MC20 coupé, with its all-new V6, signalled a long-awaited return to form. Does the drop-top go one better?

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Languid. Not an adjective you tend to associate with supercars, but there’s something in the Maserati MC20 Cielo's character that brings this word to mind, even when you’re cracking on. Why? Not because it's lazy, but because its deep well of ability allows you to feel unexpectedly relaxed.

This is a car you can lean on, even over demanding roads. It has tremendous pace, what with 620bhp to dispense and, still more handily, a 538lb ft slug of easy-access torque. It has massive carbonfibre brakes that don't wilt. Its structural core is carbonfibre and, even after decapitation, that core is exceptionally stiff. Its wheels hang from coil-sprung double wishbones, damping control effected both adaptively and adjustably. And there are four dynamic management modes – Wet, GT, Sport and Corsa – that reveal a wide ranging character achieved through an impressive dynamic repertoire.

It’s a repertoire that reflects Maserati's long history of building cars of potent refinement and classy style, to satisfying effect. This isn't a car that shouts speed with aerodynamic visual aids, an excess of air intakes, a menacing face or wild colours. “It’s elegant, not arrogant,” explains Gianluca Antinori, its engineering chief.

The MC20 Cielo’s dynamic insouciance shouldn't be mistaken for a lack of hardcore talent. Out test drive runs in countryside close to Mount Etna, whose sulphurous mouth can often be smelt in the air. The roads here are a mix of wide-open, intestinally tight, flood-damaged and slippery with sea salt, a combination to stretch the chassis of any car.  

And so to those modes. For GT read comfort, the Maserati pretty supple if a shade springy, its ride well suited to urban work or cruising along a seafront, roof off, windows down, cool air washing lusciously through the cabin. Sport can be used most of the time, the firmer ride providing more complete body control, the eight-speed transmission serving torquier, lower-gear lunges more readily – although many will prefer paddling themselves.

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It’s in this setting that the MC20 Cielo delivers the seemingly contradictory mix of loping go, indomitable stability and near-serene comfort. It will easily accommodate mid-bend changes of direction, mid-bend braking or mid-bend camber changes, the dependability of its grip and body control part of the reason Maserati can credibly claim the MC20 as a GT and a supercar. 

Maserati  mc20 cielo interior side

Yet this isn't the end of its ability, another dimension arriving in Corsa. Trigger this mid-bend and you feel the wheel rim weight up like a flexing sinew. The dampers stiffen in unison, the Maserati now poised for maximum attack. Traction control is loosened, too, and killed altogether if you like. No need for that though, because intervention comes late, if not disastrously so. As demonstrated on a salt-skeined coastal road, a wide angle, second-gear slide relying more on driver than electronics to achieve correction. It’s a moment that reveals intuitive, predictable chassis behaviour, your confidence in the car pleasingly reinforced. This is a surprisingly biddable car, and never mind power abundant enough to strike 62mph in 2.9 thumping seconds.

Maserati  mc20 cielo driving front

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Which is the same time as for the coupé, this roofless MC20 gaining only 65kg to reveal the sky above, this state achieved in 12sec at driving speeds of up to 31mph. The firmament can also be seen with the roof in place, polymer-dispersed liquid crystal glass instantly switching between opaque and semi-transparent.

At least as much detail engineering is vested in the car's structure, the MC20’s carbonfibre tub virtually designed at the outset not only to enable an open-top version but also, more challengingly, to package the hardware for a fully electric version that’s yet to come. Compensating for some of the torsional loss of roof removal has been achieved by using slightly thicker carbonfibre of rearranged weave, and an aluminium roof carrier then lies beneath the rear deck. This carrier is solidly bolted both to the rear strut towers and the engine cradle, significantly reinforcing the Cielo’s rear end. 

Maserati  mc20 cielo static doors

There’s no avoiding an overall reduction in rigidity, evident only over very rough sections of road, but Antinori says that the Cielo’s overall stiffness is 25% better than its competitors. That rigidity is a contributor to the Cielo’s relative refinement, quelling undesirable sounds a major mission. Roof-off wind noise has been reduced by careful shaping of the B-pillars and the buttresses behind the headrests, the dampening of road noise also a goal. With garden roller-sized rear tyres, you’re never going to eliminate the fat slap of rubber over expansion strips, but the Cielo is civilised enough to convince as a GT and a hardcore sports car.

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Maserati  mc20 cielo static rear

It makes some pretty interesting noises too, the occasional whistle and chatter of the V6’s twin turbos providing intrigue, as does the harder induction beat when you’ve chosen Corsa mode. The Nettuno engine isn’t especially tuneful, but it’s smooth and excitingly busy at maximum chat. It dramatically rounds out a car of deeply engaging character, and one that easily stands comparison with any of its rivals. And it’s a joy to see Maserati back on form.

Richard Bremner

Maserati MC20 Cielo First drives