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Frankfurt show: SUV craze hits Maserati and Bentley

Shape of things to come: Maserati revealed its Kubang in 2003, but looks set reveal another SUV concept at September’s Frankfurt show.

Maserati readies Jeep-based model for Frankfurt as Bentley confirms SUV interest

Maserati logo29 Jul 2011

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

THE time has evidently come for Maserati and Bentley to enter the high-end SUV fray, with the Italian sportscar brand tipped to unveil a Porsche Cayenne competitor at September’s Frankfurt motor show, while the British marque is also reportedly planning a high-riding luxury crossover.

There is no official confirmation of the Maserati SUV first alluded to by Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne last year, but Automotive News reports that it will feature a unique interior and bodywork, and that Maserati’s Ferrari-built 331kW 4.7-litre petrol V8 will drive all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

The report also says the Frankfurt-bound SUV – expected to launch in 2013 – will be built in Detroit alongside the Jeep Grand Cherokee on which it is based and speculates the possibility of a diesel-powered version using a higher-output version of the 177kW/550Nm 3.0-litre CRD engine that will become available in Australia’s Grand Cherokee in September.

Fiat’s intention to produce an Alfa Romeo SUV based on the Grand Cherokee was first revealed in the Italian giant’s five-year business plan last April, before Mr Marchionne revealed in November that Jeep’s latest flagship could also form the basis of a full-size SUV from Maserati.

Although Alfa and Maserati have both revealed concept SUVs in the past – with the respective Kamal and Kubang both debuting in 2003 – a full-sized luxury 4x4 to rival the likes of BMW’s X5 would break completely new ground for both brands.

“This is just a great architecture,” said Mr Marchionne of the new Grand Cherokee at the time “Why wouldn’t I put a Maserati on it?” he told The Wall Street Journal.

“One of the things we are now looking at in some detail is utilising this architecture and extending its application for future products both within Chrysler and outside Chrysler,” he said, adding that Fiat is also investigating the use of Maserati’s Ferrari-sourced V8 engines in the new performance SUV.

Alfa Romeo Australia general manager Andrei Zaitzev told GoAuto in January that both a Jeep Grand Cherokee-based Alfa Romeo crossover and a Maserati SUV flagship – potentially also powered by a Ferrari V12 – were on the cards.

Those who think a Jeep-based Maserati sounds a bit low-rent can find solace in the fact that, thanks to the incestuous world of platform-sharing and Jeep’s passage from Daimler to Fiat ownership, the Maserati SUV will also have plenty in common with the next-generation Mercedes-Benz ML-class.

Jeep’s latest GC platform was originally designed by DaimlerChrysler for the Mercedes-Benz GL, R and M-class. The latest M-class has just been launched in the US, where it is built.

32 center imageLeft: Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer. Below: Alfa Kamal concept.

Fiat has plans to boost Maserati sales tenfold to 50,000 per annum with the help of platform and technology sharing with Chrysler products, including an all-new large sedan to slot beneath the Quattroporte grand tourer, which itself will be replaced by a larger yet lighter model next year.

Meanwhile, Bentley CEO Wolfgang Durheimer has confirmed to German automotive magazine Auto Motor und Sport that the Volkswagen Group-owned British brand has plans to introduce an SUV to help achieve its long-term goal of 15,000 annual sales – more than double the projected 7000 units for this year.

“In terms of (an) absolute luxury SUV, there is still no offer (in the market),” he said.

“A third (model) series has potential for Bentley, in terms of exclusivity and price. In our largest individual markets of America, China and Europe, SUVs are highly sought after.”

Like Maserati, Bentley can also take advantage of platform sharing, with its SUV expected to share its foundations with Porsche’s Cayenne, Audi’s Q7 and Volkswagen’s Touareg.

Interestingly, Mr Durheimer, who was Porsche R&D chief before becoming Bentley and Bugatti chief last November, was instrumental in developing the first Cayenne.

What a Bentley SUV would look like remains to be seen, but the brand already employs all-wheel drive in its Continental line-up, which also features a twin-turbo W12 engine that could end up powering the high-riding wagon, although the brand has a plethora of powertrains to pick from across the VW group, including a new twin-turbo V8 being developed for the Continental and Audi S6/RS6.

Bentley’s SUV could also be its first diesel model, as the Cayenne was for Porsche. Likely oil-burning candidates from the VW stable include the mighty 4.2-litre V8 TDI from the Audi A8 limo and Q7 SUV, and even the smooth and refined 3.0-litre V6 TDI.

Although the notion of either brand applying its prestigious badges to an off-roader might resemble a bad April fool’s joke, Porsche set the precedent back in 2002 and now owes half its sales volume – and arguably its continued existence – to the 2.2-tonne Cayenne wagon.

Maserati sold 5675 cars around the world last year, of which 141 went to Australia, while 5117 Bentleys found homes (58 in Australia).

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