16 2016 abarth christchurch alfa 4c alfa christchurch alfa giulia alfa nz alfa romeo alfa romeo 4c alfa romeo christchurch alfa romeo giulia alfa romeo new zealand alfa romeo nz award captur car of the year classic cars clio rs collectors vehicles collector vehicles distinction euromarque european vehicles expert tips f1 ferrari fiat fiat 500l fiat abarth new zealand fiat christchurch fiat nz formula 1 giulia haval jaguar levante maserati maserati christchurch maserati ghibli s maserati levante maserati levante christchurch maserati levante new zealand maserati new zealand maserati nz maserati suv maserati tipo 151 monaco f1 gp new zealand nurburgring pope francis qv renaul christchurch renault renault captur renault captur christchurch renault captur new zealand renault christchurch renault clio renault clio christchurch renault clio rs renault clio rs christchurch renault clio special renault electric renault electric vans renault kangoo ze renault master renault megane renault new zealand renault nz renault review renault sport renault zoe rs suv track, vintage cars
Hallelujah! It's just a couple of weeks before Christmas - and we've finally found something that qualifies for our motoring quote of the year.
The Australasian launch of the new twin-turbo petrol V6-engined Maserati Levante S has just been held at Bathurst, the town in the shadow of Mt Panorama, that famous Aussie motorsport venue.
Not that we got on to the mountain - there's not much point, you see. That's because normally it's hardly the place to drive any high-performance vehicle. The speed limit on this famous piece of public road is 60kmh, there are speed cameras everywhere, and it is heavily patrolled by the law.
But there are plenty of other roads surrounding Bathurst that are sparsely populated and great to drive. In other words, the ideal environment for the media launch of a higher-performance iteration of this Italian-built Maserati SUV.
But not everyone wants diesel - in fact the popularity of diesel as a fuel is waning either side of the Tasman - and from the performance perspective the new petrol-engine Levante S is so much better. Powered by a Ferrari-built twin-turbo V6, it boasts 321kW of power and 580Nm of torque and can crush the dash to 100kmh in just 5.2 seconds. And it will do it with an engine exhaust note to die for.
That's what led to our motoring quote of the year. It came from Maserati Australia and New Zealand representative Edward Rowe during a briefing at the Bathurst Aero Club prior to the media drive of the new model.
"If the diesel Levante is 100 per cent Italian - then the Levante S is 150 per cent!," he told journalists.
Good point, that. Important too, because arrival of the petrol Levante will add to the popularity of what is already by far the most important Maserati.
Back in 2015 before the Levante was born, the most popular Maserati was the Ghibli sedan which accounted for 70 per cent of the brand's 32,500 global sales. But then last year the Levante arrived just before mid-year and it immediately had a sales impact, achieving 35 per cent of Maserati sales before the end of the year.
This year the Levante is the top seller, accounting for 55 per cent of Maserati's global sales - and importantly, growing the brand's total sales to a forecast 55,000.
In Australasia that popularity is even more pronounced. To the end of October the Levante had achieved 59 per cent of a total of 630 Maserati sales (with about 10 per cent of that total applying to New Zealand). And here's a significant point - of that Levante sales figure, 70 per cent of customers had previously owned an SUV, but 90 per cent had never owned a Maserati before.
In other words, the Levante is currently playing a major role in boosting Maserati sales in this part of the world, and it is all because it is an SUV.
The new S will add to all of that. The new model is more expensive though - whereas the diesel versions retail for between $136,990 for a standard model and $149,990 for sporty GranSport and luxury GranLusso variants, the prices for equivalent S models range from $169,990 and $174,990.
There are several cosmetic differences between the GranSport and GranLusso, including the use of silk upholstery on the luxury model and leather in the sporty version. But new features they do share include soft-close doors that pull themselves shut. There's also now the choice of seven different alloy wheel designs, five interior trims, two steering wheels, and four colours for the brake calipers.
The entire Levante range also features a bunch of new technology for 2018, including a change from hydraulic to electric power steering which has allowed introduction of a large number of advanced driver assistance systems including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, active blind spot assist, and traffic sign recognition.
The electric power steer feels good too, featuring active self centering for better steering feel both on straight sections of road and during cornering.
