“Pride” is an annoying buzzword in the auto industry. Automakers routinely talk about how proud they are of X or how Y is so great because their employees take pride in the product. Call me a cynic, but 99 percent of the time, this is nonsense conjured up by a marketing person to attach human sentiment to an unsentimental product. With the 2021 Maserati MC20, though, the company's pride is palpable and well-warranted.
Throughout a tour of Maserati's four production buildings at Viale Ciro Menotti in Modena, I saw people in crisp white and blue uniforms laboring to bring the MC20 to life on a modern assembly line that churns out just six cars per day. Maserati's first on-site paint shop coats the cars in a dazzling array of colors, while just 12 people produce the first engines built in-house in decades. And of the parts that go onto this car, Maserati relied on Italian suppliers wherever practical. Dallara supplies the carbon-fiber monocoque, Sabelt the seats, Brembo the carbon-ceramic brakes, and Sonus Faber the surround audio system.
The result? The 2021 Maserati MC20 looks, feels, and – most importantly – drives like a mid-engine, $210,000 Italian supercar should.
Nowhere is Maserati's pride more evident than with the MC20's Nettuno engine, which takes the place of Ferrari power for the first time in nearly 20 years. With the new, state-of-the-art engine shop at Viale Ciro Menotti, Maserati is constructing not just a power-dense engine, but an innovative one. The twin-turbocharged, dry-sump, 3.0-liter V6's 621 horsepower matches that of the naturally aspirated 6.0-liter V12 from the Ferrari Enzo–based MC12, but the 538 pound-feet of torque blow past that spiritual predecessor's 481 lb-ft. But the numbers tell only part of the story.
The Nettuno uses the Maserati-patented Twin Combustion system, which pairs a Formula 1–derived pre-chamber with two spark plugs and two fuel injectors per cylinder (one in the port, and one directly injected).
Nowhere is Maserati's pride more evident than with the MC20's Nettuno engine, which takes the place of Ferrari power for the first time in nearly 20 years.
A high-pressure injector squirts a tiny amount of fuel into the main chamber, some of which the piston forces into the pre-chamber when completing its compression stroke, where the pre-chamber spark plug ignites it. That fuel-air mix then makes its way back to the main combustion chamber and ignites the main fuel charge. The secondary injector and spark plug, meanwhile, exist for more relaxed driving, when Twin Combustion would actually be detrimental.
If you want to learn more, I'd recommend you check out this Engineering Explained video from Jason Fenske – it's where I went to understand most of this stuff. But the big takeaway is that Twin Combustion tech allows Maserati to reduce the likelihood of engine knock while operating at a higher compression ratio and allowing either a more power-dense engine or better fuel economy. Maserati opted for the former, resulting in a 3.0-liter engine that produces 210 hp per liter.
Maserati claims the MC20 can snap to 60 miles per hour in just 2.9 seconds and I have no reason to doubt it. Both on the road and at the Autodromo di Modena, a tidy and entertaining 1.3-mile circuit 20 minutes from the factory where the supercar is built, the MC20 wowed with immense torque out of corners and the kind of legs you need to crack 200 mph (the MC20 will hit 202). The V6 has a dramatic singing voice, with the iconic warble of a 90-degree engine reminding me of Italy's other amazing V6, found in the Quadrifoglio-badged Alfa Romeo line. There's more volume here though, and the angry hiss of the turbochargers is more obvious, too.
While Maserati tried to use Italian suppliers wherever possible, it turned to Tremec to produce the MC20’s eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. This is actually the same basic gearbox as the one found in the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, although Maserati uses its own software and tuning. Still, this transmission is as impressive in the MC20 as it is in the ‘Vette, exhibiting excellent behavior in more relaxed drive modes.
Taken as a whole, the MC20 might have one of the most compelling new gas-powered powertrains of the year.
Flip the Manettino knob – mounted on the carbon-clad center console instead of the steering wheel – out of GT and into Sport or Corsa and then tap the D/M button to select manual mode, and the transmission comes alive.
A gorgeous pair of carbon-fiber paddle shifters, fixed to the steering column as God intended, have perfect action and encourage the driver to take matters into their own hands. Upshifts are rapid, with little letup as the DCT engages its next gear. Ask for downshifts, and the transmission will drop multiple cogs at a moment's notice. Taken as a whole, the MC20 might have one of the most compelling new gas-powered powertrains of the year.
While Maserati brought engine development and production in house, the company outsourced some items, such as the carbon fiber-composite monocoque. From its base 60 miles west of Modena, in Varana de’ Melegari, Dallara will manufacture the lightweight tubs for the MC20 hardtop, as well as the forthcoming convertible and electric variants. This stiff, lightweight backbone isn’t unlike the chassis Dallara produces for racing cars, although the MC20 obviously places a greater emphasis on livability.
