Maserati Unveils the “Maserati of SUVs” With the Levante

Because everyone needs an overdesigned mall mauler.

Maserati Levante
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Maserati has been previewing an SUV since at least 2003, when it showed the first version of its Kubang Sport Wagon. That one looked like a swollen and more piscine Mercedes A-Class hatchback wearing a searsucker bowtie. The next version didn’t kubang onto the scene until 2011, looking like a very hungry and very angry Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been doing a lot of squats. Now, finally, the lusty Italian brand has yanked the sheath from the production version of their first sport ute, and it looks quite elegant, or at least more elegant than its name would suggest. Levante, which is what this all-wheel-drive mall mauler is called, sounds like a mashup of Leviathan and Anteater.

"This car has all the souls of the Maserati brand," says head of design Marco Tencone. "The main soul is 'sportivity.' But also a heritage of elegance and a classic feeling in the details."

Some of Maserati’s visual success, especially in contrast to recent beauty-challenged luxury SUVs from the likes of Audi and Bentley, derives from the decision build their trucklet on the same platform that underpins their boulevardier Quattroporte four-door. This gives the vehicle a more aggressive and long-nosed profile, closer to the proper proportions of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan, and further from the kind of stingy-septumed squinchiness used by its competitors. And Kia.

"The decision to use our sporting sedan platform gives benefits in weight saving, and also in the vehicle dynamics objective," says Roberto Corradi, head of product development. "It is an on-road SUV, mainly, with quite good off road capabilities."

Poseidon’s latest hippocampus has some prick in its trident.

Maserati also made the wise decision to stuff into this generous engine bay the potent motors developed for them by their soon-to-be former stablemates at Ferrari. Poseidon’s latest hippocampus has some prick in its trident. The twin-turbocharged V6 engines make 345 ho and 424 hp depending on state of tune, and put the power to the valet stand via an 8-speed automatic transmission. A high-performance V8 version is rumored, and seems inevitable. ("There is nothing to desire in terms of power, but after two foot pedal pushes down, power is never enough," Corradi demurs.") Bump absorption is delegated to adjustable air springs. Excellent on and off road performance is promised.

Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"With five different positions, plus a sixth for parking," Corradi says, "you can find every day, your car, as you feel."

Also notable is the fact that the brand has updated their interior. "It is a big push forward on quality, on details, and on the user experience, over Ghibli," Tencone says, recognizing some of the challenges that vehicle faced in feasting too liberally from the Chrysler parts trough. "We hope to bring these changes forward through the entire vehicle line."

Maserati has been producing high style and resolutely Italian sports cars, grand tourers, and sedans for well over a century. So why has it suddenly decided to build a truck? The same reason Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and Jaguar are doing so (and why Mercedes and BMW now offer approximately 71,358 variants in 429 different galaxies). Because, especially during this unfortunate petroleate glut where gasoline is essentially free, this is the kind of vehicle that luxury buyers are buying, and Maserati, like many other carmakers, is in the business of maximizing the sales of their vehicles.

"We expect ninety-nine percent of our sales to be conquests from our competitors," Corradi says. Porsche is mentioned more than once--the Levante's dimensions are within millimeters of the Cayenne's. At a $72,000 starting price, this brand seems like the proper target.

This prospect makes some sense. When each individual high-end manufacturer does their projections, a blizzard of white space appears to exist in the expanding luxury SUV market. But when every single manufacturer gets into the game, and gasoline prices inevitably rise, we wonder how much room there will be, globally, for six figure trucks. Perhaps, like all human hubris and stupidity, an insatiable amount.