All versions of the Levante come with Maserati's Q4 intelligent all-wheel drive that has a strong rear-wheel bias, something that fits nicely with a 50:50 weight distribution and the lowest centre of gravity in the luxury SUV segment.
Levante also continues to boast a suspension layout that comprises air springs and Maserati's electronically-controlled Skyhook shock absorbers. Not only does this air suspension lower the vehicle to reduce drag at higher speeds, but the driver can alter the ride height by up to 85mm through using a rocker switch or by choosing different driving modes on the centre console.
This all contributes to a very good driving experience with this latest Levante. It might be an SUV but it doesn't feel like one - and helping things along with the S is the performance on offer via the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that is built in Ferrari's powertrain factory in Maranello exclusively for Maserati.
It performs well enough in Normal mode, and when Sport mode is selected an exhaust by-pass system is activated which adds a pronounced exhaust sound to the performance experience.
During the media drive through the hills surrounding Bathurst it was Sport that was selected much of the time - just so we could listen to that awesome soundtrack reverberating around the countryside. Who needed Mt Panorama? We certainly didn't.
We begin a series on the finalists in Driven's annual Car Of The Year. Today: Tradies' Delight.
When it comes to selecting our finalists for 2017 Driven Car of the Year, the choices were vast, due to the high quality and range of new vehicles entering our market this year.
Not only were there new all-new vehicles but also marques entering the New Zealand market for the first time – including Tesla, SEAT and Haval.
Kiwis were also introduced to new electric vehicles, more SUVs than ever, plus some high performance standouts.
This year Driven decided to mix up our Car of the Year categories to reflect our readers' interests more.
For the first time we have:
- Little Beauties (covering light/compact cars, and small SUVS)
- Family Chariots (medium/large cars, medium/large SUVs), Only For the Rich (premium cars, luxury SUVs)
- Lotto Winner's Choice (performance vehicles);
- Tradies' Delight (utes/vans) and
- Green Power (hybrids and EVs).
We also picked our Driven Motorbike of the Year, judged by Mathieu Gillett-Day.
The choices for New Zealand buyers have never been greater and the market has never been so competitive – and you don't need a big budget any more to get a great, safe, brand new vehicle. This made it a tough choice to narrow down the finalists and caused hours of robust debate among the judges.
Throughout this week we will be revealing our finalists, starting today with our Tradies' Delight commercial vehicle category; we will build up with a finalist every day until, on Saturday, the overall winner for 2017 Driven Car of the Year will be announced.
Driven Tradies' Choice: Renault Master range
Combined, Renault's commercial arm this year delivered the kind of variety van assortment that had us reaching for the 'chocolate box' analogy.
The company has been pushing hard in the light commercial vehicle sector of late – a part of the market long dominated by Japanese manufacturers – with Kangoo and Trafic cargo-carriers. We've sung the Trafic's praises in particular in the past but now, with the massive Master added to the line-up, Renault really does boast a comprehensive fleet offering.
Not only is the French company's overall variety of van impressive, the degree to which the Master as a stand-alone model can be configured to suit is pretty admirable too.
We sampled the 'big daddy' first; the Renault Master L4H3, which features a colossal 17m³ of load space and a load weight of 4.5-ton. This particular iteration represents life at the top-end of things, but there are other Masters boasting different dimensions to choose from.
You can also order the Master with manual or automatic transmission and as a front- or rear-wheel drive model. Low-, mid- and high-roof iterations can be ordered too, as can all manner of door configurations to suit the size and shape of your bread-and-butter cargo combinations.
Crucially this year, Renault has moved the Master on from appealing to freight-forwarders to those on construction sites as well.
Now available as a cab-chassis vehicle, Renault has a medium-sized truck worth a second look. Because flexibility appears to be key, the Master Cab-Chassis can be had in either single- or double-cab format, with payloads registering in at 2272kg or 2490kg respectively.
And despite all the options list-ticking the Master range allows, a distinct through-line here remains the driveability and comfort of these vans. A good driving position, excellent outward visibility, responsive acceleration and steering and all the Bluetooth techno-trickery you'd expect are a given. Nice work, Renault. - Cameron Officer
The Haas F1 Team could link up with the Italian carmaker Maserati for the 2018 Formula 1 season.
