It's an SUV - but not as you know it: Ferrari twin-turbo V6 power for Maserati Levante


Posted by ROB MAETZIG on 13 December 2017

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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