M aserati. Such a cool name to say out loud, isn’t it? Tell your friends you drive one and your cool factor instantly swells. Soak up the kudos from becoming a suave, stylish Italianate and observe how they suddenly start to slightly resent the fact they chose a Porsche.
Maserati’s traditional approach has been making cars nobody wants. A £100k two-door coupe? There’s a reason you never see them. Posh two-door cabrio? Forget it. Mercedes-Benz S-Class rival? Just buy an S-Class. The turnaround car was the Ghibli, a BMW 5 Series alternative that’s convinced more than 1,000 buyers a year.
And now, we have a Maserati SUV. Yes, this 100-year-old Italian pioneer is the latest company to go 4x4. Let’s not roll our eyes – real car buyers demand SUVs these days and all the flack taken by the Porsche Cayenne a decade ago has cleared the way for almost any brand to viably make one. Even the company behind Sir Stirling Moss’ favourite Grand Prix car.
It’s called the Levante and the Jury is still out on whether that’s a naff name. It’s also been busy debating the looks, following the car’s unflattering reveal at the Geneva Motor Show. In the glorious Tuscan sunshine of the launch event, jurors delivered a verdict of ‘fancy’ for the curvaceous new five-seater, whose muscular rear haunches and sloping rear hide its monster five-metre length so well.
Inside, it’s delicious. All lovely Italian materials and most un-Italian fit and finish. Detailing is exquisite and Maserati’s even spent big bucks on a new infotainment system that actually works, because that’s what prospective Levante buyers demand. It’s far from as big inside as it looks from the outside, though – Maserati still doesn’t do space efficiency – but there’s just enough room for adults in the back and the boot is big enough for incongruous trips to the tip.
Once you’ve told people you drive a Maserati, tell them it has a Ferrari engine. Technically, only the V6 petrols are actually built by Ferrari, rather than the 275hp diesel most will buy. But as so few know anything about Maserati, you can get away with being economical with the truth. Besides, the diesel sounds so good, so convincing, nobody’s likely to argue.
And it hits 62mph in 6.9 seconds to back the throbby soundtrack up. Provided you don’t let the revs drop too low, that is; then the 2.2-tonne kerbweight starts to show. Surprisingly, it doesn’t in corners. The Levante is fun and sporty, with enough feedback through the controls to make it feel well-bred.
The real advantage of an SUV is shaking off the potholes and bumps of horrendous inner-city roads. Maserati’s fitted air suspension and something called Skyhook dampers to make it ride with control and comfort. Luxo-vibes ooze from it as you drive along.
The more I drove the Levante, the more I liked it. Particularly amusing was taking it off-road. Yes, it can do it, meaning it’ll be a dream in muddy fields or when the south east grinds to a halt in snowstorms. You sense Maserati showed us this through gritted teeth. Men were brought in to hose the mud off this pretty car before we even made it back to base for espresso. Then it was back to ribbon-like Tuscan roads.
The Levante faces fierce competition. The Cayenne is irritatingly, Germanically proficient and it’s increasingly clear the Jaguar F-Pace is a defining car for the brand. There should be no buyer remorse if you choose a Levante, though. It’s a Maserati that will fit into your life and cause you few headaches. Your family will be referred to as ‘the ones with the Maserati.’
Do it for your kids, for your other half, because you’ve ‘made it’. That’s right, you’re a Maserati owner.