Cape Town - It’s rare for a luxury automaker not to build an SUV. Automakers such as Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been building premium SUVs for decades, while newcomers to the segment include Porsche and Jaguar.
While these brands are continuously aiming to improve their products and set new standards and benchmarks, Maserati has silently been building its own SUV - the new Levante.
The Italian automaker's first SUV is set to arrive in South Africa later in 2016.
The Levante name is derived from a Mediterranean wind that is as imposing as it is potentially dangerous to mariners. When Maserati decided to build its first-ever SUV, it knew the vehicle had to be special and extraordinarily good.
The Levante will be built in small numbers and challenge other luxury SUVs in terms build quality, premium materials used and overall execution.
This is by no means an easy feat, considering that this SUV will tread new grounds for the automaker and venture into territories dominated by well-established rivals.
So what does the Levante have that’ll give it an edge?
The Levante has not yet been officially launched in SA but has been unveiled to potential customers. First indications are that this may just be a stellar model for the Italian company, with the first deliveries expected in December 2016.
The Levante will initially be powered by a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine (202kW/600Nm) mated to an eight-speed ZF gearbox, only. Maserati SA has yet to confirm whether its V6 petrol will be added to the range.
The chassis of the SUV has been built at the company’s headquarters in Modena, Italy; exclusively for use in the Levante. Keen followers of the Levante’s progress will recall the Kubang - a concept model from a few years back that was based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Kubang, or rather the Grand Cherokee, would have formed the basis of the Levante, but Maserati’s break-away from the Fiat-Chrysler Group forced the company to build its own SUV from the ground-up.
Maserati says its conducted extensive market research on the feasibility of an SUV and that the findings showed a definite market for luxury SUVs. South Africa, it says, is one of the most favourable markets for the Levante.
Test units were spotted by eagle-eyed road users, capturing images of heavily camouflaged versions of the SUV on the roads.
Why the delay?
Maserati attributes the Levante’s delayed launch in SA to two major factors: 1) the decision to supply the SUV of a bespoke Maserati chassis, and 2) that right-hand drive markets only make up 11% of the world market.
Retailing from R1.65-million, the Levante needs to offer a serious dose of exclusivity if it's to have any effect on brand-loyal customers. As such, at the price, the SA-market will receive the highest spec model, with optional extras kept to a minimum.
The all-wheel drivetrain, says Maserati, is capable of undertaking off-road excursions, like sand and gravel, and that the air-suspension has five settings to either lift or drop the vehicle’s ride height.
The Levante caters to a lifestyle market, but Maserati is quick to underline that it is not chasing volume sales. With the Levante - as with all its cars - Maserati SA is keen on maintaining its exclusivity; thereby aiming for a monthly sales’ figure of 10 units and increasing that figure to 200 units per year.
Tech and features
If Maserati is to attract its targeted customers each month, then it would have to offer features that not only rival the established players, but trump them, too!
Things like heatable seats, hill descent control, adaptive cruise control, seatbelt restraint systems and blind spot alert are all available on the competition; hence Maserati is offering a few extras that are unique to its SUV.
Available to the Levante:
- a glove box that can be locked and unlocked using a four-digit PIN;
- The engine can be turned on/off by pressing a command on the remote control from a distance of up to 500m away;
- Auto retracting driver’s seat for easy entry and exit;
- Two-way electric pedal adjustment for better positioned lower limbs;
- Signature Maserati gearshift paddles;
- Double laminated acoustic glass for the rear windows to reduce external noises;
- And a tow bar - a first for Maserati.
Also available is a customisable interior that features inputs from fashion designer Ermenegildo Zegna, known in the Levante as the Zegna Edition. The Zegna package is available as an option within the Luxury Pack upgrade.
On paper, at least, the Levante offers a solid package that is both comprehensive and a perceivable value for money proposition.