Days ago, it became official that Ferrari-powered Sauber's new title sponsor would be Alfa Romeo, a Fiat-owned luxury car manufacturer. And now, Italian newspapers including Corriere della Sera say another Fiat brand could now follow Alfa into F1.
Fiat Chrysler president Sergio Marchionne is said to be in advanced negotiations with another Ferrari-powered F1 team, Haas, about a Maserati title-sponsorship deal.
The report said talks with Gene Haas are currently taking place, even though the American businessman is not commenting.
When asked about the Maserati rumors a few days ago, Marchionne said: "We will see. Time will tell. We are thinking about it, but we have not made any decision yet."
Italian luxury carmaker Maserati, a unit of Fiat Chrysler (NYSE:FCAU) could return to F1, as early as next year, taking over naming rights for The Haas Team (US)
Sergio Marchionne CEO of both Ferrari (NYSE:RACE) and Maserati’s parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), is preparing to send the Modena brand back to the F1 grid for the 1st time in nearly 60 years.
The deal will give Haas, the sport’s only US team, its 1st major sponsor after 2 self-funded years in the Tier 1 motorsport, with Maserati paying a about $30-M a season place the Trident the racers. Ferrari already provides the engines.
Effectively, the deal pays all of Haas’s Ferrari V6 powertrain costs.
Like Alfa Romeo’s sponsorship of Switzerland’s Sauber, it would effectively see Maserati paying Ferrari about $25-M a season, via Haas.
The Maserati-Haas outfit will be the 4th Italian team on the Y 2018 F1 grid, though only Toro Rosso and Ferrari will actually be based in Italy.
Ferrari is 2Xing down on the sport creating a 3-team voting bloc against the FIA’s proposed changes to its Y 2019 engine regulations.
Haas and Sauber already ran Ferrari power-trains, though only Haas used a current powertrain this season and Sauber ran with a Y 2016 power unit.
The new deals will see both teams use current Ferrari powertrain developments paid for by FCA.
The Maserati brand has a super F1 history with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio winning its last of its 2 driver’s championships in a 250F in Y 1957.
It has 9 Grand Prix wins to its credit, all in the post-war 250F that was still a F1 force in private hands into Y 1960 and helped Maria Teresa de Fillipis become the 1st woman to race in F1 Grand Prix in Y Y 1958.
The 250F was also entered grands Prix by private teams after the demise of the factory team and saw action in the hands of World Champions like Sir Jack Brabham, Phil Hill and Mike Hawthorn, along with other big-name racers Carroll Shelby, Masten Gregory, Roy Salvadori and Jo Bonnier.
Maserati also has 2 Indianapolis 500 wins to its credit, with Wilbur Shaw dominating in both Ys 1939 and 1940 in a supercharged, Straight-8 8CTF. He was leading in the same car in Y 1941, too, but a badly fitted wheel broke and the crash ended his career.
Maserati’s driving roster is a Who’s Who of the early years of the F1 World Championship, including Fangio, 2X world champion Alberto Ascari, Louis Chiron, Stirling Moss and Peter Collins.
The former Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo fought against Maserati involvement in F1 racing.
It made a serious move at the Le Mans 24 Hour race, with Ferrari’s full approval, but the long-bodied MC12 hypercar failed to pass the “spirit of the regulations” test of the governing body, the ACO.
It consoled itself by using the glorious-looking, Enzo-based V12 to dominate the FIA GT championship for the 1st decade of this Century, winning 5 team titles running from Y 2005 and 4 drivers’ championships, then using the same car to win the FIA GT1 title in Y 2010.
Maserati has seen its sales boom since it was fully taken into the FCA fold from Ferrari management, with sales growing from below 10,000 a year less than a decade ago to more than 42,000 last year on the back of its 1st SUV, the Levante.
The rather beastly twin-turbocharged 321kW Maserati Levante S has arrived as 2018 model year variant.
