Driv­ing Ital­ian

MO­TORS

HILuxury - - NEWS - by ED KEMPER

Maserati en­ters the SUV game with the Le­vante

THESE DAYS, THE NEV­EREND­ING RISE OF SUVS HAS MOVED ONTO MOST EV­ERY MAN­U­FAC­TURER'S AGENDA. NOW WITH THE Le­vante model, Maserati has joined the fray. Clearly it is an in­ter­est­ing mix of looks, power and han­dling by this ma­jor luxury sports car and sedan maker.

On the styling front, the now- clas­sic Maserati oval grille with the Tri­dent in the cen­ter is present and ac­counted for. And three mini- ex­haust vents on the right and left fend­ers also give the viewer the Maserati look. Mov­ing fur­ther back, one sees a slop­ing roof with a large spoiler, which slants steeply to­ward the rear win­dow. Rather large 19- inch al­loy wheels are stan­dard equip­ment with 21- inch wheels op­tional. Adding to the per­for­mance spin are four ex­haust pipes pok­ing out from un­der the rear bumper. The end- re­sult is an eas­ily iden­ti­fied and at­trac­tive SUV.

On the power front, there are two choices. On the base model, the 3.0- liter turbo V- 6 pro­duces 345 horse­power. But on the op­tional S model, the power jumps to 424 horse­power. Un­sur­pris­ingly, there is no man­ual transmission. In­stead, an eight- speed au­to­matic is pro­vided since man­u­ally shift­ing eight gears with a clutch pedal would pose some­what of a chal­lenge. But for shift­ing ad­dicts,

there are am­ply sized pad­dles be­hind the steer­ing wheel or a gearshift lever to man­u­ally change the gears. All- wheeldrive is also stan­dard equip­ment. An air- sus­pen­sion sys­tem han­dles both smooth and rough roads. On our test model S, 0- 60 time is a swift five sec­onds, with a top speed of 164 miles per hour.

Leather with some car­bon fi ber in­serts is found ev­ery­where in the in­te­rior lay­out. Pas­sive en­try and push- but­ton start­ing is han­dled by merely hav­ing pos­ses­sion of the key. A large 8.4- inch info video screen takes care of ev­ery­thing from nav­i­ga­tion to the stereo func­tions as well as the backup cam­era. Be­sides the abil­ity to con­trol the ac­tion by touch, knobs on the cen­ter con­sole are help­ful in han­dling the ra­dio vol­ume and sta­tions. A panoramic sun­roof plus a dual- zone au­to­matic cli­mate sys­tem takes care of your cli­mate and sun­shine needs. For plenty of data and in­for­ma­tion on mileage, trips and more, a smaller 7- inch video screen is found in the dash pod.

Be­sides six airbags and cur­tains, safety is­sues are taken care of a num­ber of ways— there are front and back sen­sors that give graphic warn­ings in the video screen as well sound alerts. Th ere are also blind- spot warn­ings when needed.

In the sec­ond row of seats, there is a rea­son­able amount of legroom and head­room. An arm­rest with two cup hold­ers is avail­able for ad­di­tional com­fort and when dropped, there is a small pass- thru to the rear stor­age area. Cli­mate vents are found in back of the cen­ter con­sole. Th e rear lift­gate is pow­ered and may be

shut with a but­ton on the gate it­self. A cover over this stor­age area is pro­vided, and the seat backs are split and may be low­ered for ad­di­tional stor­age needs.

On the road, the pow­er­ful throaty en­gine is heard, but not in a neg­a­tive way. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is avail­able in spades. In nor­mal driv­ing, the transmission shifts are barely sensed. Th ere are a few ad­di­tional ride choices— sport or off - road. In the lat­ter, the height of the ve­hi­cle goes up. In traffi c, the en­gine turns off at stops and restarts when re­mov­ing your foot off the brake. Th e sus­pen­sion— even in “nor­mal mode”— is on the sporty side, but de­signed to han­dle cor­ner­ing. Th at's not to say the ride is rough, merely well con­trolled.

With this ad­di­tion to the Maserati lineup, this Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer has cov­ered the lat­est mar­ket­ing niche with a luxury and per­for­mance com­peti­tor that can carry the fam­ily and its stor­age needs at the same time.

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