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Driven: Maserati stays exclusive with new Levante

Entry-level, petrol Levante maintains Maserati’s brand exclusivity at a lower price

14 Nov 2018

MASERATI Australia expects the new entry-level, petrol Levante to account for the vast majority of the large SUV’s sales, given it lowers the Italian brand’s base price while still remaining a high-end offering.
Speaking to journalists last week at the Levante launch in Albury, NSW, Maserati Australia chief operating officer Glen Sealey explained that while the price-leading variant extends the brand’s reach, it also maintains its exclusivity.
“With a price point of $125,000 (before on-road costs), this vehicle is the most accessible Maserati that we’ve ever had … (but) it’s still not out there for everyone,” he said.
“If you look at Maserati as a brand, we don’t see ourselves as a premium brand, we see ourselves as an exclusive brand.
“We are the last step before the exotics, and it’s an area that we’re keen to make sure that we continue to occupy, in that Maserati remains an exclusive brand.”
Mr Sealey insisted that the range-opener stays true to the car-maker’s core principles, despite being $14,990 cheaper than the Levante’s former entry-level offering, the Turbo Diesel.
“You are really getting a Maserati; this is not a stripper,” he said. “You’ve still got the design, you’ve still got the craftsmanship (and) there’s no sacrifice in terms of the driveline.”
Specifically, the base Levante misses out on the diesel’s power-adjustable steering column with paddle-shifters, plus active versions of lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring, all of which can be optioned at a cost.
When asked what the sales expectations were for the latest Levante, Mr Sealey exercised caution, pointing out that the softening of the Australian new-vehicle market this year is making it harder than usual to predict.
“We’re very cautious to a put a number on this,” he said. “In a declining market, the last thing you want to do is set yourself up for a number that you want to achieve, regardless of the market, only to find that you’ve heavily overstocked the (dealer) network, and that’s not our brand.
“In that regard, we’re a little wait and see, (but) if you’re asking my expectations of it, I think it’s going to be strong. I think it’s really going to hit its straps next year.
“As the Australian market comes out of its little correction, which we expect to see about mid-next year, I think you’ll see a vehicle like this really appeal to the marketplace, and it’ll take off quite considerably.”
For reference, sales of the Levante have backtracked this year, with 307 examples sold to the end of October – a 17.9 per cent decrease over the 374 deliveries made during the same period in 2017.
As a result, the Levante is currently 12th in the $70,000-plus large-SUV segment, trailing the BMW X5 (2277 units), Range Rover Sport (1900), Mercedes-Benz GLE (1749), Lexus RX (1710), Audi Q7 (1575) and Land Rover Discovery (1538), among others.
Given the stronger positioning of the petrol price leader, Mr Sealey suggested that it will soon command the majority of the Levante’s sales, ending the best-selling Turbo Diesel’s reign.
“We see it being at least 50 per cent of the Levante volume,” he said. “There’ll certainly be some cannibalisation of diesel, and there’ll also be cannibalisation of the Levante S. However, the net gain will be significant.
“We also suspect that most people going for a Maserati SUV want a petrol version, simply for no other reason than the sound it offers.”
The range-opening Levante is also available in luxury-orientated GranLusso and performance-focused GranSport forms, both of which are priced from $159,990 with Mr Sealey forecasting that the latter will account for a larger slice of the variant’s mix.
“The Australian market has always taken a preference to a sportier type of vehicle, so we would expect to see at least 50 per cent of the sales being GranSport,” he said. “Then you would look at probably 30 per cent being base and 20 per cent being GranLusso.”
As reported, the entry-level Levante is motivated by the same Ferrari-built 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine as the 316kW/580Nm Levante S flagship, but it is instead tuned to produce 257kW of power at 5750rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1750 to 4750rpm.
Like its sibling, the base Levante is mated to an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission sourced from German automotive supplier ZF and Maserati’s rear-biased Q4 all-wheel-drive system with a rear mechanical limited-slip differential.
As a result, the 2109kg high-rider can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 251km/h.
A booming soundtrack is provided by the Levante’s bi-modal exhaust system, which becomes even louder when its bypass valve is opened by engaging the Sport driving mode.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test ranges from 11.6 to 12.0 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested between 268 and 278 grams per kilometre.
Standard equipment includes 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 265/50 tyres, ventilated disc brakes with floating callipers, bi-Xenon headlights and a hands-free power-operated tailgate.
As with all Levantes, the price leader’s suspension setup consists of double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles with six-level air springs and adjustable Skyhook shock absorbers, while its power steering is electric and speed-sensitive.
Inside, an 8.4-inch touchscreen MTC infotainment system, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, digital radio, an eight-speaker sound system, a 7.0-inch multi-information display, dual-zone climate control, 12-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory functionality, hand-stitched leather upholstery, piano-black trim, and keyless entry and start feature.
Advanced driver-assist systems extend to autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, traffic sign recognition, hill-descent control, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control, hill-start assist and tyre pressure monitoring, plus six airbags.
GranSport versions of the Levante have been restyled as part of this model-year update, taking inspiration from their incoming 404kW/730Nm GTS sibling with more aggressive front and rear bumpers, while GranLusso variants are unchanged.
The MY19 Levante also ushers in Integrated Vehicle Control (IVC) as standard, with Maserati claiming it improves driving dynamics by preventing body instability, rather than correcting it.
The upgrade also adds adaptive Matrix LED headlights with high-beam assist to the options list alongside Rosso Potente and Blu Nobile three-coat paintwork, and Pieno Fiore leather upholstery, while the Levante’s gear selector has been redesigned.
Measuring in at 5005mm long, 1981mm wide and 1693mm high with a 3004mm wheelbase, the range-opening Levante provides 580L of cargo capacity with its 60/40 split-fold rear bench upright, or 1625L with it stowed.

2018 Maserati Levante pricing*

Levante (a) $125,000
Levante GranSport (a) $159,990
Levante GranLusso (a) $159,990

*Excludes on-road costs

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