Sitting atop the Levante range currently populated by the Turbo, GranSport and GranLusso diesel models, the S will be available in the same trim levels. The big difference is swapping the engine for a twin-turbo V6 partly designed by Ferrari and manufactured in Ferrari’s Maranello factory. Featuring 321kW of power and 580Nm of torque, the Levante S is capable of hitting 100km/h in 5.2 seconds and hitting a vMax of 264km/h. A claimed fuel use figure of 10.9L/100km on the NEDC test cycle means CO2 emissions of 253g/km.
All versions of Levante come with the same eight-speed ZF transmission, Q4 all-wheel drive and a standard mechanical limited slip differential. Maserati says the all-wheel drive system can alter front/rear torque split from 0:100 to 50:50 in 150 milliseconds.
Inside, the Levante S is very similar to the Diesel models. GranLusso variants feature standard Zegna silk upholstery and MY18 examples will include doors that “gently and silently pull themselves shut when required.”
If you want to create a bespoke Levante, you have the option of no less than seven different alloy wheels, five of which are new for 2018. There are five interior trim choices, two steering wheels and four colours for the brake calipers, to name but a few of the available options.
For 2018 all Levante models come with electric power steering enabling active safety systems such as highway and lane keeping assist, active blind spot assist, and traffic sign recognition. Features such as the 360-degree camera that were previously optional are now standard.
The Maserati Levante S is on sale now with a starting price of $169,990 for the base model.
Alfa Romeo Sauber has confirmed Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson will race for the team in the 2018 season, as well as showing off an initial team livery.
The driver line-up was confirmed by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne during a launch event of the new Alfa Romeo Sauber partnership – announced earlier this week – in Milan. During the event, a previous generation F1 car was unveiled featuring a red and white livery and a prominent Alfa Romeo badge (above, with Leclerc and Ericsson).
The prestigious Italian brand owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) today signed a multi-year technical and commercial partnership agreement with Swiss Sauber F1 Team for participation in the Formula 1 world championship beginning with the 2018 season.
The single-seaters will sport the distinctive colors and logo of Alfa Romeo, the team's Title Sponsor, and will be equipped with 2018 Ferrari power units.
The scope of the agreement includes strategic, commercial and technological cooperation in all applicable areas of development, including access to engineering know-how and the expertise of Alfa Romeo technical staff. This partnership will provide additional opportunities for the two organizations in both Formula 1 and the automotive sector in general.
The official name will be Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team.
Sergio Marchionne, CEO of FCA, said: "This agreement with the Sauber F1 Team is a significant step in the reshaping of the Alfa Romeo brand, which will return to Formula 1 after an absence of more than 30 years. A storied marque that has helped make the history of this sport, Alfa Romeo will join other major automakers that participate in Formula 1. The brand itself will also benefit from the sharing of technology and strategic know-how with a partner of the Sauber F1 Team's undisputed experience. The Alfa Romeo engineers and technicians, who have already demonstrated their capabilities with the newly-launched models, Giulia and Stelvio, will have the opportunity to make that experience available to the Sauber F1 Team. At the same time, Alfa Romeo fans will once again have the opportunity to support an automaker that is determined to begin writing an exciting new chapter in its unique, legendary sporting history."
Pascal Picci, Chairman of Sauber Holding AG, commented: "We are very pleased to welcome Alfa Romeo to the Sauber F1 Team. Alfa Romeo has a long history of success in Grand Prix racing, and we are very proud that this internationally renowned company has chosen to work with us for its return to the pinnacle of motorsport. Working closely with a car manufacturer is a great opportunity for the Sauber Group to further develop its technology and engineering projects. We are confident that together we can bring the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team great success, and look forward to a long and successful partnership."
The return of Alfa Romeo, one of the major protagonists in Formula 1 history, is expected to contribute significantly to the appeal and future development of the sport. Alfa Romeo brings with it technological know-how and a large and passionate fan base, while participation in the championship also offers benefits for the brand in areas such as technology transfer and road safety.
