Maserati has joined the SUV stampede with possibly the most important vehicle in its 102-year history. The Italian car maker previewed its new Levante today to Australian media ahead of it official launch Down Under later this year.
The possibility that a Maserati trident should ever appear on the grille of an SUV would have been unlikely, to say the least, only a few years ago. But with large SUVs making up almost 50% of the luxury vehicle segment, manufacturers ignore them at their peril this might be the most important vehicle in the company’s 102 year history.
At the local preview of the new Levante, Maserati COO Glen Sealey said: “Maserati has not designed an SUV,” said Sealey. “First and foremost Maserati has designed a new Maserati. A new model that delivers, like all its predecessors, superlative style, performance, handling and road holding combined with unique levels of personalization to produce a true Maserati. At the same time it adds the space and flexibility of an SUV with real off road ability without compromising any of those essential Maserati attributes.
“With Levante arriving in Australia with a recommended retail price of $139,990 plus statutory costs, delivery and dealer costs, it delivers the unique and exclusive experience of Maserati ownership that will ensure that it becomes a key part of the Maserati range and will expand Maserati’s unique reputation.”
And that means the Levante must include instantly recognisable (Maserati) style, responsive performance, high levels of road holding and handling, limited numbers, handcrafted interiors using Italian materials and a high level of personalisation. But an SUV also needs a roomy boot, large doors, a high seating position, and genuine, if not off-road ability, then some semblance of rough road ability.
The Levante will be offered in Australia in three versions, all powered by a 202kW turbo-diesel engine. That’s right, there’s no petrol version. Transmission is the eight-speed auto connected to Maserati’s Q4 intelligent four-wheel-drive system and standard Skyhook adjustable air suspension.
The entry level Levante starts at a lower price, $139,990+ORC, than was expected (most thought it would start around $150,000), but with a bulging order book, taking delivery of one at that price may not be easy; the $159,990+ORC Levante Sport and Levante Luxury (all costs plus on roads) may be the way to go for earlier delivery. Deliveries are scheduled to begin at the end of the year. There will also be a Zegna limited edition (price TBA).
Maserati tells us the driving experience is “as unique as the Maserati brand and its customers” but since the only example at the launch was a left-hand drive petrol model that will not be offered locally, we’ll have to take their word for it. A test drive was most definitely not on the agenda at the local preview.
In Australia, the Levante will be exclusively offered with the 3.0-litre Maserati common-rail direct injection turbo-diesel V6. Zero to 100km/h arrives in 6.9 seconds and top speed is 230km/h. Fuel economy is a claimed combined 7.2L/100km. Petrol models are only being produced in left-hand drive.
The Levante gets four drive modes (normal, I.C.E., sport and off-road, each altering engine, transmission, suspension and electronics. Adaptive cruise control with stop/go is standard, as are forward collision warning, brake assist, lane departure warning, surround view camera, 8.4-inch touch screen with new rotary control and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Maserati’s Q4 Traction gives the Levante a choice of seven operational modes. Torque is split front to rear, from a maximum of 100% to the rear wheels in normal driving conditions, switching to 50:50 when necessary in just 150 milliseconds, or less time than it takes to say the word ‘millisecond’. Torque transmission is said to be imperceptible, but can be monitored using the 7-inch information screen that shows the traction split in real time.
According to Maserati, torque vectoring assists with cornering by slightly braking the inner wheel and giving a little more oomph to the outside wheel. Selecting off-road mode raises ground clearance by 25mm, and an even higher ride height of 40mm can be selected (normal ride height is 207mm). Ride height can be lowered by 45mm to make entry and exit easier when parking in underground car parks.
The Levante comes in a choice of 13 colours, three of them unique to the model. Alloy wheels are 19-inch as standard, with 18s a no-cost option. The Luxury gets 20-inch as standard, while the Sport goes all the way with whopping 21-inch wheels.
The interior is everything you would expect of a car wearing the Maserati trident and, in a word, SUPERB. Two-colour leather is optional, with 28 interior colour combinations. The instrument panel follows Ghibli/Quattroporte themes, and is backlit with white light. The iconic analogue clock, of course, takes pride of place on the dashboard.
The Sport pack adds front grille and front and rear skid plates in Black Piano trim. The rear sport spoiler is body coloured, sport seats are 12-way adjustable, the sports steering wheel is adjustable, the lower body is colour-matched, red brake calipers are standard, gearshift paddles and sport pedals are in brushed steel and there’s a Harmon Kardon sound system.
The luxury pack uses exclusive materials and includes a chromed front grille, steel door and trunk sills, premium leather, body-coloured lower body, black brake calipers, Harmon Karmon sound, wood interior trim, 12-way comfort seats and panoramic sunroof.
Coming later is the Zegna Edition, combining Italian leather with bespoke silk inserts in the trim. Door panels, roof lining and sun visors are covered with Zegna silk jersey. It will be available as an option with the luxury pack.
The Maserati Levante is an important model for the company. It is predicted the model will account for 55% of all Maserati sales in Australia and New Zealand in 2017 and will, if the predictions are right, make Maserati more of a major player. It worked for Porsche. And we’re sure it will work for Maserati.