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Driven: Maserati Levante halfway to sold out in Oz

Almost gone: Maserati’s Levante SUV is proving popular even before it has had its official launch in Australia.

Local Maserati boss heading to Italy to request extra Levante supply

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Maserati logo7 Feb 2017

By DANIEL DEGASPERI

MASERATI Australia has received 220 orders for its all-new Levante large luxury SUV even before the vehicle reaches showrooms this month, fulfilling almost half the production allocation of around 500 units available to Australia this year.

Speaking at the national media launch of the Levante in northern New South Wales this week, Maserati Australia chief operating officer Glen Sealey revealed that orders for the brand’s first SUV had “far and away exceeded expectations” and greater supply – and possibly a range expansion – are on the cards for 2018.

“You have to remember that that’s well over 200 orders, before this has even been test driven (and) all we’ve had is left-hand-drive cars to show,” Mr Sealey told GoAuto.

“Our 500-odd orders are in the system and will roll through for this year … it could be a problem supply-wise but hopefully we can rectify that toward the back end of the year.

“If it needs to be increased, we need to go into battle and roll up our sleeves to get an increase, because our increase is someone else’s decrease.”

Mr Sealey admitted that a forecast 500 sales of the Levante for 2017 in Australia was “a very conservative number” but one that was “signed off years ago”.

Although 20 per cent of buyers were choosing the entry-level Levante variant priced from $139,990 plus on-road costs, 40 per cent each were picking the $159,990 Luxury and Sport models.

Asked whether he would ask Maserati’s Italian headquarters for extra local supply for 2018, Mr Sealey replied: “I’m on a plane in March (to do that).” Mr Sealey had previously denied there was a desire for petrol V6 and V8 offerings locally, given that only the VM Motori-sourced 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 was available in right-hand drive.

However, the initial popularity of the diesel has led Maserati Australia to study at a right-hand-drive business case for the petrol variants.

“Looking at January (sales figures) I noticed that diesel (SUV) sales are down more than six per cent whereas the petrol sales are up 14 per cent,” he explained.

“If that’s a shift in consumer preferences, we have to run in that direction because you can sit there and say, ‘This is what we’ll produce’ (but) you have to be cognisant of the consumer trends, and what the consumers are demanding.

Otherwise you’re going to have a major problem later in life.

“We’ll watch it very closely this year (and) if it continues we would have to act.”

The diesel produces 202kW of power at 4000rpm and 600Nm of torque between 2000rpm and 2600rpm, pushing the 2205kg Levante from standstill to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds while consuming 7.2 litres per 100km, according to the official combined-cycle fuel consumption tests.

The European-specification 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 has been made available in 260kW and 320kW outputs with 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.0 and 5.2 seconds respectively. All Levantes worldwide use an eight-speed automatic transmission with an alternate Sport mode.

Mr Sealey stressed that nine out of 10 premium large SUV buyers continued to choose diesel over petrol power, however he also recognised adding more powerful engines would suit the Maserati brand and its traditional buyers.

“If the market opens up and it is commercially viable to have the right-hand-drive petrol, we will have our hand up in an instant,” he said.

However, Mr Sealey cautioned that the aim was not to make the Levante as popular as some SUVs, reiterating that buyers must feel like they are driving a rare product.

“It is a real skill to find where that level is so that supply matches demand, and doesn’t oversupply the market, but at the same time we don’t want to undersupply the market,” he said.

“If we’re talking 500-odd cars per year for Levante, that’s very exclusive in a segment of more than 12,000 cars a year. It is important that that’s maintained.” Last year Maserati sales totalled 483 in Australia, down 6.9 per cent on 2015.

Of these, only seven Levante demonstrators were registered, leaving the Ghibli sedan leading the range with 330 units – down 4.3 per cent year-on-year.

With 220 Levantes already on order, the brand appears on track to nudge its 1000-unit aim for the full year – although Mr Sealey conceded that Ghibli sales might fall away as buyers flock to the SUV.

Although he initially predicted the Levante would have the same 35-to-50-year-old buyer profile as the Ghibli, with an increasing number of female buyers and 84 per cent new to the Maserati brand, SUV orders so far have come from brand loyalists aware of the vehicle’s arrival.

The Levante is built on the same platform underpinning the Ghibli and shares its 50:50 weight distribution and multi-link front and rear suspension, however torsional rigidity improves by 20 per cent.

It is also significantly larger than its sedan sibling in terms of length (5003mm), width (1968mm) and height (1679mm), while the 3004mm wheelbase stretches further than any rival.

The rear seat features a multi-angle backrest, while four-zone climate control is available to extend controls to back passengers alongside the standard twin USB ports. Its luggage capacity is rated at 580 litres.

Maserati further claims its SUV boasts the lowest centre of gravity (at 610mm) and slipperiest aerodynamics (at 0.31Cd) in its segment. Its Intelligent Q4 Traction System, which prioritises rear-wheel drive but can alter the split 50:50, is also said to be the only class contender to include a mechanical locking rear differential.

Four drive modes – Normal, Sport, Offroad and Intelligent Controlled Efficiency (ICE) – include two firmness settings for the standard air suspension and combine with five individually selectable ride heights (including raising the SUV by 40mm or lowering it by 45mm). Sport variants also include a torque vectoring system dubbed Active Torque Control (ATC).

Standard equipment in the Levante includes 19-inch alloy wheels (or no-cost-option 18s), an electrically operated tailgate, front and rear parking cameras and sensors, bi-Xenon headlights, a blind-spot monitor, 8.4-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation/digital radio/Apple CarPlay connectivity, and leather trim with 12-way electrically adjustable and heated front seats.

The Luxury adds 20-inch alloys, extended leather trim, Alcantara rooflining, chrome boot sill, an electrically adjustable steering column and a 900W Harman Kardon audio system.

The Sport shares the latter two items with the Luxury, but is differentiated by 21-inch alloys, a black front grille, rear spoiler, sports steering wheel, sports front seats and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

An optional ($7908) Driver Assist Package is available across the three model grades and includes lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and surround-view camera. Other options include a panoramic sunroof ($4543), power steering column ($1245) and keyless auto-entry ($656).

Unlike most rivals, the Levante forgoes an electric power steering system for hydraulic power assistance and both automatic park assistance and lane-keep assistance are not available.

2017 Maserati Levante pricing*
Levante (a)$139,990
Levante Luxury (a)$159,990
Levante Sport (a)$159,990
*Excludes on-road costs

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