Alfa Romeo is known around the world for its racing heritage and technological excellence. The undisputed champion of the pre-war Grand Prix (in 1925, the GP Tipo 2 dominated the first World Championship), Alfa Romeo participated in Formula 1 from 1950 to 1988, both as a constructor and engine supplier. Immediately upon its debut, Alfa Romeo won the first two drivers' world championships, in 1950 and 1951, with drivers Nino Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio. From 1961 to 1979, Alfa Romeo participated as engine supplier to several F1 teams. Following its return as a constructor in 1979, Alfa Romeo achieved its best result in 1983, taking sixth place in the constructors' championship. More than 30 years after withdrawing as a competitor from Formula 1 (1985), the brand is returning with the clear intention to make its mark.
About Alfa Romeo and FCA
Alfa Romeo is a historic brand of FCA Group. Since its founding in Milan, Italy, in 1910, Alfa Romeo has designed and crafted some of the most stylish and exclusive cars in automotive history. That tradition lives on today as Alfa Romeo continues to take a unique and innovative approach to designing automobiles. In every Alfa Romeo, technology and passion converge to produce a true work of art. Fully reviving Alfa Romeo's spirit and maximizing its global appeal has been one of FCA's priorities. Following a clear and well-defined strategy, Alfa Romeo is writing a new chapter in its more than century-long history that represents an extraordinary opportunity to realize the brand's full potential. Today, Alfa Romeo is a true showcase of the Group's best resources, talent and technological know-how. Alfa Romeo is winning the hearts of a new generation and retaking its rightful position as one of the world's most desired premium brands. It is, once again, one of the leading symbols of Italian engineering and style, an icon of Italy's technological excellence and creative spirit.
FCA designs, engineers, manufactures and sells vehicles and related parts and services, components and production systems worldwide through 162 manufacturing facilities, 87 R&D centers, and dealers and distributors in more than 150 countries. In addition to Alfa Romeo, its stable of brands include Abarth, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Jeep, Lancia, Ram, Maserati and Mopar, the parts and service brand. The Group's businesses also include Comau (production systems), Magneti Marelli (components) and Teksid (iron and castings). FCA is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "FCAU" and on the Mercato Telematico Azionario under the symbol "FCA".
About Sauber Motorsport
In 1970 Peter Sauber founded his company and designed his first racing car in the cellar of his parents' house. The race team grew steadily and enjoyed its first major international successes in the late 1980s. As the Mercedes works team, Sauber celebrated a one-two victory in the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1989 and back-to-back Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles in the World Sports Car Championship in 1989 and 1990. In 1993 Sauber entered Formula One. Among the team's F1 highlights have been a fourth-place finish in the Constructors' World Championship in 2001 as an independent team and - in partnership with BMW - a one-two finish in the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix on the way to third place in the constructors' standings that year. In 2010 Sauber became an independent outfit once again. 2012 was a very good year of the Sauber F1 Team, headlined by four podium finishes, 126 World Championship points and sixth place in the constructors' standings. The 11th October 2012 marked a milestone in the history of the team - the day when Sauber stepped down as Team Principal and passed on the baton to Monisha Kaltenborn. Between 1993 and the end of 2016 the team contested 424 grand prix in Formula One. In 2017 the Sauber F1 Team celebrates another milestone: it is the 25th Formula One season in the teams' history. The fourth oldest Formula 1 team starts together with its new owner, Longbow Finance S. A., into a new era. In 2017, Frédéric Vasseur was named as the new Managing Director and CEO of Sauber Motorsport AG, and Team Principal of the Sauber F1 Team. Sauber has its headquarters in Hinwil, in the Swiss canton of Zurich. The team's state of the art factory houses manufacturing facilities and offices spanning an area of 15,600 square meters and boasts one of the most advanced wind tunnels in F1.
In naming the Giulia, Motor Trend cited "the sheer joy" that goes with driving the sleek car.
One of the most prestigious awards in the auto world was just awarded to a car that most Americans probably still barely know.
Or maybe don't know at all.
The Motor Trend Car of the Year is the Alfa Romeo Giulia, a powerful, sporty and luxury vehicle loaded with Italian style from a brand that's still trying to gain a foothold in the US.
Motor Trend also gave its coveted golden calipers to Ford's F-150 pickup as Truck of the Year and Honda's CR-V as SUV of the Year. But it's the car award that always garners the most attention.
