This is Maserati’s first SUV, a car that might just be the most important Maserati built in the marque’s 102-year history. The Maserati Levante continues the tradition of Maserati cars named after winds, Levante being taken from the Viento de Levante that blows through the Strait of Gibraltar in the southern Mediterranean, but in other respects it’s a huge break from Maserati’s past.
Enthusiasts may well baulk at the prospect of a Maserati SUV but the Levante is Maserati through and through. The car was designed and engineered in Italy and it’s being built there, at the Fiat Group’s Mirafiori plant in Turin. The car was first hinted at by the Kubang concept at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show and in the time it’s taken to get the Levante production car to market, the luxury SUV sector has boomed. Maserati is eagerly eyeing the potential profits its first SUV could generate and it’s no exaggeration to say that the brand’s future prospects hinge on its success or failure.
From launch two engines are available - a 3.0-litre 430bhp V6 petrol and 3.0-litre 275bhp V6 diesel - but only the diesel is set to be sold in the UK. This risks further disappointing Maserati fans but the vast majority of SUV sales are diesel so the move is understandable. Perhaps once the Levante is established a V8 petrol version might be forthcoming to rival the sector’s big guns but that seems a long way off.
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The Maserati Levante measures in at 5m long and just over 2.1m wide. It’s a big car but the elegant curves have a welcome lack of the blunt aggression that often characterises the luxury SUV breed. Maserati’s established styling cues sit surprisingly well on the SUV blueprint and the Levante looks good on the road.
The interior is equally impressive with its high quality feel and sharp design. The optional Luxury Pack features a high-class combination of leather and silk by Zegna that gives the Levante an indulgent ambience that’s unique in the sector. The allure of the Maserati badge combined with the unyielding premium feel of the Levante make the diesel‘s predicted list price of between £53,000 - £55,000 feel like very good value.
Maserati has been bullish in its claims of class-leading ride and handling for the Levante so the car has a lot to live-up to. Initial impressions are encouraging, with a strong sense of structural rigidity and smooth, well-judged steering that’s quick-witted without feeling overly sharp. The suspension manages to connect you to the road while isolating you from the bumps and above all, the Levante hides its size admirably - for a 2,205kg SUV.
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On the performance front, a generous 599Nm of torque ensures the Levante is lively off the mark, but its performance is brisk rather than truly rapid. The 0-62mph time of 6.9s is little better than average in the company of today’s power-packed premium SUVs. The 5.2s 0-62mph pace you get from the most powerful petrol version is nearer the mark, though the diesel gets its own back with a CO2 figure of 189g/km vs 253g/km for the Levante S 435.
On the motorway the Diesel lopes along nicely, and the 8-speed torque converter gearbox responds quickly when you want to kick-down. It’s a refined, comfortable long distance car without doubt. Wind noise is subdued despite the frameless windows and the general ambience is that of an elevated Maserati GT car, which is a very good thing.
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The Levante is also impressively capable off-road with five suspension settings including two dedicated off-road modes. The highest of these two settings lifts the ride height by 40mm to give useful ground clearance. Back on the tarmac and its good to see the Maserati genes in evidence on twisty roads where there’s plenty of poise and a fine balance that reflects the car’s 50:50 weight distribution. A mechincal limited-slip differential and Torque Vectoring help, as does a 4x4 system that sends 100 per cent of drive to the rear, but can send up to 50 per cent to the front as required.
However much you might dislike the notion of this blue-blooded Italian marque embracing the SUV you simply can’t ignore the business case. One-million cars are sold annually in the premium luxury segment, with some 500,000 of those being SUVs. If Maserati is to achieve its aspiration of building 75,000 cars a year, it needs a slice of that action and the Levante might just have the qualities to deliver it.