The cabin, for a mid-engine supercar, is expansive and roomy. At 6-foot-1and with the seat set in my driving position, I still had enough headroom to put a helmet on. I've never experienced a car in this class that didn't require me to compromise my seating position to accommodate a brain bucket. Getting in and out is a breeze, too, thanks to the butterfly doors – a Maserati first – and a wide sill. Just sit down, swing your legs in, and slide.
The cabin, for a mid-engine supercar, is expansive and roomy.
Once ensconced in the roomy cabin, occupants will enjoy the supportive Sabelt seats. Lined in leather and Italian-made Alcantara, they're light on overall adjustability – Porsche's available 18-way chairs are a better option for the finicky – but the seating position here is excellent. The H-point is low, and the chairs cradle the lower legs and hold the torso in place easily, even during high-G maneuvers.
The steering wheel is a work of art. Designed with input from Andrea Bertolini – Maserati's factory test driver, a 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner, and pro driver for the AF Corse Ferrari team – the rim is fat and the well-padded sides wear optional Alcantara upholstery, while carbon-fiber trim is available on the upper and lower portions.
The steering wheel is a work of art.
The four-spoke design is barely that, with a small pair of twin spokes at six o'clock. The number of buttons is minimal (and rather shamelessly pulled from Alfa Romeo), with only the volume controller, front-axle lift, and cruise control switches deserving attention. The start/stop button lives at the eight o'clock position off the airbag cap while a launch control button sits at four o'clock.
The MC20 uses a double-wishbone suspension with adaptive dampers at both ends, but what makes this special is the semi-virtual setup. Now, Alfa Romeo already uses a semi-virtual steering axis which places two decoupled lower links that move like the blades on a pair of scissors and one upper link that delivers steering inputs. It's a big reason the Giulia and Stelvio are the most engaging vehicles in their respective segments to take around a corner.
And honestly, once you know the car's chief engineer, it's easy to understand why the MC20 uses this setup. Federico Landini is a wiry, energetic Italian whose last role at Stellantis was supervising the chassis and vehicle dynamics for all Maserati and Alfa Romeo vehicles. The guy knows what makes good steering, and he's applied that knowledge to the MC20.
To be blunt, the steering on this car is sublime – it's a better version of what you'll find on a Giulia or Stelvio. But the MC20 feels more stable at high speed and over rough terrain than the Alfas, while retaining the immediate turn-in and minuscule dead zone that makes those cars so enjoyable and responsive in the bends. Working the tiller in the hills outside Modena was an absolute joy, with the sport wheel offering telepathic feedback and seemingly knowing exactly what I wanted the car to do and how.
The MC20, though, applies the same semi-virtual suspension arrangement at the back. On wet and gravel-strewn country roads, the grip on offer from the rear end and its fat 305-millimeter Bridgestone tires was immense. And on the track, which was clean and dry, the MC20's tight body movements and eagerness to surge out of corners with some steering still applied gave me absolute confidence.
To be blunt, the steering on this car is sublime.
Considering Maserati’s emphasis on Italian suppliers, it’s little surprise that Brembo handled the MC20’s braking system. The MC20 is available with steel brakes, although my tester wore the larger, stoppier carbon-ceramic setup. In front, six-piston calipers clamp down on 15.4-inch discs, while the rear uses a four-pot setup on 14.2-inch rotors. The stopping power on offer is immense, but the absolute highlight was the brake pedal feel.
The MC20 has power-assisted brakes. But regardless of what you're used to, only an unpowered brake can prepare you for how good the MC20's pedal feels. It's firm, requiring much more pressure than any of the competition, but always predictable, with incredibly linear power throughout the pedal travel.
But more than that, the pedal is satisfying because it encourages smooth driving. You can slam on the brakes here, but because it requires so much effort, squeezing the brake pedal, modulating through the approach to a corner, and even throwing in a bit of trail braking is both easier and much more enjoyable. If we had one complaint, it's that the carbon-ceramics squeal like a stuck pig at anything less than operating temperature.
Tip Of The Trident
Perhaps the smallest change that the MC20 introduces is a new Maserati badge. The Trident logo remains, but designers modernized it, rounding the side arrows and increasing the contrast between the weapon itself and the traditional blue background. These are only the things an avowed Maserati fan would notice, but the presence of a new badge on the MC20 speaks to the car's importance.
This vehicle is supposed to usher in a new age of prosperity for a brand that's existed in something of a limbo for the past two decades. The MC20 leans on its Italian design and engineering, while Maserati the brand will lean on this car's overall excellence to drive consumers into showrooms. The MC20 won't singlehandedly save the Maserati brand, particularly with impatient Stellantis leadership wanting results, but it's an encouraging sign that things are on the up in Modena.
Correction: Maserati will build six MC20s per day, not five. Also, we listed metric horsepower. In the US, the MC20 is rated at 621 horsepower and 207 horsepower per liter of displacement. We've edited the story accordingly and regret the errors.
Gallery: 2021 Maserati MC20: First Drive
2021 Maserati MC20