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.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. Vertical grille bars are kinked and set back from the rim but are spaced well apart to give an interval space similar to Jeep’s traditional slots.
2. This little drop in the center of the top of the grille is a traditional Maserati identity mark, really the only thing necessary no matter what the inlet perimeter.
3. From this corner of the flattened upper grille rim, several hard lines are developed, one toward the A-pillar and another across the headlamp and into the front fender peak.
4. This outlet may be the current British styling hot lick, but it was also seen on many Maserati coupes and cabriolets in the past, so it is authentic.
5. The rear fender peak appears on the rear door, derived from a softer radius starting below the air outlet on the front fender.
6. A black perimeter on all four wheel openings allows a similarly proportioned painted band in the sheetmetal, a way to minimize side mass.
7. This indent is intended to create a reflective plane that breaks up the tall painted body side.
8. And this smaller but similar indent makes the black skirt seem a bit smaller than it is.
9. A painted flange like this has become all but standard on every kind of car, from truck-based SUVs to sports cars. But there are other ways to create wheel openings in bodies.
10. There’s no telling what’s behind the wire-mesh grilles on the fender corners, but one wonders if there is really a need for these
11. The sagging curve on the bottom of the grille-opening frame clashes with the rising curve on the bumper.
12. The rising-to-center upper edge of the lower scoop really makes the whole front-end composition a little messy. Refinement for production should fix it.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
13. The highlight from which the rear fender peak is derived is discernible in this view. The whole body side has been shaped with subtlety and is fairly elegant — for an SUV.
14. The chopped-top look of the Chrysler 300 is recapitulated here, not altogether happily.
15. The visor over the backlight extends the roofline for an aerodynamic advantage.
16. Undistinguished taillight design covers the legal requirements but does little to enhance the overall form of the Kubang; they’re just stuck on.
17. The large license-plate cove on the hatch allows for all the world’s plates without having to make different stampings for different markets.
18. Fairly convoluted rear bumper shroud in black helps cut visual height, but this is still a very tall, massive vehicle.
19. Punctuating the black bottom masses with stylized exhaust outlets is a pleasing touch, and the shapes fit the form nicely.
20. Gnarly wheels with three pairs of dual spokes are rugged enough for off-road use, but does anyone really want a “trail-rated” Maserati? And how about a finicky four-cam Italian V-8 for mud-plugging?