By Design: Maserati Alfieri Concept

The only mistake Maserati made in presenting its dramatic and convincing Alfieri concept at Geneva this spring was to reference it to the A6GCS/53 Pininfarina GT coupe from 1953. That wonderful, slim, elegant, taut-skinned four-off design came from a different era, when no one was concerned about pedestrian safety, crashworthiness, having to transport a chemical factory in each car, or any of the other imperatives that so constrain designers today. Without rollover standards, it had thin pillars, and its wraparound windshield and backlight gave much better visibility than we have today. But make no mistake, this Alfieri -- named for the most prominent of the six Maserati brothers who survived infancy -- is a dramatic and beautiful contemporary GT. As an aesthetic object, though, it simply can’t measure up to what Battista “Pinin” Farina did at the peak of his powers sixty years ago.

That said, this Maserati Alfieri concept is an excellent, if too busy, expression of the classic grand touring ideal: a two-person car meant for high-speed long-distance travel with grace and elegance. It’s hard to justify the grilles on the rear—there’s not really any hot mechanism that requires cooling way back there -- and I deplore its restricted rear visibility and the high lift-over height for the small trunk. On the other hand, small as its opening may be, it beats having to load fitted suitcases through the side doors, as in some older GTs. A worthy stylistic innovation is the blade in the doors, derived from a fence on the hood, giving a distinct profile to the cabin in pure side view.

Maserati has never been deeply involved in GT racing. There is no equivalent to the Ferrari 250GT Tour de France or 250GTO, but thousands of Maserati GTs have been sold and much appreciated by owners for, yes, touring. An old friend who really loves high-performance cars -- he has owned as many as five Porsches at once and still keeps three rarities -- bought a Maserati GranTurismo a year or two ago just because he thought it was beautiful and would be the perfect car to use when he goes to visit his centenarian grandmother. That kind of appreciation will carry over to the recently announced production Alfieri, I’m sure.

After attending hundreds of auto shows and looking at many thousands of new cars in their intense ambience, I have come to judge a design’s value by a simple question: do I want to get in and drive it? It’s surprising how often my reaction is “been there, done that, don’t need to do it again any time soon.” I liked the first Volkswagen Golf and admired its design simplicity, but after the seventh generation, there’s no immediate impulse to experience it again. At Geneva this year, I paired the Maserati Alfieri with Renault’s Twingo as the new cars I most want to drive. (We should be able to drive a production Alfieri in a couple of years.) A rear engine is a novelty now, but a great-looking, mechanically sophisticated GT is always desirable.

Maserati Alfieri Concept Front 3/4 View

1. Coachbuilders in the 1920s and ’30s used elegantly curved door profiles, and that excellent idea is beautifully recapitulated here.

2. This sharp-edged excrescence is less successful but at least provides a clear horizontal reference line on the body side as the sill dips inward from the wheelhouses.

3. One wonders if so much frontal-inlet area is necessary, but these front-quarter grilles allow a central nacelle much like racing cars of yore, before ugly wings became necessary.

4. Triangular headlamp housings below the strongly linear daytime running lamps are set at almost 45-degree angles to the side and front of the body.

5. The traditional central blip of classic Maserati grilles is almost absent, but identity is emphasized by a badge above and the Bologna trident below it.

6. These heavily retouched photos from the manufacturer do the Alfieri a severe disservice. There is no surface break here, despite what you may think you see.

7. There is a very artful and pleasing surface break at the peak of all four fenders. On the front it fades into the marker lamps; at the rear it fades into the door skins.

8. This nearly vertical wall starts at the front of the hood opening and continues into the fin on the door.

9. The roof is just a touch puffy, as though the entire panel were slightly inflated by internal pressure.

10. That same sense of internal pressure gives the outer fender skins an elegant and welcome tension.

Maserati Alfieri Concept Rear 3/4 View

11. This trunk cutline is truly curious: too small, too high, making a break with the backlight, which lifts with the metal panel.

12. Taillights suspended in the large negative volumes on the rear corners are very pleasant in their simplicity and clarity.

13. The relatively small and definitely nondescript backlight is disappointingly matter-of-fact. It doesn’t provide much visibility, either.

14. These grilles are very nicely done. But why are they there at all?

15. This fin in the door is unique and does a good job of solving the base-of-A-pillar puzzle that confounds many designers.

16. Notice the blunt, vertical section of the beveled front corners as seen from behind.

17. The portholes carry over from other Maseratis but seem out of place.

18. Another unfortunate artifact of the old-fashioned retouching of official factory photos is this overly emphasized line. There is no surface break; in fact, it’s a subtly elegant curve.

19. These wheels are overdone, with slim blue spokes adding to visual clutter.

20. Notice that this hard line tucks in toward the rounded rump of the body above the transverse panel incorporating the exhaust outlets.

Maserati Alfieri Concept Interior View

21. These wraparound sections are intriguing, but one is obliged to wonder how they might feel.

22. Tokyo-by-night instruments are a major surprise in a Maserati. But why not?

23. I very much like the nonthreatening look of the cushion in front of the passenger, nicely punctuated by the nearly invisible Alfieri signature at the outer edge.

24. The ventilation outlets at the ends of the instrument panel are elegantly incorporated into the visual composition of what is a very nice, very modern cockpit. Good work.

25. The transmission lever is machined hollow at its rear, making it look technical -- but its purpose is unclear.

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