Sergio Marchionne: visionary genius or badge-engineering madman?

The chief executive who dragged Fiat into profitability and stayed the knife above Chrysler’s neck by uniting it with the Italian car giant has been lauded as an automotive mastermind, but is he about to overstep the mark too much?

In recent months We’ve laughed and winced in equal measure at the rate of change: Fiats have been rebadged for sale in the US; Lancias are being readied for UK Chrysler showrooms; Dodges are morphing into Fiat crossovers; and now CAR magazine has revealed that Maserati is developing a 4×4.

SUV and four-door models were banned at sister brand Ferrari — the new four-wheel drive FF shooting brake on is as extreme as the company will go — but there are no such restrictions for Maserati. Marchionne is raiding Jeep’s expertise and plans two smaller 4x4s for Alfa Romeo and, approved at a board meeting in November, a larger Maserati crossover.

It’s not a bloodline that bodes well for European premium brands. Morphing the Dodge journey into the Fiat Freemont crossover may work for bargain hunters, but we’re about to find out if the Jeep Grand Cherokee can be tuned into a top-notch Modenese product. Can it really compete eye-to-eye with BMW’s X5/X6 pairing, Porsche’s Cayenne, or the Range Rover Sport?

According to Harald Wester, who oversees the entire passenger car business for all Fiat brands, the still nameless four-wheel drive luxury Trident gets its own stylish exterior, a bespoke leather-wrapped interior and its own unique engines. Only the body architecture, suspension, key safety elements and the electronic platform are to be shared with the jeep donor.

Our artist’s impression gives an indication of the stylistic treatment under consideration in Modena. Senior suits are anxious about the transatlantic provenance and will take every chance to amplify the differences: carbon-ceramic brakes from Brembo, bespoke infotainment features, and Maserati USPs like the Corsa button that stiffens the dampers and quickens the gear shifts on the ZF eight-speed auto. Chrysler’s 3.0-litre Pentastar V6 will be fettled to produce 350bhp, while one rung up will almost certainly be a 3.9-litre V8 designed and built by Ferrari. Stick that in your pipe, Detroit! Equipped with Chrysler’s V6 will be fettled to 350bhp, while there’ll almost certainly be a 3.9-litre V8 designed and built by Ferrari switchable intake and exhaust manifolds and a two-stage exhaust, this direct-injection, twin-turbo unit is tipped for 450bhp. European mores dictate a VM Motori 3.0-litre diesel, which might just about hit 250bhp in Maser spec.

Complete with the pennanent 4wd required in this segment, Maserati will struggle to keep weight below 2250kg. Of course, Maserati has previous here. In 1989, Italy and America celebrated their first love affair with the Chrysler TC by Maserati, but customers ignored the LeBaron-based glitzerati so stubbornly that production ended in two years.

Will this new 4×4 succeed?

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