Performance SUVs built by sports car manufacturers are a weird yet incredibly profitable enigma that have been around since Porsche essentially invented the segment back in 2002 with the Cayenne.
Fourteen years after that Maserati finally got in on the act when it dropped the Quattroporte-based Levante in 2016.
And while the large performance SUV segment has proven popular, it is the medium size range that the real money spinners are, which is why Porsche launched the Macan in 2014. Meaning that Maserati was still essentially playing catch-up with its German rival.
But now - nine years later - Maserati has unleashed its Macan competitor in the form of the new Grecale.
Named, as Maserati's are, after a wind (in this case a cool, strong northeasterly Mediterranean wind), the Grecale is aimed directly at the Macan too, but offers slightly more for the money - the Grecale is fractionally larger in every dimension and slightly more powerful, while being priced similarly to the German SUV.
The Grecale launches in New Zealand in a three model line up - the GT, Modena and Trofeo. The GT opens the range at $124,000 and gets a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol turbo mild hybrid powertrain that produces 220kW and 450Nm and drives all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The $145,000 Modena gets the same drivetrain, but bumps it up to 243kW with the same 450Nm of torque, while the $186,000 Trofeo forgoes all this electrified frilliness in favour of a stonking 391kW/620Nm version of the "Nettuno" 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 from the MC20 supercar. Yeah, that one's not messing around.
The GT comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels and an open mechanical rear differential, while the Modena ups the wheel size to 20-inches and adds a mechanical limited slip diff (which is optional on the GT) as standard, while the Trofeo sits on 21-inch alloys and packs an electronic LSD.
But it is, of course, the twin-turbo V6 that is the star of the show, and it is everything you would expect a detuned version of an engine designed for a supercar and jammed into an SUV to be
Maserati claims a combined average fuel consumption of 9.0L/100km for the hybrid cars, while the GT is thirstier at 11.7L/100km. There will, of course, be a fully-electric version - called the Folgare - that will go on sale in Europe before the end of the year and will pack a 105kWh battery and no doubt be excitingly fast as a result.
Unsurprisingly, the mild hybrid in the GT and Modena is capable of propelling the Grecale along at a very satisfactory rate, feeling eager and flexible. Perhaps more surprisingly, it does it while feeling smooth and relatively seamless, which is not something other Italian mild hybrids are always capable of claiming (looking at you Alfa Romeo Tonale...).
Maserati has gone out hard to ensure the Grecale really does present as a properly convincing luxury vehicle.
The hybrid system is largely non-intrusive, while the four-cylinder engine even sounds quite characterful with a suitably sporty snarl. In fact, it would be fair to say that the Maserati four-cylinder is actually more charismatic than the four-cylinder offerings in the Porsche.
But it is, of course, the twin-turbo V6 that is the star of the show, and it is everything you would expect a detuned version of an engine designed for a supercar and jammed into an SUV to be. Angry and noisy when you want it to be, the V6 is also capable of being very refined and civilised when you're not hammering it along a winding European mountain pass.
Because the Grecale is a Maserati, good engines are pretty much expected, whether it be a toned-down version of the Nettuno V6 or a tweaked and Maserati-ised version of a Stellantis-wide 2.0-litre four that does duty in everything from an Alfa Romeo Giulia to a Jeep Wrangler (yes, really), you just expect a Maserati to have a great engine.
What they haven't always been so hot on is build quality, but the Grecale steps up here and even advances on the much-improved work Maserati has been doing in other recent models.
Maserati has gone out hard to ensure the Grecale really does present as a properly convincing luxury vehicle, with superb materials, and some truly delightful touches throughout the spacious and attractive cabin.
The seats are brilliantly comfortable and the steering wheel is verging on being a sensual experience, what with its beautiful leather and those superb aluminium shift paddles mounted right where God intended them to be; the steering column and not the back of the steering wheel.
While the steering wheel is a delight to hold, however, what it is hooked up to is even better - the Grecale's steering is wonderfully direct and accurate, and complimented by the chassis' agile and equally direct nature.
Ride quality is what you would expect from a medium performance SUV, that is comfortable and compliant, but with a slightly firm edge that translates into superbly composed and accurate handling. The Trofeo and Modena have a slight edge here, as they both come standard with active shock absorbers (optional on the GT), while the Trofeo adds air suspension as well (which is optional on the GT and Modena).
But regardless of any optional extras, the Grecale rides and handles in a way that easily matches its direct German rival. And that is a very big compliment indeed.
ENGINES: 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder mild hybrid (GT and Modena) or 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol (Trofeo)
POWER: 220kW/450Nm (GT), 243kW/450Nm (Modena), 391kW/620Nm (Trofeo)
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, full-time AWD
CONSUMPTION: 9.0L/100km (GT and Modena) or 11.7L/100km (Trofeo)
PROS: Serious performance from Trofeo, excellent interior quality, engaging handling
CONS: Looks a little generic, hybrid not exactly frugal, lots of screens means lots of fingerprints...