Maserati thinks big as it aims to re­vive for­tunes with lux­ury SUV

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - MOTORING NEWS - Fred­eric Manby Road test RE­GIONAL AU­TO­MO­TIVE JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR

MASERATI HAS a glo­ri­ous and of­ten a golden his­tory. It was founded in 1914 in Bologna by Al­fieri Maserati. The cars carry the tri­dent from its coat of arms.

Al­fieri won his class in the 1926 Targo Flo­rio and be­tween the wars the com­pany made ex­cit­ing sports cars which now sell for for­tunes.

It won the Indy 500 in 1939 and 1940 – the year it moved to Mo­dena un­der new own­er­ship.

After the Se­cond World War it picked up the pro­gramme, lead­ing to the most beau­ti­ful sin­gle seater ever, the 250F, in which Fan­gio won the 1957 world cham­pi­onship. Its first saloon car, the V8 Qu­at­tro­porte, ar­rived in 1963 and es­tab­lished its rep­u­ta­tion for lux­ury sports grand tour­ers.

From 1968 to 1975 Maserati was owned by Citroen, be­fore be­ing res­cued by De To­maso after Citroen went bust. Since 1993 it has been part of Fiat, along­side Alfa Romeo, Lan­cia and Fer­rari – and more re­cently Chrysler and Jeep.

The Merak, a pretty mi­dengined 2+2 with fly­ing but­tresses be­tween the roof and tail, the Bora and Ghi­bli coupes, th­ese are ex­otic scraps of nos­tal­gia. Less so, the Bi Turbo, the world’s first twin turbo V6 saloon which has left few happy mem­o­ries.

It’s a moot point not lost on Peter Den­ton, a cycling-fit one­time mo­tor bike racer who runs Maserati in the UK.

He knows that many of us link Maserati to those less glo­ri­ous years and have lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence of to­day’s cars.

Th­ese are the thor­oughly mod­ern and re­cently facelifted Qu­at­tro­porte and Ghi­bli, the GT and Gran Cabrio with V6 and V8 petrol en­gines made to Maserati spec­i­fi­ca­tion by Fer­rari.

World sales were 6,300 in 2012, five times more at 33,500 in 2015 and pre­dicted to more than dou­ble to 70,000 by 2018.

The changer is the Le­vante, Maserati’s first SUV and ar­guably the sex­i­est of the pack.

In de­vel­op­ment its role model was Porsche’s Cayenne, the car which trans­formed Porsche’s bank bal­ance and dou­bled sales.

There is a sim­i­lar Maserati up­swing in Bri­tain. From sev­eral hun­dred sales in 2010 it raced to 1,200 in 2014, added 200 for 2016 and this year will dou­ble to 2,800 thanks to the Le­vante.

It’s still go­ing to be ex­clu­sive – noth­ing like the rapid ubiq­uity of Jaguar’s F Pace – another strap­ping ri­val.

The launch en­gine is a pow­er­ful V6 diesel from VM, part of the Fiat group.

Ver­sions can be found in some Jeeps but none match­ing the Maserati spec.

One of the mar­ket­ing cries for the mar­que is that it ev­ery model is made in Italy from Ital­ian con­tent. Don’t panic. Ital­ian prod­uct is now re­li­able.

In Septem­ber there will be a 424bhp 3-litre twin turbo V6 Fer­rari petrol en­gine but most sales will be diesel pow­ered.

Le­vante is big – sev­eral inches longer than a Cayenne, match­ing an Audi Q7 which could also be seen as a ri­val. Prices start at £54.335 and all have air sus­pen­sion with ad­justable ride height, giv­ing a range of 85mm. The 4x4 sys­tem is rear wheel bi­ased but able to share the drive 50/50. There’s an eight speed ZF au­to­matic gear­box and three drive modes of nor­mal, sport and sportier.

The alu­minium and mag­ne­sium chas­sis is 20 per cent stiffer than the Ghi­bli and a drag fac­tor of 0.31 is the best in the sec­tor. And the proof of this del­i­cacy from Turin?

Stand­ing out­side you can hear the churn of the 3-litre V6 turbo diesel.

That’s to be ex­pected. It’s a pow­er­ful lump – reach­ing 271bhp and 442 lb ft. Top speed can be 144mph thanks to mov­ing vanes in the grille re­duce wind re­sis­tance and the 0 to 62mph time is 6.9 sec­onds. On the road it feels slower – a me­chan­i­cal il­lu­sion.

Econ­omy is rated at 39mpg over­all but on our two hour Maserati test route in mostly ru­ral north­ern Eng­land its computer dis­agreed and said 28mpg.

The in­te­rior is smart, leather and wood or syn­tho car­bon de­pend­ing on the model and the op­tions ticked.

The gen­eral feel and look is ex­cit­ing, al­low­ing for a bit of snag­ging on the hinged cov­ers over the stor­age on the cen­tral cover.

It’s the sort of touch-feel thing which would be no­ticed, how­ever, the lids on the Qu­at­tro­porte were smooth clos­ing so it should be fix­able.

Full marks for the spo­ken warning when you are speed­ing – it’s easy to cruise too quickly in this quiet car.

The sys­tem is linked to the nav­i­ga­tion map­ping and so the oral warning is only as good as the mapped mem­ory – which was of­ten in­cor­rect on speeds, a sys­tem which reads the signs is more re­li­able.

The pic­ture has Maserati’s im­proved res­o­lu­tion found on the Qu­at­tro­porte and Ghi­bli us­ing a touch screen or ro­tary se­lec­tor.

It’s good but map scale ad­just­ment takes time.

The main con­trols are oth­er­wise fid­dle-free and the fa­mil­iar lozenge-faced clock caps it off nicely.

Ver­dict: Bello. I want more.

BIG BEAST: Maserati’s Le­vante SUV will drive its sales fig­ures in the UK. It ri­vals the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Jaguar F Pace.

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