Automobiles

2022 Maserati MC20 first drive review: Mid-engine moonshot

Maserati's first supercar in nearly two decades was definitely worth the wait.

What a car.
Maserati

Maserati earned its reputation through decades of building exotic sports cars, but this storied Italian carmaker has been left to languish for far too long. That's why the MC20 is more than just a breath of fresh air that blows the dust off the ol' Trident. This mid-engine supercar is both a much-needed shot of adrenaline and an exquisite return to form.

The MC20's shape is unequivocally supercar. Long, low, wide and sleek, Maserati incorporated styling elements into the MC20 that both pay homage to the company's storied past and signal a new design language for the future. It's impossible not to see the resemblance to the MC12 in the low front grille, and the vertically oriented headlights will make their way to upcoming Maseratis, starting with the Grecale SUV.

My favorite details are found on the rear hatch, where the lightweight polycarbonate engine cover has cutouts in the shape of Maserati's Trident logo. Along each side, a trio of vents mimic the portholes you'll find on the front fenders of other Maseratis. Or Buicks. Take your pick.

Underneath that striking body, nearly every component is new. Maserati tapped race car manufacturer Dallara to develop the MC20's single-piece carbon-fiber tub, and this monocoque chassis was designed from the outset to support not only the upcoming MC20 Spider, but a fully electric version, as well. This carbon-fiber backbone is as light as it is rigid, and the MC20 coupe hits the road with a 3,306-pound curb weight -- less than a base Porsche 911.

You can really feel that lightness from behind the wheel. On road and track alike, the MC20 has an effervescent nature to its nimbleness, and this car is extremely agile. The 245/35 front and 305/30 rear summer tires keep the MC20 glued to the pavement at all times, but the chassis' featherweight demeanor makes the car feel like a rock being skipped across a calm pond -- hovering while still making contact.

Maserati uses a double-wishbone front and rear suspension configuration for excellent balance and control, and the steering is both light and quick with lots of feedback. Six-piston Brembo brake calipers grab 15.4-inch carbon-ceramic front discs -- a $10,000 option -- and they're not opposed to taking a hard jab before entering a turn to instantly scrub off speed. There's little in the way of squat or dive under braking, meaning the MC20's rear end settles almost immediately, allowing you to get back on the power ASAP.

There's a lot of MC12 influence in that nose.

Maserati

Maserati has been fortunate enough to borrow engines from corporate sibling Ferrari in recent years, but for the MC20 the company developed an entirely new powerplant. The so-called Nettuno engine is hand-built and tested inside Maserati's Modena factory, a 25 hour process. This 90-degree, 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 produces 621 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and 538 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. Power goes to the rear wheels exclusively, managed by an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Despite a lofty 3,000-rpm torque peak, the Nettuno engine has barely any turbo lag and pulls hard up to its 8,000-rpm redline. Thanks to the V6's high output and the MC20's low weight, Maserati says the coupe can accelerate to 62 mph in 2.9 seconds and will hit 124 mph in less than 8.8. Top speed? 202 mph. Proper supercar stuff.

In both the GT and Sport drive modes, the MC20's transmission is on its best behavior. Shifts are quick and nicely timed, and the 'box will preemptively downshift under braking. There's a fully manual mode so you can take matters into your own hands (literally) and work the transmission via large carbon-fiber paddle shifters. Manual upshifts come with a satisfying kick and downshifts are super-duper snappy. Oh, and bonus points to Maserati for mounting the paddles on the steering column, which, in case you forgot, is the correct way.

The MC20 has a third Corsa drive mode that reduces the intervention of the traction control, which can also be fully disabled if that's how you roll. The grippy 305-section rear tires and an electronic limited-slip rear differential -- which costs an extra $2,300 but should just be standard -- make sure power across the rear axle is easy to manage and manipulate. The MC20 rarely gives way to understeer unless intentionally provoked, in which case it's easy to rein in.

The multimedia tech leaves a lot to be desired, but the MC20's cabin is otherwise excellent.

Maserati

On top of all this, Maserati nails the visceral drama necessary for the full supercar experience. The V6 doesn't sound amazing on its own -- what V6 does? -- but there's a whole arrangement of percussive extras that enhance the aural thrill. You can hear air being sucked in through the side vents and into the turbochargers, with an audible whistle as the big snails spool. There's a lot going on and it's all right behind your head. Who needs a stereo when you can just nail the throttle and giggle?

By supercar standards, the MC20 is relatively comfortable and totally amicable to being driven on city streets and highways. A two-mode adjustable suspension lets you stiffen the dampers independent of the chosen GT or Sport drive mode, though the differences here aren't so vast. You'll feel every bump and blemish, which in a car like this isn't totally a demerit. Just be sure to spec the $4,000 electronic front-end lift. It's cheaper than regrading your driveway approach.

Large swaths of Alcantara suede and exposed carbon fiber make up the MC20's cabin, with only a few buttons and knobs for the coupe's various controls. A pair of 10.3-inch screens make up the gauge cluster and multimedia display, and while the MC20 runs Google's Android Automotive operating system, the Maserati Intelligent Assist software leaves a lot to be desired. The small icons are difficult to hit while driving and responses are often laggy. The navigation interface comes courtesy of TomTom, which is a name I'd pretty much forgotten, and is both dimwitted and crashy. As in, the system froze and rebooted three times during a 45-minute drive loop. Other writers driving other MC20s had similar issues.

Hate to see you go, but love to watch you leave.

Maserati

When you pull up to Malibu Cars & Coffee, you'll be able to exit through dihedral doors that open in proper supercar fashion. The MC20's standard seats will be perfectly fine for most buyers, though for an extra $7,000 you can fit single-piece carbon-fiber buckets that save a total of 15 pounds. Oh, and a crucially important piece of the MC20's interior is its standard digital rearview mirror, which displays a feed from a camera mounted in a little shark fin on the back hatch. Without this digital what's-behind-you tech, you wouldn't be able to see anything.

Maserati offers six colors in the MC20's standard catalog, though the company says a lot of buyers are choosing to go through the new Fuoriserie customization program to make their MC20s extra special. Speaking of which, if you want an MC20, you'll have to wait a little while, as the 2022 model year allocation is already sold out, and no, Maserati won't tell me how many cars that entails. The 2023 model year order books should open in the coming months, and the MC20's $212,000 base price is expected to hold steady.

The MC20 is an absolute stunner in nearly every regard. It's an exotic wonder befitting of the Maserati name, and it makes me excited for where the brand is headed. That Nettuno V6 will make its way into other Maseratis, and the upcoming MC20 Spider will offer all the coupe's loveliness with added al-fresco entertainment. That the supercar's chassis was designed to support electrification ensures its longevity, as well. It's been a long time coming, but Maserati's rekindling looks hot.