MASERATI IS A TASTE OF THE EXOTIC
As the Italian firm expands into new market sectors with state-of-the-art models like the Levante, more people are now able to choose the brand
The spec sheet makes interesting reading. A Maserati SUV fitted with a soulful turbocharged V6 made in Modena. By Ferrari. Take that, Porsche. The 3.0-litre engine used in the Quattroporte and Ghibli has been turned up to 11 for the five-metre Levante with 345bhp and 424bhp versions, promising speed and drama in equal measure.
The Levante is based on the Ghibli platform, but heavily modified to take the extra weight and to deliver off-road capability. The suspension, double wishbone at the front and five-link at the rear, has been modified for longer shock travel, better stiffness and higher strength. As for drive, the company’s own Q4 four-wheel-drive system has been adapted with new software to enable it to handle off-road terrain. The air suspension can even be raised and lowered from the driver’s seat.
Looks and image
There’s no missing that huge, gaping grille, or the active shutters behind it, which stay closed for cold engine starts to catalyse the warm-up process before opening to offer full air ingress when needed. The Levante makes a big statement with the way it looks, although the standard 18-inch wheels on the cheaper 345bhp car are criminally small. Upgrade to 20s as a minimum.
It would take a brave journalist to deny that the temptation of owning a Ferrari-engined Maserati is strong.
Space and practicality
Even with a tall driver at the helm, there’s good legroom for three rear passengers, and plenty of width in the broad cabin too. The glass area is quite small with a high shoulder line, so smaller kids might complain of not being able to see out, but in general it’s a practical space. The central storage bin beneath the armrest is deep, with cupholders at the base.
On top of three 12-volt power sockets in the cabin, the boot has a fourth within its 580-litre cavern. The lip is high, but can be lowered with a special ‘parking’ ride height that drops the Levante as low as it can go.
Behind the wheel
Pops, bangs and thunderous gargling from the quad exhausts are the order of the day in Sport mode. It’s a bit of a monster, and it’s much louder outside the car than inside. It’s as naughty as SUVS get. The ride is very good and cabin refinement is remarkable, allowing quiet conversation even at 125mph — good news if you have an autobahn on your doorstep.
Value for money
At the time of writing it had only just been confirmed that the petrol version would be coming to the UK at all, so prices were unavailable. It’s likely to cost more than the diesel, though, which will top out at around £55,000 before options — and most buyers will want a lot of those. Expect the Levante V6’s biggest drawback to be expense. It’s unlikely to better a Cayenne S for overall running costs and it may have a higher list price to start with. That said, for your money you do get possibly the most charismatic SUV you can buy for less than £60,000.
Who would buy one?
Think of a buyer who wants a large SUV but wishes there was something a bit more exciting and a bit less common. The petrol Levante is a niche product and Maserati knows it, but there’s something comparatively special about it. The exotic is an evergreen Italian trump card and, here, it’s played to perfection.
LIKE diners who can’t get enough of a good thing, sales of 4x4s keep on growing and growing.
And so does the choice in this fast-moving and incredibly interesting area of the market.
Once it was just large, rather lumbering 4x4s that dominated.
Now the range is vast — from premium 4x4s, to neat and compact SUVS and crossovers.
Aware of the ‘Chelsea tractor’ jibes, manufacturers are increasingly building in off-road ability into the large and small end of the sector — and in between. Even if the bulk of the range is 2WD, most SUV ranges will now usually include a model with proper fourwheel drive and a decent amount of mud-plugging versatility.
It can seem strange but it is often the very features that 4x4s evolved to help them out of muddy tracks that have endeared them to family buyers in our towns and cities.
Particularly appealing is the high driving position, loads of interior space and ingenious cubby holes, and other design features that make them very usable.
There is basically a 4x4 to suit everyone these days — whether that be new, approved or used.
That’s not to say that 4x4s haven’t had an entirely free ride. Particularly in the early days of popularity, they were mocked as giant gas-guzzlers eating up the planet.
Much of this was based around size, whether it’s in terms of the actual size or engine capacity.
Like much in politics, there was a grain of truth in the criticism, but it didn’t reflect the complicated reality of the sector.
The market for 4x4s pretty much reflects life. If you’re a farmer, someone who lives up a steep lane or a weekend warrior ferry- ing a double load of surfboards on top, you’ll want something that can genuinely go off-road.
The choice is vast, but our favourites include a range of brands and of specific models. Land Rover, of course, is there, particularly the Sport, the Discovery and smaller but very tidy Evoque.
If you fancy something tough on the inside and the outside, Isuzu and Mitsubishi have a suite of very capable do-anything, go-anywhere models — the former’s D-max is the pick-up business and the latter’s mighty Shogun need no introduction.
And don’t forget Subaru with its symmetrical all-wheel drive (the new Forester is great) and the multi-purpose Ford Ranger.
Many people these days, including farmers’ relatives and caravan aficionados, go for the smaller off-roaders. Most — not all — are more comfortable on tarmac than with any serious mud-plugging, but generally they do have at least some off-road ability particularly if they are four-wheel drive rather than two-wheel.
Big players in this sector include Nissan’s X-trail and Honda’s CR-V. The new Hyundai Santa Fe has been winning plaudits, not least its seven-seater version.
The Luxury 4x4 sector is populated by vehicles which attempt to bring the refinement and lofty specifications of high-end saloon cars like crafted leather to the 4x4 market.
Leading players include BMW’S X5, the Mercedes M- Class, the Range Rover, the Porsche Cayenne, Lexus GS450H, Audi Q7 and the Volkswagen Touareg.
The latest member of this sector is the Sports Utility Vehicle or as they have come to be known as — SUVS. These vehicles, as their name would suggest, offer a more sporting flavour in their design and performance than the standard 4x4 and are epitomised by models like the Ford Kuga, Nissan Juke, Nissan Qashqai, Suzuki SX4 and the up market Range Rover Evoque. From large luxury vehicles to sporty compacts, the choice is almost endless for 4x4 drivers these days. There are some serious mud-pluggers, but most modern 4x4s are more comfortable on the road. Residual values hold up well, so 4x4s make a great second-hand option as well.
Five of our favourites:
1. MITSUBISHI SHOGUN: The Shogun is loaded with rugged, reliable technology, an enviable towing capacity and a diehard work ethic. Available with a short or long wheelbase, it is great for loading, lugging and pulling heavy objects and absolutely unstoppable in the wild.
2. SUBARU FORESTER: Subaru’s doughty Forester has been around for a while, and is undoubtedly a proper off-roader. If you need something roomy, rugged, reliable and for use as a good tower, look no further. The Forester has had a loyal band of followers for many years now.
3. ISUZU D-MAX: If a modern, lifestyle pick-up is your requirement, the Isuzu D-max, introduced in 2013, is a great choice. It comes in a range of choices, including a utility truck and luxurious double-cab versions that will suit the family at the weekend. There’s a five-year warranty.
4. FORD RANGER: Ford says its Ranger pick-up 4x4 has been ruthlessly tested in some of the most hostile environments and across the harshest terrain on earth. A new line-up of advanced Duratorq diesel engines, offers a payload of up to 1,340kg and tow up to 3,500kg.
5. LAND ROVER DISCOVERY SPORT: Although it has a sleek, aerodynamic silhouette, the new Discovery Sport comes with legendary Land Rover capability and a flexible interior. Discovery Sport’s technologies have been tested in the most gruelling conditions across all terrains for more than 18 months in over 20 countries, says the manufacturer. There’s a 5 + 2 seats option as well.
LAND ROVER DISCOVERY SPORT