In naming the Giulia, Motor Trend cited "the sheer joy" that goes with driving the sleek car. And, of course, there's its engine, a 2-liter, four-cylinder motor with twin-turbochargers that puts out 280 horsepower. Motor Trend said Giulia has "a racy engine response and dynamic handling without a rough ride."
It's a big win for Fiat Chrysler, which has been struggling to introduce the Alfa Romeo brand in an upscale luxury market. Besides Giulia, it also has the Stelvio SUV.
The award comes as the Los Angeles Auto Show is due to open to the public this weekend.
As the Renault team prepares for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend, the French manufacturer is celebrating 40 years of success, passion and pride in Formula One. The success story began in 1977 with the RS01 model and is still very much alive today with Renault’s two drivers, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Nico Hülkenberg currently sitting in 9th and 12th place respectively ahead of the Abu Dhabi event, which will take place at Yas Marina Circuit from the 24th – 26th November.
Renault’s decision to enter the Formula One world was made in 1975 but the team’s first race didn’t come until 1977. For the management during this period, entry into Formula One allowed Renault to introduce advance engine technology to the sport and use a turbo-compressed engine, which had never been done in Formula One before.
A few years later, the turbo was used by the other racing teams, and today, modern Formula One cars are equipped with the technology which Renault was first to bring to the race series. Renault celebrated its first Formula One victory just two years later, in 1979, at the Grand Prix de France in Dijon with the RS10.
The victory of Jean-Pierre Jabouille, engineer and driver of the RS10, was a showcase of Renault’s will and ambition. This success and the many more that followed validated the concept of the turbo in Formula One and won the respect of the British teams, led by the Tyrell team. To celebrate its 40th anniversary at the pinnacle of motorsport, the French automotive manufacturer has revived an anecdote from the past by creating 40 limited edition “Yellow Teapots”. The Yellow
Teapot is a nod to how the introduction of revolutionary technologies by Renault sometimes incurred technical difficulties and reliability problems. Ken Tyrrell, the boss of the team, famously yelled out the nickname “Yellow Teapot” after seeing the RS10 smoking as it passed in front of his garage. The expression was adopted by members of his team, and soon by other teams in the paddock. The RS01 was thereafter nicknamed ‘The Yellow Teapot’.
In terms of design, the Yellow Teapots are inspired by the past and present; with creative nods to the 1977 RS01 and today’s RS17, even going as far as using the official Renault F1 paint. It’s a teapot that takes up all the aesthetic codes of Renault Formula One and plays on the design, graphics and colours - dominant yellow, black, and white.
The teapots will equip the kitchens of the Atelier Renault restaurant on the Champs-Elysées and are available to purchase from Atelier Renault and online (shop.atelier.renault.com/fr/).
Alfa's first Quadrifoglio SUV and the fastest SUV around the Nurburgring is coming to New Zealand.
Equipped with the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 forged in the fires of Ferrari and previously found in the Giulia Quadrifoglio, the Stelvio QF is offered with a maximum output of 380kW (510hp) and 600Nm. Paired with a specifically calibrated eight-speed automatic, the SUV will hit 100 in just 3.8 seconds and on to a best-in-class top speed of 283kph.
The Stelvio Quadrifolgio will also get the innovative Q4 all-wheel-drive system which, in normal conditions, will put 100 perfect of the torque to the rear. When the rear starts to lose grip, up to 50 percent of the torque gets transferred to the front end in realtime.
With a kerb weight of only 1,830kg, Alfa's SUV boasts the best power to weight in its category with 3.6hp/kg and the best power density of 176hp/l. This was achieved partly thanks to ultra-lightweight components like a carbon-fibre driveshaft and using aluminium in the engine, suspension, brakes, doors, wheel-arches and bonnet.
Having made its debut on the Giulia, Alfa Romeo's unique Integrated Brake System (IBS) is now in use on the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The electromechanical system combines stability control with a traditional servo brake to deliver instantaneous brake response and shorter stopping distances, while also making a significant contribution to weight optimisation. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio will optionally be available with carbon ceramic brake discs, offering a weight reduction of 17 kg and greater mechanical strength, even at the highest temperatures in both dry and wet conditions.
New Zealand pricing and spec will be announced upon its launch in 2018.
