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  • Writer's pictureLuxury Edition

Maserati wants its new MC20 supercar to rekindle that old magic

Although the name Maserati is synonymous with exotic performance, the automaker hasn't unleashed a mid-engined supercar on the world in nearly two decades. In the years since the debut of the limited-production MC12 back in 2004, the company shifted its focus toward sedans and sport-utility vehicles like the Levanteto reach a wider audience. Lackadaisical development and a liberal pilfering of the Stellantis parts bin, however, had threatened to dilute the brand.

That all changes with the introduction of the MC20. Developed in Modena, Italy, and built from the ground up on an all-new carbon-fiber monocoque chassis designed to accommodate coupe, convertible, and electric configurations, the MC20 shares very little with the rest of the vehicles in the current Maserati lineup. And thanks in part to its "Nettuno" V6, Maserati's new 3,300-pound halo car boasts the best power-to-weight ratio in a segment that includes names like Porsche, Lamborghini, and McLaren.

As with the platform, Maserati engineers took a clean-sheet approach when designing MC20’s power plant to create a dry sump engine that's wholly unique to the brand. The mill uses on-demand twin-combustion technology derived from Formula 1 that places a combustion chamber between the central spark plug and the conventional combustion chamber to improve both performance and efficiency, and the resulting peak output is 621 hp (463 kW) and 538 lb-ft (729 Nm) of torque. Those figures make the engine one of the most power-dense in production today, and that grunt is sent exclusively to the rear wheels through the same Tremec eight-speed dual-clutch transmission used in the C8 Corvette, though it has been dialed in for the requirements of the Maserati V6.

The MC20's suspension links up with the monocoque by way of aluminum subframes and uses a double wishbone design at both the front and rear, while two-mode adaptive Bilstein dampers are on hand to soak up the bumps. Stopping power is provided by Brembo six-piston monoblock calipers and 15.35-inch carbon-ceramic discs up front, while four-piston units clamp down on 14.2-inch carbon rotors at the rear.

Then there's the body. The product of more than 2,000 hours in the Dallara Wind Tunnel and another 1,000 spent running computational fluid-dynamics simulations, its aerodynamic efficiency has been baked into the design instead of being achieved through supplemental splitters and wings, resulting in a sculpted, subtly futuristic look and a 0.38 drag coefficient.

Even though the MC20 is outfitted with enough performance hardware to go toe-to-toe with some of the most powerful sports cars available today, this is not an unforgiving, hollowed-out track toy. Swing open one of the butterfly doors and the MC20 reveals an interior laden with carbon fiber, contrast stitching, and high-quality materials befitting an Italian exotic, and the car is surprisingly easy to get in and out of thanks to generous headroom and the relatively small sills of the carbon tub. The centerpiece of the cabin is the thick three-spoke, flat-bottomed steering wheel with big, column-mounted shift paddles; behind it, a 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster provides all the real-time vitals. Infotainment needs are handled by a high-resolution, 10.25-inch touchscreen, while the center tunnel houses the drive-mode selector, suspension stiffness toggle, the transmission functions, the window switches, and a rotary knob for radio functions.

A press of the steering-wheel-mounted ignition button brings the engine to life with a throaty bark that quickly settles into a subdued thrum. Automakers often struggle to get V6es to produce the right soundtrack in performance applications, particularly at low RPMs, but the Nettuno mill sounds properly exotic under the right circumstances. It's a bit too quiet for my tastes in the default GT driving mode, but switching over to Sport or Corsa mode wakes things up significantly. With the active exhaust set to full chat, the MC20 provides a soundtrack that’s more distinctive than the mechanical blatof the McLaren 570S’ V8 and also more sonorous than the muted whir of the Porsche 911 Turbo’s flat-six, but it’s still a few sizable steps behind the sonic assault of the naturally aspirated V10 found in the Lamborghini Huracán Evo and Audi R8.

But it only takes a few minutes behind the wheel to realize that the volume of its pipes fits right in line with the larger overall mission of the MC20. Ultimately more of a grand tourer than a lap record-setter, the MC20 is downright civil around town thanks to its surprisingly compliant ride and solid road noise isolation. The cabin is quiet enough at speed to justify the optional Sonus Faber premium audio system that was outfitted on our test car as well, and although it appears there are a few bugs that need to be ironed out in this iteration, the infotainment system’s Uconnect 5 software is sharp-looking and responsive, and it boasts the same array of features that we praised it for when we first laid hands on it last year.

The eight-speed transmission does its work in the background under normal driving situations, quietly delivering near-seamless shifts, and our tester's optional sport seats felt comfortable and supportive enough for extended stints at the helm. Outward visibility is good for a low-slung, mid-engined sports car and is aided significantly by the inclusion of a digital rear-view mirror. Outside of a few ergonomic quirks—like the volume knob that is positioned next to the driver's right hip and the low-mounted infotainment display that can't be easily glanced at while driving—the MC20 feels like a sports car that would be effortless to drive on a daily basis. Weather permitting, of course.

Drop the hammer and the MC20 is happy to show off the other side of its personality. Its rear-drive configuration equates to traction-limited launches that make the MC20 a few fractions of a second slower to 60 mph than all-wheel-drive rivals like the 911 Turbo S, but it's hard to imagine many would notice outside of direct comparisons. Acceleration is explosively quick, and response from the boosted V6 is immediate from anywhere over roughly 3,000 revs, and it continues to pull strongly all the way to its 8,000 RPM redline.

The Bridgestone Potenza Sport rubber that every MC20 wears as standard issue comes from the same performance line as the street tires developed for the Huracán STO. They also fall right in line with the MC20’s grand touring vibe. They're not the stickiest DOT-legal tire that money can buy, but they're far more forgiving on the street than competition-focused rubber is, and they also allow the Maserati to be a bit more playful on a road course without requiring the reflexes of a pro driver. The steering is precise, with an appropriately supercar-quick ratio, though it’s a bit lighter than we’d prefer for serious track work.

We tested the MC20 on Big Willow, a fast track with lots of elevation change and a notoriously bumpy surface. The MC20’s relatively compliant suspension tuning worked to our advantage while barreling through the high-speed undulations found in Turn 8, but stiffer springs and dampers would likely do a better job of minimizing body motion in other sections. However, the carbon ceramic stoppers also showed zero signs of fade as we repeatedly reined in the car from over 150 mph (241 km/h) while setting up for Turn 1's 90-degree left-hander, and the admirably linear response from the pedal made it easy to push our braking points out farther and farther with each lap. It's not quite as hard-edged as some of its rivals are, but the MC20 has the power and poise to provide an absolutely thrilling—yet easily managed—driving experience on a road course like this.

We also can’t really blame Maserati for wanting to leave a bit on the table. More track-focused iterations of the MC20 seem inevitable over the next few years—especially when you consider the fact that this car marks Maserati’s return to motorsport. That points to a bright future for the MC20, and as some of this new hardware will start to make its way into other upcoming models within the brand, the MC20 bodes well for the future of Maserati as a whole.

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