Even in an SUV fixated world, the thought of a sports utility vehicle from the firm that gave us the 250F, the Birdcage, the Ghibli and the Bora is a shock to the system.
It really shouldn’t be. We have known a Maserati SUV was coming for ages, have seen a concept already and know only too well the arguments why a firm like Maserati feels an SUV is necessary. For a refresh of that, just look at the Porsche Cayenne sales record.
So now, a week ahead of the Geneva Motor Show where it will have its official unveiling, here is the Maserati Levante – not exactly the first four-door in Maserati’s 100-year history but certainly the first all-wheel drive, high-riding, four-door designed to go off-road as well as on. A sort of quattro-quattro-porte…
We will know more when we see it in the flesh at Geneva, but judging from the first few official pictures put out today – we like it. You couldn’t mistake it for anything but an SUV but by the same token there are enough cues to tell you it is obviously a Maserati.
The aggressive front grille design, the trio of side air vents and trapezoidal C-pillar, along with a pleasingly unboxy profile, all evoke the trident brand. Frameless door windows is a nice touch, as is the tapered look at the rear. Overall the Levante – it is named after Maserati’s first factory in Bologna – appears something of a sporty success.
Maserati has made much of the fact that there is nothing in the Levante’s make-up that is not Maserati – so no parts sharing with Fiat Chrysler group cousin Jeep. The Levante uses the proven platform from the Quattroporte sedan but with air springs (presumably with adjustable ride height), programmable electronically-controlled dampers, intelligent all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. That is the standard fare fitted to all versions, part of what Maserati is calling a high level of standard equipment.
And, judging by recent Maserati offerings, it should drive well. Maserati claims the Levante offers ‘unrivalled handling even on very low grip surfaces and an excellent off-road ride’.
Engines? Sketchy details so far with Maserati saying only that both petrol and diesel units will be available, so expect the 3.0-litre V6 units from the Ghibli. GRR believes the entry model will be the V6 diesel with around 300bhp. There will also be a circa 425bhp petrol V6 model and, as competition for the Cayenne Turbo, a flagship Lavante with the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 from the Quattroporte GTS boasting around 560bhp and offering 0-62mph in 5 seconds or less.
As Maserati boss Harald Wester confirmed at last year’s Geneva show, there will also be a plug-in hybrid version. That is due later.
The first Maserati Levantes are now coming off the production line at Mirafiori in Turin, ready for European sales to begin this spring. Not far away then, but UK prices are not yet confirmed: expect a starter Levante to be in the region of £65,000. There is little doubt it will be the biggest selling Maserati in the range – the estimate is it will take 43 per cent of all Maser sales – and probably go on to become the biggest selling Maserati of all time.
When GRR spoke to Maserati general manager for Europe Giulio Pastore last year (see more on that here)
He told us that Maserati could survive without the Levante – but not as the 75,000 units a year manufacturer it is aiming to become.
Giulio told us: ‘The SUV market continues to grow and it is essential for us to be in it in order to invest in new models. If you wanted a new GranTurismo and new Alfieri (sports car) we wouldn’t be able to do them. We need the Lavante to be able to make the new cars.’