Life has two consistencies beyond death and taxes; the love for identity and tradition, and the detest for change.
The story of the Maserati Levante SUV and where it fits between those latter two concepts is a very familiar tale by now. We've seen it through the likes of Porsche and BMW, now through Maserati, and looking forward Lamborghini, Aston Martin, and Ferrari look likely to hop aboard the same non-stop freight train.
I am of course talking about the gamble of exclusivity and the financial juggernaut SUVs have become. One by one various manufacturers known for purity, focus, performance, have clambered to create a crossover for a market that's clearly thriving.
In the case of the Levante - launched last year - it's had a massive impact on Maserati's sales figures. This completely new model, a model some begrudge, currently makes up 57 per cent of Maserati sales.
And that's only going to grow with the launch of two new flagships; the Levante S Granlusso [pictured above] and GranSport [pictured below].
As implied by what it says on the tin, the Granlusso ramps up the luxury aspects of the standard car, and the GranSport the performance credentials. The pairing, as well as the Levante S itself, will land in New Zealand early next year (pricing still to be confirmed).
For the first international drive of the grand duo, Maserati beamed Driven to Dubai - more specifically to the natural off-road testing grounds in the UAE mountains near Jebel Jais. Dunes from here to the horizon, encasing stunning rock formations and sparse trees and shrubbery.
Both SUVs retain the lovable twin-turbo Ferrari-derived VG unit under the bonnet of the petrol Levante S. Power stays static at 316kW and 580Nm of torque. This might disappoint those hoping for more explosions and performance in the context of the GranSport in particular, but as they say; 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'
And this engine is anything but broke.
Putting the Levante into Sport mode with manual shifting activated via the 8-speed ZF transmission's tactile metal paddles, and any notions of the engine requiring 'more' of anything quickly dissipate.
Foot down and a beautiful howl fills the cabin. The car sits on its rear wheels and leaps forward with confidence. The 0-l00km/h time of 5.2 seconds doesn't sound particularly impressive when various SUVs from AMG and Mare already well into the fours, but because of the way the power gets to the wheels and the subsequent cross-pollination of sensations that assault your body, it feels fast.
Where the Granlusso and GranSport perhaps differ most from the driver's seat is in their suspension tuning. Predictably it's the former that rides more smoothly and the latter that has less body roll. Relative to their rivals, the pairing feel harsh over bumps and pot holes. But that's the trade-off for owning perhaps one of the best handling SUVs on the market.
Which brings me to one of the leading changes that the Levante S range will lead through all of the models into 2018; a new steering system.
Out with the 'old' hydraulic-based set-up and in with an electric system that Maserati says packs more steering torque and improved on-center feel. As a sucker for hydraulic steering I was skeptical, but the new system is certainly impressive. Unsurprisingly it's very precise and quick, but it's also good fun.
On the dunes, it was this steering, that engine, and the already proven Q4 all-wheel drive system that got the greatest workout.
Though these cars will rarely ever see this kind of abuse via their real-world customers, the combination of technologies is mightily impressive in this setting. Despite a weight of more than two tonnes, both new designations took on gravity-defying dunes with notable ease.
The majority of our time behind the wheel in this most unique of environments was spent on the mild stuff- 'kid courses' as my co-pilot called them. On this sandy surface most SUVs feel like boats. Everything you sense through the tyres and the steering wheel made to feel like jelly, reactions from inputs are prolonged, and the car leans from side to side.
It's chaos playing out in slow motion, but Maserati's creation puts everything at ease. Moments of opposite lock are plentiful, but dealt with comfortably with a generous flick on the steering wheel. Traction is rarely in question, so long as the meat bag in the driver's seat keeps the forward momentum going with their right foot.
But the majority of our time on these dunes is spent riding shotgun and tail gunner to Maserati's trained off-road drivers. Their knowledge of the limits of these cars results in most occupants' head clouting the head liners of their press car at least once - grins going from ear to ear as we rocket around various dust bowls at tyre-shredding speed.
Quick enough to rip the extended guards of at least a couple of them ... not that anyone cares when you're having this much fun.
Keep an eye out for Driven'sfull review of the Maserati Levante s Granlusso and GranSport