New Maserati MC20 Cielo 2023 review
Does Maserati’s intense MC20 supercar soften without a fixed-roof up top?
Maserati’s return to the supercar premier league started with the spectacular MC20, and now there’s a new convertible version called Cielo here to play. Yet while there’s no question of the Maserati MC20 Cielo’s static appeal, it’s not as exciting to drive as the coupe, and feels a little sparse considering its high price tag.
When the Maserati MC20 first appeared, we were bowled over by its distinct and immensely appealing character. Restrained on the outside, but hiding away a brilliantly uncouth turbocharged V6 engine, its intense performance was just as impressive as its ability to adapt to even the most challenging driving conditions.
But when you take the roof off a perfectly brilliant supercar, two things generally change. First come the obvious technical challenges of slicing the roof off then compensating for the resulting loss of structural integrity. In the case of the MC20, and a few of its supercar companions, the carbon fibre tub-style chassis is well equipped to deal with this loss, as much of the stiffness comes from the floor structure, rather than a static roof section.
The second is that a car losing its roof instantly gains an added sense of glamour, something the MC20 Coupe isn’t so generously endowed with, by supercar standards anyway. A major part of the MC20 Coupe’s appeal is that its execution is extremely pure. The design is restrained, its bodywork is sophisticated and not adorned with the sort of race-car paraphernalia and complex aero-optimised wings you’ll find attached to a Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren. Don’t get us wrong, Maserati is perhaps one of the most glamorous marques in the business, but the MC20 coupe’s purity in spite of the brand is part of what makes it so special. In roofless Cielo form it's much better equipped to turn heads.
The Cielo has the same 3-litre ‘Nettuno’ V6 engine as the coupe, packing a clever twin-chamber combustion system that essentially allows for a bigger bang and therefore more power. Maserati quotes a peak figure of 621bhp at 7,500rpm, with a huge 730Nm of torque produced between 3,000 and 5,500rpm. Unlike with the sophisticated torque management systems found in modern turbocharged Ferraris, the full whack of torque is available in any gear. To this intense powerplant, Maserati has fitted an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission built by American firm Tremec. It sends power to the rear wheels, via an optional electronically-controlled limited slip differential if you tick the right box.
Maserati claims a 65kg weight gain for the Cielo over the fixed-head version, but the difference feels a little larger than that. Different specifications and options can swing the balance either way, too. Regardless, acceleration is just that little less vicious than in the coupe, the turbo’s ability to build boost feels smoother and more restrained, a likely byproduct of the subtle 2022 model year update all MC20s received. Another small, but welcome update is the mode-selector, which now places a display screen on the rotating knob that controls the five driver modes and damper rates.
The core carbon fibre chassis may look identical, but the weaves and thickness of the material have been modified to help compensate for the open-topped configuration. There are different springs and re-tuned dampers, too. Every measure was taken to preserve the feel and agility of the coupe.
Even the aluminium housing for the stowed roof adds to the rigidity of the Cielo. The mechanism is simple and purely electric (lighter and quieter than electro-hydraulic) and can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 31mph in 12 seconds. The roof panel itself features polymer-dispersed liquid crystals and can be completely opaque or flood the clean, nicely executed interior with natural light at the push of a button.
Roof down there’s very little wind swirl or discomfort, just more volume, more sensation. This is high quality stuff but, more importantly, the MC20 Cielo feels completely comfortable in its own skin. This is not a Ferrari or McLaren clone, nor does it slavishly pay homage to Maserati's own long-forgotten glory days.
Yet the Cielo does have its compromises. While the structure is stiff, admirably so, on really rough roads you do sense just a shade of steering corruption and reverberation within the chassis. It’s minor but coupe purists will notice. It feels a shade heavier than the closed car in these moments, too. On UK roads, the whole experience can come across as being a touch uncouth, with big bags of torque to have to manage and a chassis that feels just a little less comfortable while it's doing so.
The optional carbon-ceramic brakes also have a longer pedal travel than those of, say, a Porsche or Ferrari and hence don’t inspire quite so much confidence. This really is nit-picking, though. The Cielo gets so much right. The steering is light and precise, the V6 embraces and celebrates its turbochargers with all sorts of chirrups, whistles and sneezes and the car has a lovely, transparent balance. The gearbox is fast and creates a real feeling of mechanical connection, too.
But, if your idea of an open supercar also has to encapsulate that aforementioned glamour, the MC20’s sparse interior and introverted design might not hit the same highs as rivals from Italian and British supercar producers. While we love the back-to-basics interior of the Coupe, when you open it up to the elements, the lack of pomp might deter customers expecting a high class world of complex shapes and hand-stitching.
At just over £235,000 on the road (or a staggering £305k as specified for this test), some might find the Ferrari 296 GTS and its hybridised powertrain a more compelling option, or perhaps McLaren’s incoming 750S Spider may be even more thrilling with its 100bhp power advantage. But make no mistake, the MC20 in any form is a beguiling supercar that, if you’re into a more raw-edged experience, will never, ever be tiring. It has breadth, almost a dual personality, but remains laser focussed on being the best version of Maserati we’ve ever known.
|Model:||Maserati MC20 Cielo|
|Price:||£235,225 (£305,795 as tested)|
|Engine:||3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed dual-clutch auto, rear-wheel drive|