Dressing cars in a suit made for another is an endemic malady in modern industry. Think of the Ford Mondeo/Contour in a Jaguar suit, the little Chevrolet Cavalier in a Cadillac suit, the big Chrysler 300 in a (badly fitting) Lancia suit, et al., ad infinitum. Products like those are bad news whenever they come to market. Can you think of any such exercise that was really successful, economically or aesthetically? Nor can I.
So now we are treated to a Jeep Grand Cherokee in a Maserati suit, one extremely well-tailored, to be sure, fitted by one of the best designers now practicing, Lorenzo Ramaciotti, a man who has some well-regarded Ferraris to his credit from his time as chief designer at Pininfarina. But just as the misbegotten Jeep Commander built on the Grand Cherokee platform was the answer to a question no one asked, the similarly underpinned -- but Ferrari-powered -- Maserati Kubang (a really horrible, nasty-sounding name) begs another question: who needs it?
It is possible to make a case for a sporting station wagon (or shooting brake, as the English so elegantly express it), and I can think of numerous cases that retained the character of the basic coupe in a slightly more utilitarian form, including an early Ford Mustang wagon that I designed in 1966. Volvo did good business with its wagonback 1800, and Ferrari is doing well now with its own FF sporting wagon. But turn to trucks, and the whole game changes. Industry people look with envy at the profits Porsche has made with the Cayenne and think that making their own trucklike people carriers will enrich them, too. I beg to doubt it.
What is a Maserati, after all? For the first period of the marque's existence, Maseratis were racing cars. Nothing more, nothing less. Subsequent road cars were always high-performance pure sports or grand touring models based on racing engines, if not racing-car chassis -- including the Quattroporte sedans. All were highly desirable, whoever the designer/body maker was. Why force a clumsy SUV onto this glorious nameplate, other than in a search for profits that are unlikely to arrive, however well Porsche may have done with the idea?
As I looked at the concept version of the Kubang at the Frankfurt motor show, an experienced designer sighed and said, "It looks a lot like a Buick to me." Indeed, there are Enclave overtones to the back, if not to the front, where the classic Maserati grille has been flattened on top (homage to the square-cut Jeep grille?) and given kinked vertical bars. The whole car earned a tepid but accurate "not bad." That's not what I want to think when I see the Bolognese trident badge on a car. And I want to see it on cars, not trucks. So, not bad, but not good, either.