Maserati has begun on-road testing of its new Levante, the crucial sporting SUV model the Italian maker needs to accelerate its annual sales past the 50,000 mark.
The Levante’s styling was previewed by the Kubang concept at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, so don’t be too put off by this crazy-looking test mule, which is a very early powertrain and chassis evaluation vehicle running the hacked body of a Ghibli saloon.
The Ghibli’s body sits on a raised ride height, with a further heightened roofline section to simulate the Levante’s taller silhouette. The high-profle tyres sit under massively flared wheelarches, suggesting a wider track and stretched wheelabse for the Levante, which is due to go on sale in mid-2015.
Despite the Ghibli clothes, the Levante won’t be based on a jacked-up saloon. Rather, it’s understood Maserati will utilise parts from the Fiat Group toolbox and build the Levante around a substantially altered Jeep Grand Cherokee platform.
Thanks to the official announcements from Fiat Group’s five-year plan, unveiled in April 2014, we can be sure what engines will power the Maserati Levante. Sure to be the biggest draw in Europe is a turbodiesel V6, offered in three different states of tune: 247bhp, 271bhp, and a super-torquey 345bhp oil-burning flagship to fight the Porsche Cayenne S Diesel and BMW X5 M50d.
For petrol fans, the Levante borrows the Maserati family’s twin-turbo V6, offering either 245bhp or 414bhp. And there’s a twin-turbo V8 flagship in the pipeline too, developing at least 552bhp, Maserati promises. That Levante will rival the ultimate performance SUVs like the Range Rover Sport SVR and Lamborghini Urus, not to mention the upcoming Bentley 4x4. Speaking of all-wheel drive, all Levantes will have standard-fit four-wheel drive powertrains and automatic transmissions.