Maserati Levante: a good sport
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Maserati joins growing number of top-end carmakers producing great suvs
Maserati's luxury SUV, the Levante, has found favour with Kiwis, with an expected 75 to be sold in New Zealand this year.
Launched globally last year, the medium-sized off-roader has gone on sale in New Zealand's two dealerships - in Auckland and Christchurch - with owners now receiving their orders.
Maserati Australia and New Zealand's general manager, Glenn Sealey, said the company was excited about having the Levante available.
"We've been surprised with the breadth of the Levante and the capability of the car," he said.
"The thing about the Levante is that it's a really quiet, serene drive but when you put it into sport mode, it does come alive."
Last year the company sold 64 of its sports cars in New Zealand and this year Sealey expected 150 across the range, with 75 of those the Levante.
There's currently only one powertrain to choose from; the 3litre, V6 turbo diesel producing 202 kW of power and 600Nm of torque, and paired with the eight-speed automatic transmission.
It has figures of 7.2 litres of diesel on the combined city and highway cycle.
The Levante has a top speed of 230 km/h and goes from 0-100 km/h in 6.9 seconds.
Sealey said that at this stage there were no plans to bring in a petrol version of the Levante, as "90 per cent of demand in this segment is for diesel. If the UK market gets a petrol Levante then we will get it," he said.
"But right hand drive is 10 to 12 per cent of global production (for Maserati)."
The diesel Levante starts at $136,990 with the Luxury and Sport models at $155,990.
It has 19in alloys as standard with 20, and 21in available.
The Levante has the underpinning of the Ghibli sedan and, from a road stance, sits like a car-based SUV.
It is 5003mm long, 1968mm wide and in park mode 1679mm high with a weight of 2205kg.
It has the same 50:50 weight distribution as the Ghibli, while having five heights and ride height plus four drive modes: normal, sport, off-road and ICE.
The air suspension system can climb from 162mm ride height to 240mm with six steps between, helping with road requirements
Ticking the SUV box, the Levante has hill decent (that we tested at the Sydney launch last week), adaptive cruise control with Stop&Go, forward collision warning, advanced emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross
path warning plus 360-degree camera, and front and rear parking assist.
The Levante also gets a new Infotainment system with a high resolution 8.4" touchscreen.
The top end of the car makers are producing great SUVs - take a bow Porsche with your Cayenne and Macan, while Jaguar is dominating the space with its F-Pace.
Later this year Lamborghini will reveal its Urus off-roader and even Rolls-Royce has a SUV slated for launch, probably in 2018.
And you can't go past Range Rover when it comes to hard-working SUVs that exude luxury.
Pricewise, it will be competing with Mercedes-Benz's GLE 350d and BMW's X5 30d, so with those facts, you can expect new customers to the Maserati brand who want a luxury badge plus the sough-after SUV.
The Levante uses a lot of Jeep's technology, as it gets the diesel engine used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler 300 (plus Maserati's Ghibli and Quattroporte).
It also gets Jeep's complicated gear selector that makes it difficult to just put into drive model.
The hydraulic steering system is great, and the suspension and the chassis deliver a capable SUV whether it's on a race track (as we experienced) or a normal city roads or on the motorway.
We drove from the Maserati dealership on Sydney's north shore, to a private race track out of the city where we tested the three models now on sale.
What impressed me was the cornering at speed of the two tonne vehicle and, despite mid-40s temperatures, it was only late in the day that the brakes in one model began to protest.
The Levante also took on some off-road routes at the private track, and showed it could cope with some rough conditions, especially when using hill decent.
Maserati likes to focus on the 'Sport' feature of the SUV with the diesel engine sound enlarged thanks to active sound system which uses two sound actuators near the exhaust tailpipes that adjust the tone of the engine depending of driving.
Negatives, looks wise, is that grille.
On the Maserati sedans and sports car, the trident and indented spokes are subtle, but magnify its size and it just doesn't work.
What doesn't help with the front design are the small LED daytime running lights that sit at an angle partially over the headlights -- instead, Maserati could have made the LEDs run the length of the lights or curved them.
Engine: 3l, V6 turbo diesel (202kW/600Nm)
Pro: Capable luxury SUV
Con: Gaudy grille.