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Maserati enters the luxe SUV fray in true Italian style

Maserati's Levante is named after a warm Mediterranean wind known for going almost instantly from a light breeze to a forceful gust.

New from Maserati … [drum roll, please] … It’s a luxury SUV. Cue the smattering of slow-claps befitting such a predictable announcement. That’s because SUV projects and concepts have been coming fast and furious from once-unlikely sources such as Aston Martin and Lamborghini. Rolls-Royce is reportedly cooking up the proverbial Rolls-Royce of SUVs, while fellow super-luxury maker Bentley’s big Bentayga is already in production. With seemingly every luxury brand offering some sort of SUV, one of the few remaining holdouts among the automotive upper crust has been Ferrari. When asked recently about the prospect of an SUV wearing the prancing pony logo, the Italian automaker’s chairman famously quipped, “You have to shoot me first.”

Which wasn’t exactly a “no,” mind you.

In the meantime, fellow Italian automaker Maserati has answered with a resounding “yes” in the form of the century-old sporting brand’s first-ever SUV, the Levante. Dealers started taking orders for the $70,000-plus SUV last month, with the first models set to arrive in showrooms this summer. When they do, Maserati hopes the head-turning SUV will also be a sales turning point. The brand reportedly fell nearly 20,000 vehicles short of its 50,000 global sales target last year. The Levante is seen as the vehicle to make up much of that shortfall.

The Levante could have been a Jeep Grand Cherokee in a finely tailored Italian suit. That’s because Maserati’s corporate parent, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, also owns the venerable Jeep brand. Although this would not have been an altogether bad thing, given the general excellence of the latest Grand Cherokee, let’s face it: It would have lacked the – how shall we say? – brio of a true Italian automobile.    

Instead, Maserati sculpted the sultry Levante atop the architecture of its own Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans. The result is a svelte car-based crossover with proportions akin to a tall wagon. The heart of the Levante is also genuinely Italian: a Ferrari-built 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 tuned to deliver 345 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque in base trim, or 424 hp and 428 lb.-ft. in the pricier Levante S. Expect both to offer the unmistakably throaty wail that is synonymous with Italian sports cars.

The Levante interior is also sure to impress. Fine wood grains, sporty carbon fiber accents, and hand-stretched leathers are available in 28 color combinations – and that’s without springing for the optional Ermenegildo Zegna edition. That upgrade adds genuine silk inserts to the seats, doors and headliners. Sure, the Maserati Levante is entering an increasingly crowded field; but at least it’s doing so in genuine Italian style.  :: maseratiusa.com

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