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Maserati Join The SUV Set With The Stylish Levante
Maserati is renowned for making desirable Grand Tourers, oozing with Italian flair, style and craftsmanship. Able to cover vast distances, whilst passengers relax in opulent surroundings are the GT parameters.

The now familiar Quattroporte and Ghibli models are shining examples of all that Maserati do best and the discerning luxury car buyer will be sure to take a look.

Worldwide sales are growing rapidly year on year, rising from a meagre 6,300 cars in 2012 to 33,500 in 2015. Ambitious targets are forecast for the next few years, the aim being to top 70,000 cars by 2018.

This growth will be achieved with the arrival of the new Levante, the company's first SUV. Sales of this type of vehicle are booming and obvious rivals are the Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport and BMW X5.

Die-hard Maserati fans might be somewhat dismayed by this turn of events, but once they see a Levante in the flesh or more importantly take a turn behind the wheel, they will understand the rationale. It's an imposing vehicle, with an especially striking front end dominated by the wide grille with Maserati's trademark Trident logo.

A new state-of-the-art production line has been set up in Turin and the best materials will be used. Extensive use is made of aluminium for strength and weight-saving, but at 2,205 kg the Levante is shall we say 'substantial'.

In keeping with best sports car practice, Maserati has managed to perfect a 50:50 weight distribution and a low centre of gravity. Both pay dividends in terms of driving manners and body control.

An intelligent All-Wheel Drive system is fitted together with Maserati's Stability Program to ensure excellent grip both on and off-road. Active air suspension features too, with six ride heights selectable depending on terrain and speed.

Power comes from a refined 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine producing 275hp and 600NM of torque. It can propel the new SUV to 62mph in 6.9 seconds and on to a maximum of 143mph. Up to 39.2mpg is forecast for the combined cycle and on test we were able to best 30mpg without too much difficulty.

Harnessing the power is a sophisticated and smooth-changing eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. Along with the engine, it is assisted by clever software which recognises both the way the car is being driven and the road conditions and adjusts the gear-changing mode accordingly.

As one would expect the Levante is fitted with all the latest safety features. Forward Collision Warning and Brake Assist systems will keep a careful watch, whilst Adaptive Cruise Control will take the strain out of congested motorway driving. Off the beaten track, the Hill Descent Control will ensure safe and steady progress no matter how slippery the terrain.

Maserati has clearly lavished plenty of attention on the Levante's interior. High quality materials abound; soft leather for the comfortable seats, leather covering for the gear knob and multi-function steering wheel and there is the option to add wood or carbon fibre trim inserts for that bespoke look.

There's space aplenty for four large adults to luxuriate, whilst the 580-litre boot should accommodate their chattels.

Standard equipment levels are suitably high but there is plenty of scope to add to the £54,335 list price. My test car sported nearly £16,000 worth of optional goodies, ranging from the rather pricy 'Luxury Pack' at £5,950 to the more modest aluminium gear shift paddles (£245).

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To be fair, buyers of this class of car want the ability to create a bespoke vehicle and Maserati has a range of tailor-made options to suit.

As one would expect a high quality infotainment system is fitted to the Levante.

The 8.4-inch touchscreen is pleasantly user-friendly and provides access to the radio, Bluetooth and satellite navigation system, along with connections to Apple Car Play etc. The optional Bowers & Wilkins Surround Sound System is rather indulgent, but if you are a music buff it may well be £3,360 well spent as the sound quality is quite superb.

Maserati chose to hold its exclusive Levante drive event close to home and as such I was able to enjoy the car over some of Yorkshire's finest roads. Able to expose dynamic flaws in even the best of machines, the route would prove to be a good test of the Levante's driving credentials.

I'm please to say that the car didn't disappoint. Acceleration is brisk, without being startling but the reserves of torque provided ample power for the steepest of hills and for brisk overtaking manoeuvres.

Although a big car, the Levante proved easy to place on some of the narrower roads, aided no doubt by the commanding driving position.

The Levante boasts a firm ride, even in its most comfort-orientated suspension setting though I would suggest the optional 21" alloy wheels may be partly to blame. A box to leave unticked I would suggest, saving £2,695 into the bargain.

The lunch stop at Duncombe Park near Helmsley provided the opportunity to try out the Levante's off-road credentials. With the ride height raised, we tackled some reasonably challenging muddy tracks and accomplished the task with ease. It is doubtful any would-be owner would ask any more of it.

Maserati's first attempt at an SUV can be judged a success. It manages to combine the luxury and exclusivity that its existing models offer with genuine go-anywhere capability. The Levante will look equally at home outside a fine country house caked in mud or doing the school run in a posh London suburb.

It offers a sporting drive but can play the role of Grand Tourer rather well. Just right for a winter trip to Klosters for a spot of skiing or perhaps a blast down to the villa in Tuscany.

It is very easy to make a case for buying any of the Levante's talented rivals previously mentioned. However, most are a common sight on our roads and any exclusivity they once had, disappeared a long time ago in the rush to own an SUV.

For now the Levante will be a rare sight on UK roads, but that will surely change over the next few years as buyers catch on to the idea that there is another way, a different way. I know where my money would go and I would rejoice in being able to answer the hackneyed question, "what car do you drive?" with the answer, "a Maserati!"

Has a certain ring to it, don't you think?

Fast Facts

Maserati Levante
Price £54,335 (as tested £70,275)
Key options include Luxury Pack (£5,950), Mica paint (£660)
2,937cc V6 diesel engine
8-speed automatic gearbox
{b]All Wheel Drive
0-62mph in 6.9 seconds
Top speed 142mph
Combined economy 39.2mpg
Emissions 189g/km CO2
Maserati Join The SUV Set With The Stylish Levante, 25th April 2017, 9:11 AM