Maserati's three pronged SUV attack
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MASERATI’S FIRST SUV LIVES UP TO THE ITALIAN MARQUE’S PROMISE OF LUXURY, SPORTS AND STYLE
For more than a century, Maserati’s mission has been to deliver “luxury, sports and style cast in exclusive cars”. So when the epitome of Italian elegance and engineering says it wants its first SUV — the Levante — to be exclusive, that vehicle has something to live up to.
The Modena factory backed up the tough talk with proof of the Levante’s ability, covering all terrains in rural Italy from highways to winding mountain roads and a gruelling off-road course.
Driven was the only New Zealand media representative at its global launch at the 11th-century castle of Tabiano Castello, nestled in the picturesque hills of Parma.
New Zealanders and Australians will be driving the 3-litre V6 turbo diesel model, but there is potential to get the two petrol variants if production allows and if larger, right-hand drive markets such as Britain also take the petrol models.
The Levante has sophisticated electronic driving modes and its grille’s active aerodynamics reduce drag.
But there’s no need for Kiwi drivers to worry that they’re getting the short end of the stick. The 2987cc turbo diesel produces 202kW and 600Nm at its peak, with 90 per cent of its maximum torque made below 2000rpm.
This makes for an effortless and elegant drive.
Coupled with that sumptuous lowdown torque is — a first for Maserati — a towbar as an optional extra.
With a maximum tow rating of 2700kg, the Levante is close to ute levels of towing grunt: exactly what you need to tow the launch to the marina in style.
But while the media contingent had been harbouring high hopes for a thrilling exhaust sound, the diesel model didn’t deliver that in sport mode.
Even with the windows down as we accelerated through mountain tunnels, , the exhaust note still seemed disappointingly muffled. As the vehicles we drove were pre-production units, this is one aspect Maserati is looking at improving before production starts for right-hand drive markets in September. (The system uses two sound actuators, fitted near the exhaust tailpipes, to accentuate the engine’s tones and adjust them depending on the way the car is being driven.)
However, it’s worth remembering this diesel vehicle comes from a brand that represents everything luxurious. In that context, the quieter exhaust makes more sense. And, partnered with the opulent leather interior, it ensured a comfortable ride.
Adding to the comfort level is the ultimate in decadence interiors — the Zegna Edition pack which combines premium Italian leather with bespoke silk from leading designer Ermenegildo Zegna, and made in Trivero by the maestro’s wool mill.
Maserati’s interior choices include the luxury pack (above) and Zegna option (below).
The Zegna pack is available as an option only when you tick the box for the Levante’s luxury package which include a chromed front grille, steel door and trunk sills, a premium leather or Zegna Edition interior, 19in machine polished wheels, black brake calipers, a Harman Kardon audio system and wooden interior trim.
Maserati Australia and New Zealand chief operating officer, Glen Sealey said the company expects strong sales from Levante across both markets.
The first shipment to Australia has already sold out.
“I believe we can sell 400 units of Levante in the next year, but our biggest issue will be production. I think we’ll be lucky to get enough [Levantes] to satisfy demand,” said Sealey.
New Zealand delivery is expected for the end of December, with pricing estimated to be set at $145,000, just $10,000 above the Ghibli sedan.
Though most owners won’t dare take their Levante off the tarseal, Maserati’s first SUV can more than handle itself when called upon.
The Levante’s rugged abilities, including height-adjustable suspension and an off-road driving mode, are just the touch of a button away as demonstrated during an off-road driving course.
The diesel model shone here, effortlessly climbing steep rocky paths without a hint of stress thanks to low down masses of torque.
Additionally, the Levante is the only car in its class equipped with mechanical limited-slip differential at the rear axle.
A standard feature across the range, it helped ensure the best traction in all driving situations when combined with Maserati’s sophisticated electronic driving modes.
On some rocky descents there was a need to use the Levante’s hill descent control, activated by a button on the steering wheel and controlled through the cruise control speed switch.
Setting this to a lazy 3km/h in one particularly steep section, we could hear the feature working away to bring the 2.2-tonne SUV under control.
But the Levante’s standout feature has to be its beautifully balanced chassis and air suspension.
With a 50:50 weight balance, the big SUV handles tight twisty roads more like a sports car than a heavy large SUV.
Once official duties were over, I was allowed a brief stint behind the wheel of the Levante S 430 petrol.
With a huge surge of torque from the Ferrari-built turbo V6 it provides plenty of thrills, coupled with an exhaust note to die for. This model, unfortunately not slated for the NZ market, is phenomenal and all of what the Levante really can be.
A riot of laughter and fun that I had initially expected, this variant hammered home the sportscar origins of Maserati’s first SUV.
Visually, the the diesel and petrol Levantes look the same apart from larger wheels on the petrol version. Both have ZF 8-speed gearboxes and can be customised right down to details such as whether you want stitching to match your trimmings.
I’ll take the carbon fibre and red leather, thank you very much.
|ENGINE:||3-litre V6 turbodiesel|
Loads of torque, capable off road, great chassis/suspension
|CONS:||NZ currently not getting petrol models|