Fountain of Neptune
Luxury car-maker Maserati have finally bitten the bullet & have built their first SUV, the Levante. With 50% of all luxury car sales now attributed to the SUV sector, Maserati could not ignore the pull of the “Chelsea Tractor “ any longer. In truth, with their latest Ghibli & Quattroporte, Maserati sales have been increasing for some time & in order to achieve volume sales you cannot ignore the fleet sector & the Levante, although a premium product, very much has it’s eyes set on garnering corporate business.
Die-hard Maserati aficionados may baulk at the idea of a sports car maker producing an SUV, but from an economic perspective, it makes perfect sense. Porsche entered this sector years ago & even Jaguar produce an SUV. This is the fastest growing sector in car manufacturing & Maserati are certainly taking the Levante seriously. A new state-of-the-art production line has been set up exclusively for the Levante in the historic Mirafiori plant in Turin, where high quality standards in every area, from design to development & from process controls to fabrication, are applied in full.
Maserati sales are very much on an upward curve. Only 6,300 were actually sold worldwide in 2012 & this increased fivefold in 2015 to 33,500, with the aim by 2018 to hit 70,000 sales. The target for Levante is 50% of these. Maserati also expects half of all Ghibli & 40% of all Levante sales to come from the corporate sector.
Here in the UK, buyers get the option from launch of just one diesel engine with a single eight-speed automatic gearbox. Although targeted at the Range Rover Sport, BMW X5 & Audi Q7, it’s most direct rival is the Porsche Cayenne, which is much the same size & price as Levante. Indeed, if you squint a little the Levante features a similar exterior shape to the Cayenne, although the Maserati’s large front grille & Trident logo, make it stand out more than the Porsche.
If you’ve driven or owned a Ghibli or Quattroporte, the interior will have a familiar ring to it, as the Levante shares much of its make-up with the firm’s two saloons, which were both launched in 2013. The platform it’s been built on is up-to-date with a mixture of aluminium & steel in the bodywork giving it strength & in theory, reducing the overall weight & therefore efficiency of the car. Talking of weight, aluminium or not it’s heavy, 2,205kg to be precise & when accelerating from a start it feels it, although it will go from 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds
For customers who like to drive their cars, Maserati has managed to give Levante a perfect 50:50 weight distribution. It also comes with the lowest centre of gravity in the SUV class & an intelligent Q4 AWD system with standard Torque Vectoring. Customers will also benefit from Maserati’s Stability Program developed for on-road & off-road use, double wishbone front and five-link rear suspension & standard Air Spring Suspension with 4 ride height levels (plus normal ride height & parking height levels). Pretty comprehensive to say the least.
In what is a ridiculously competitive segment, Maserati have realised that their badge alone does not guarantee sales in a sector whose customers are exceedingly discerning. A basic price of £54,335 makes it competitive. Add in the list of standard spec, which includes exterior features such as chrome line exterior trim, a chrome front grille with frame & vertical grille bars, ornamental side grilles in chrome, a twin, dual pipe exhaust system finished in chrome-plated stainless steel & 18” Borea design alloys.
Inside the plush cabin, all Levante’s come with ma dashboard mounted Maserati-design clock, leather upholstery for seats, front and rear head restraints with embossed Trident logo & a leather multifunction steering wheel & gear knob.You also get bi-xenon front headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights & there’s automatic activation of the front & rear LED fog lights, plus LED taillights.
The infotainment system consists of the Maserati Touch Control Plus (MTC Plus): High resolution 8.4” capacitive touch screen display with rotary control, including; navigation system, radio, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth, AHATM system, Apple CarPlayTM and Android AutoTM, Siri® smart personal assistant, SD card reader, USB with Aux-in, & 8-speakers. The large screen is a bonus, making it easier to reach to touch the screen & to see the different functions on the move. After fiddling with the touchscreen for my fist hour or so, I did work out out which of the images on the screen I needed to utilise & although the system is perhaps not as good to use & others I have come across, very few will be disappointed. The quality of the knobs & buttons in & around the cab, plus the finish of the leather-clad seats is pretty good too, with the Italian styling clear to see. It is though, not quite as well made as the Teutonic interiors of the BMW X5 & Audi Q7, which on the flip-side, do both lack the Maserati’s character.
A host of safety features are fitted to Levante. These include active cruise control, Maserati Stability Programme (MSP): Anti Slip Regulation (ASR), Antilock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist System (BAS) & Motor Slip Regulation (MSR). You even get Hill Descent Control with Hill holder very useful when off-road. All Levante’s also come with the Maserati NavTrak vehicle tracking system with Automatic Driver Recognition and Remote Inhibition
Very much like it’s competitors, in order to have everything you want in your Levante you may have to add several option packs to your purchase. For example, we tested the Levante diesel Sport model which although well kitted out requires the additional spending of £1530 for the Drivers Assistance Pack, which features adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go function, forward collision warning & brake assist system, lane departure warning, blind spot alert & cross traffic alert. Having said that, if you’re in the market for a car as classy as the Levante, this shouldn’t put you off buying one.
Maserati gave me the chance to drive the Levante both on-road, about 175 miles all told, on various roads in North Yorkshire, as well as on a short off-road track & I really enjoyed the experience. Yes, the Levante feels heavy, but it’s handling belies this, with a responsive steering wheel set up, an effective 8-speed auto gear box & that 3.0 litre engine all adding to the fun. It’s easy to forget your’e in a large SUV when it hurtles around narrow undulating roads so happily. Alternatively, if you require your SUV to be comfortable on an A road or motorway, it will perform this role admirably as well. And, if you do venture off-road for whatever reason, by raising the ride height it will get you across muddy fields, unmade tracks as well as up & down some pretty steep inclines.
SUV’s should be practical. It has a useful 580-litre boot, but is only available with five seats, so if you want a seven-seat option, you’ll have to look elsewhere. That said, what you do get is a spacious interior, especially up-front with plenty of head & leg room. Taller occupants may struggle sitting in the middle rear seat, but otherwise a couple of six-footers will be quite comfortable in the back. Cabin storage space, includes a tray in front of the gearlever, two cup-holders adjacent to it, roomy door pockets & a lidded storage area in between the front seats.
The Maserati Levante comes with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, which is competitive. Big SUV’s equal regular visits to the petrol pumps. The claimed combined fuel economy is 39.2mpg & the Levante comes with emissions of 189g/km. Not too impressive but about par for the cars the Levante’s has in it’s sights.
I mentioned the Ranger Rover Sport at the beginning of this review, which is seriously good at what it does, but in certain post codes, is as common as muck. To a lesser extent, so too is the Porsche Cayenne. Which makes the Levante rarer than both. Rarity though is not what Maserati want for Levante, they want customers & I think that they’ll get them. The Levante looks fabulous, it’s great fun to drive, whilst also being a comfortable Grand Tourer. It’s also practical, well equipped & competitively priced.
With sales in the SUV sector showing no signs of slowing down, Maserati’s high expectations for Levante deserve to be met.
A Piazza Maggiore 4/5