An ir­re­sistible force

Maserati is the lat­est pre­mium car maker to sur­ren­der to the lure of SUVs

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - PRESTIGE - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­

IF you’re a paid-up mem­ber of the Anti-SUV Club, it’s time to hoist the white flag. SUV sales are about to over­take cars, and by the end of the decade even Rolls Royce will have one — the Cul­li­nan — as will Lam­borgh­ini (the Urus) and As­ton Martin, with the DBX.

The only main­stream man­u­fac­tur­ers still hold­ing out as cars-only out­fits are McLaren and Fer­rari, whose Maserati sta­ble­mate has just be­come the lat­est player in the lux­ury SUV game with its new Le­vante.

Lux­ury SUVs are big-league money mak­ers. Le­vante will dou­ble Maserati’s Aus­tralian sales, from about 500 in 2016 to about 1000 this year, and is al­ready its best sell­ing model.

That’s de­spite the fact that we get one driv­e­train only, a 3.0litre V6 tur­bod­iesel/eight-speed au­to­matic, the sole vari­ant pro­duced for right-hand drive markets. Shared with the Jeep Grand Chero­kee, in Le­vante it has more stick and faster num­bers: 202kW of power and a 0-100km/h time of 6.9 sec­onds.

In Europe and the US, Le­vante is also avail­able with a Fer­rari-built 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol en­gine that in top spec S tune pro­duces 316kW of power and flings the mon­ster Mazza to 100km/h in just 5.2 sec­onds.

Lo­cal Maserati boss Glen Sealey would dearly love to have it avail­able here, but with our lux­ury SUV market be­ing 90 per cent diesel, he can’t make a case to the fac­tory. How­ever a re­cent spike in petrol SUV sales of­fers a glim­mer of hope.

“We might have to look at it again,” he says.

Start money for Le­vante is $139,990; Lux­ury and Sport are $159,990. All vari­ants in­clude leather, adap­tive air sus­pen­sion with five ride heights, an of­froad driv­e­train mode, hill des­cent con­trol, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, heated 12-way power ad­justable front seats with mem­ory, power tail­gate and 8.4-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment. Radar cruise, a 360-de­gree cam­era, for­ward col­li­sion and lane de­par­ture warn­ing are op­tional, while au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing is not avail­able.

Lux­ury adds Al­can­tara roof lin­ing, sun­roof, 20-inch al­loys, higher grade leather and au­dio; Sport gets gear shift pad­dles, more sup­port­ive front seats, 21inch wheels, a sports steer­ing wheel and red brake calipers.

If you’re in the mood to re­ally empty your wal­let, you can add the Zegna Edi­tion in­te­rior decor, with pure silk seat in­serts and trim.

It’s an im­mac­u­lately-cou­tured, pre­mium-qual­ity in­te­rior, as you would ex­pect, par­tic­u­larly the fruitier Lux­ury and Sport mod­els which get the full Ital­ian soft touch leather/ timber/car­bon fi­bre treat­ment. Seated deep within the twin cock­pit-style front sec­tion, Le­vante feels big­ger and bulkier than it is, but there’s plenty of driv­ing po­si­tion ad­just­ment.

Rear seat space is fine for tall adults. Boot vol­ume is com­pro­mised by the low, raked coupe-style roof.

Per­for­mance is solid rather than spec­tac­u­lar, even in Sport mode, which is much more re­spon­sive than Nor­mal, es­pe­cially from low revs.

Le­vante’s 202kW and 600Nm of torque is at the tail end of this class, where the BMW X5 M50d’s 3.0-litre pro­duces 280kW/740Nm, the 4.2-litre V8 in Porsche’s Cayenne S pro­duces 283kW/850Nm and the new 4.0-litre V8 in Audi’s SQ7 shakes the earth with 320kW/900Nm.

As with these ri­vals, you can punt Le­vante along at a star­tlingly rapid pace for a 2.2tonne lump, largely due to a suite of elec­tronic aids such as torque vec­tor­ing, which min­imises a nat­u­ral ten­dency to run wide, a rear-drive bias backed up by a con­tin­u­ously vari­able front/rear drive split and adap­tive dampers that in Sport mode ex­er­cise ex­tremely tight con­trol over body move­ment. Pirelli PZero tyres are suitably sticky, too.

Steer­ing is doughy in Nor­mal mode, gain­ing feel and pre­ci­sion in Sport, while the ride is com­pli­ant and con­trolled, more so on the base model with smaller wheels and taller rub­ber.


Le­vante is a com­fort­able drive, but ri­vals of­fer bet­ter per­for­mance and value.

Audi’s SQ7, for ex­am­ple, is $153,161, BMW’s X5 M50d is $149,900 and Porsche’s Cayenne S is $149,000. All three will leave the Maserati won­der­ing where they went when you squeeze the go pedal.

But they’re not Ital­ian, I hear you say. True. In that case, I’d be tempted to wait for Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadri­foglio SUV, due early next year. It’s got Fer­rari DNA, a 2.9-litre, 375kW twin-turbo petrol V6 and drills the 0-100km/h sprint in about four sec­onds. That’s more like it.

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