Price||$106,995 (Including Destination Fees)|
The Trofeo sits at the top of the Grecale food chain, at least until the electric Folgore dethrones it soon. So we’re stuck with only 523 hp and 457 pound-feet from a revised MC20-sourced twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6. Combined with a quick-shifting eight-speed auto and all-wheel drive, this Nettuno engine propels the Trofeo to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, 120 mph in 12.5 seconds, and up to 177 mph.
On paper, the hottest Grecale is quicker than a Macan GTS, matches the outgoing Mercedes-AMG GLC63, and falls slightly behind the BMW X3 M Competition, all crossovers with similar power outputs. Does this matter in the real world? Unless you’re planning on drag racing your luxury performance crossover, a two-tenth-second difference is imperceptible where you’d actually drive it. What matters is that the Grecale feels very quick.
Maserati’s 90-degree Nettuno V6 may not be as exotic as the Ferrari-sourced V8 powering the outgoing Levante Trofeo, but it’s perfectly at home under the Grecale’s hood. Its revisions include using a wet sump rather than a dry one and cylinder deactivation, allowing it to temporarily shut off its right bank to increase efficiency. Five drive modes, Comfort, GT, Sport, Race, and Off-Road, adjust its response and sound.
Turned up in Race mode, the turbo six responds quickly to throttle inputs with a surge of low-end torque. While it’s perfectly happy cruising along at low revs, it quickly comes alive when provoked. Peak power comes in at 6,500 rpm, which, thanks to short gear ratios, is always accessible as you work your way up its eight speeds.
While powerful, the Nettuno isn’t overly vocal, despite Trofeo’s quad exhaust tips. While you’ll get more of a low-end rumble in Sport and Race modes, it hardly screams as you work your way up the rev range. Instead, it shouts between gear changes with an unmistakable bang as you upshift under load. Lift off slightly, and it quiets down, but everyone will know when you’re on it.
The Trofeo comes standard with air springs and adaptive shocks, allowing six ride height levels tied to specific drive modes. However, you can independently raise and lower it via a separate menu. Its stiffness, however, is separately controlled by a button mounted on its steering wheel, allowing you to select softer damper settings while retaining full engine performance.
Comfort and GT mode are truly plush, even by non-performance crossover standards. With lightened steering effort and reduced throttle sensitivity, these modes hide the Trofeo’s performance intentions well while remaining a quick cruiser.
Click up to Sport, the ride height drops and its dampers stiffen, but only slightly. It’s still reasonably comfortable, even with its now weighted steering and sharper throttle response. Step up to Race, and the Trofeo becomes as responsive as possible, but curiously, its suspension is still reasonably compliant.
On a canyon road, the Grecale Trofeo feels as quick as its competitors as it claws its way out of tight bends thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. Despite its hefty 4,629-pound curb weight, its body motions are well controlled, remaining relatively stable even as you begin to push it.
Its limits, however, are lower than an equivalent Porsche, Mercedes-AMG, or BMW as it tends to understeer quicker than its rivals. Its steering, although quick, doesn’t transmit much feedback, nor is its front end razor sharp as you turn into a bend, and its six-piston Brembo brakes are easy to overwhelm after back-to-back runs.
That said, you really have to push the Grecale Trofeo to notice these differences. At a leisurely pace, its performance is on par with the competition. You’d need a track or a twisty mountain road to tell them apart.
Where it excels is on the ride home from a quick drive. Even in Race mode with the dampers in their stiffest setting, the Grecale is still compliant. Road imperfections aren’t immediately transmitted through the cabin, making it easy to forget you’re in the maximum performance mode, to begin with, a trade-off I’d accept in a heartbeat.
Its excellent suspension calibration couples with the same premium cabin I first encountered in the Modena a few months ago, except it’s improved in the Trofeo with the addition of exposed carbon fiber trim, trim-specific stitching patterns, and more aggressive seats with enhanced side bolsters.
Oddly enough, these chairs are the firmest part of the Trofeo. They offer minimal padding, yet they’re still reasonably comfortable on longer drives, considering they’re the only available option. The rest of the cabin carries over from lower trim levels, including its two horizontal infotainment and control screens and separate digital instrument cluster.
While I wasn’t a fan of the Levante Trofeo’s interior materials, the Grecale is a massive step in the right direction. Its interior’s quality and build are befitting of a performance crossover starting over six figures, but more on that later.
Although the Grecale is slightly smaller in every dimension than the outgoing Levante, it’s just about the perfect size for most people. There’s plenty of room for adults in its second row and cargo space out back despite its sloping roof. For the average family, the Grecale should tick all the boxes.
Its smaller proportions help it from a visual aspect, too. The Grecale, even in base form, is a good-looking little crossover. It’s elegant, stylish, and not over the top. Yet despite its comparatively restrained exterior, it’s immediately recognizable as a Maserati and as something different than its closest competitors.
The Trofeo builds on this solid base with more aggressive front and rear bumpers, including a massive diffuser flanked by quad exhaust tips. 21-inch wheels come standard with summer tires, although a second set of 21s with a polished two-tone finish is available for an extra $3,100.
Despite it being the highest-performing trim, for now at least, the Trofeo doesn’t shout that it’s the fast one. Instead, it sets itself apart from the other trim levels with its sharpened details, not losing the stylishness that makes the Grecale appealing overall.
Being a Maserati, the Grecale Trofeo is positioned at a higher price point than its German rivals. Including a $1,495 destination fee, its base price is $106,995. My tester, with its options like its $3,100 Driver Assistance Plus Package, $1,100 Techssistance Package, and $4,200 Premium Plus Package, comes in at $120,095.
A similarly optioned Porsche Macan GTS comes in a hair below $100,000, while an equally athletic BMW X3 M Competition costs even less. And while the Grecale is slightly larger than these competitors and offers better interior materials, you’ll still pay a premium if you want one on your driveway.
Regardless of which brand you look at, most performance carmakers have a quick and capable crossover in their portfolio. They have to at this point. However, while there may be ever-rising benchmarks, fewer options successfully balance all-out performance and everyday comfort. It’s an increasingly overlooked sweet spot.
By focusing on this with its suspension calibration, the Trofeo excels where it matters most: the daily commute. In these scenarios, it’s exciting enough to be interesting without simultaneously pummeling you over bumps. It wouldn’t be my choice for a canyon blast, but for daily use, it’s damn good.