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

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - MATT KIMBERLEY

What’s new?

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.






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