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How long does it takes to put a concept car with a silly name into production? In Maserati's case, the Kubang took 13 years. Thankfully, after the long wait, the name was replaced with Levante and it has finally reached Australia.
The Levante is the Italian carmaker’s idea of an SUV and is set to double the marque’s sales in Australia and boost global volumes for the famous Italian brand far and above anything the Modenese manufacturer has ever accomplished. Current global production for Maserati stands at around 35,000.
The next question is, what have we got for our patience?
Maserati today announced - after some months of teasing a $150,000 price point - three specification levels for the Levante SUV, starting at $139,990 for the entry-level and stretching to $159,990 for the Sports and Luxury pack specification.
The numbers for a diesel - 90% of the luxury SUV market - meant the diesel engine was a no-brainer.
The Zegna Edition pricing is yet to be finalised and local representatives weren’t keen on speculating on the price, but it’s likely to be fairly hefty given the silk trim’s exclusivity to Maserati.
There will be just one engine available for the moment, the 3.0 litre V6 turbodiesel, laying down 203kW and 600Nm. Power goes through Maserati’s Q4 system to all four wheels via the almost ubiquitous-in-class eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. 0-100km/h is dispatched 6.9 seconds and returns a combined figure (European testing) of 7.2L/100km.
Maserati Australia COO Glen Sealey refused to rule out the eventual arrival of a petrol-engined Levante but pointed out that the numbers for a diesel - 90% of the luxury SUV market - meant the diesel engine was a no-brainer. Overseas ranges include the V6 S and V8, although the latter is yet to go into production.
Maserati’s Skyhook adaptive damping is joined by standard air suspension, allowing for five different ride heights depending on driving mode and road speed.
All cars feature a long list of standard equipment, including leather trim, electric everything, heated front seats, an 8.3-inch screen with USB, Bluetooth, CarPlay, Android Auto, satnav, separate front and reversing cameras, front and rear parking sensors, 19-inch alloys, cruise control, bi-xenon headlights, keyless entry and start, electric tailgate.
The Luxury Pack adds Alcantara roof lining, chrome boot sill, power steering column, more body-coloured external trim, 20-inch alloys, full premium leather, Harmon Kardon sound system and steel door sills.
The Sport Pack adds a sport spoiler, body coloured exterior trim, futon sport seats with 12-way power adjustment, sports pedals, power adjustable steering column, 21-inch alloys, Harmon Kardon sound, sport steering wheel, red brake calipers and stainless steel door trims.
On the safety front, there’s six airbags, blind spot detection, braking assistance, rear cross traffic alert as well as the usual ABS and traction and stability control systems.
Forward collision warning and lane departure warning are available as options. The Levante is yet to be crash-tested by EuroNCAP.
In addition to the packs, there’s a huge range of options and accessories (including a Maserati tow bar for the very first time, rated to 2700kg with braked trailer). These include wood trim types, thirteen colours, brake caliper colours, interior colours and of course wheels.
Mr Sealey said that well over a hundred customers had laid down “heavy deposits” for cars they hadn’t yet touched or seen in the flesh, or even known the specification.
The Levante isn't the culmination of a thirteen year procrastination - with the Quattroporte, Ghibli and Gran Turismo, Maserati says they covered half the luxury car market by segment. SUVs are the other half of that market and the Levante will do the heavy lifting for the entire brand. The current thinking is that the 50,000 target for yearly production will be handily exceeded.
The local arm has gone from selling 50 cars a year in Australia and New Zealand ten years ago to 500 after the line-up's expansion between 2014 and 2015. Levante is expected add another 500-600 sales per year. Despite the proximity to the Ghibli’s pricing, the company expects conquest sales of 85% rather than people skipping or trading in a Ghibli.
Maserati is banking on continuing exclusivity, a thousand cars a year is still a tiny fraction of Australia's overall car market. Year to date, SUVs over $100,000 and with engines three litres or bigger have already sold 5500 units, so the overall 500 unit target for Maserati isn’t too ambitious.
If you’ve already ordered one, deliveries start in January 2017. If you put your money down today, you’ll be waiting until at least Easter depending on specification.
The new car certainly looks the part and overseas drives both on and off-road have been promising. The real test for Australian buyers will be how it copes on Australian roads.