Is there a trident-shaped hole in the performance SUV market? Maserati is about to become the next automaker to plumb the depths of the category with the debut of the Levante. Maserati is a brand with a history deeply rooted in racing, exotic styling, and bespoke production of vehicles that typified the tempestuous Italian stereotype. Naturally, then, it was about time for the 102-year-old manufacturer to introduce a sport-utility vehicle to round out its lineup of performance sedans, coupes, and cabriolets. Maserati has just shared the first photos of its first SUV, Levante, named for a street of some importance to the family that started the company.
It's no longer relevant to speculate as to whether Maserati should build an SUV, but rather how the product will be developed and executed. Lamborghini built the LM002 in the late 1980s, ahead of the sales craze. Alfa Romeo is rumored to be prepping the Stelvio as its first sport-utility vehicle. As Maserati's first-ever SUV, the Levante owes its existence to the need for Maserati to invest additional Euros into development of a high-performance lineup — a strategy that worked for Porsche when it introduced the midsize Cayenne and subsequent compact Macan SUVs.
Speaking of which, it's not a coincidence that there's more than a sprinkle of this style in the Levante's overall shape — and especially its rear-quarter view. The Levante will launch over a decade after Porsche first startled the performance car establishment by gambling on a sport-utility vehicle, building on the lessons learned. Last year, the sales of 16,473 Cayennes and 13,533 Macan sport-utes in the United States accounted for over 50 percent of Porsche's entire volume.
Stylistically, the production-bound Levante builds on the design of the Kubang concept that was first shown in 2014 in Frankfurt. Where that concept evinced styling elements of present-day Maserati, looking a lot like a steroidal Quattroporte, the Levante shows off cutlines and a possibly different direction for future Maseratis. Slim headlights flank an oversized, nine-bar grille, with the signature trident in the middle. Strong-looking strakes in the hood draw the eye to the sharply sloped windshield. Portholes appear on (at least) the driver's side of the Levante as a decorative touch. It's unclear if the Levante's proportions are tall-station-wagon or sexy shooting brake.
Other than that the photos reveal a fuzzy, pixelated preview of an interior featuring red leather, there isn't much to say yet about the Levante's interior. An educated guess would predict that the Levante will draw heavily on the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles parts bin, which helped decorate the Ghibli sedan, with the trident as a point of differentiation. Think cool, Maserati-branded headrests, and an infotainment system pulled from a Chrysler 300 sedan. Similarly, it's yet unclear what's under the hood of the Levante, but all-wheel-drive will likely be standard equipment, and a slate of six- and eight-cylinder gasoline engines will probably be available in the United States.
Will the virile Levante have a warmer reception than the Cayenne did? More importantly, will it succeed? Stay tuned, as we'll soon have a fuller impression of the Levante from Geneva.