NEW YORK – The luxury SUV field is getting crowded, and it now has another new player from a company that hasn’t been there before: Maserati.
The Italian automaker, better known for fast cars, shows its new car-based Levante SUV at the New York International Auto Show. It premiered at the Geneva auto show last month.
No, fielding an SUV wasn’t a tough decision, Maserati CEO Harald Wester tells WardsAuto at the U.S. debut.
He points to marketplace numbers as a reason to put the Levante up against well-heeled SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X6 and another newcomer, the Bentley Bentayga.
“SUVs are 50% of the global luxury-vehicle market,” he says, explaining why Maserati is going there. “We had a long discussion about what it would take from our internal competence and capabilities to do something properly.”
The Levante is named for a Mediterranean wind that can change from a breeze to a full-force gale in minutes. In an auto-show presentation heavy on metaphors, Wester says the Levante SUV “breathes new life to the world.”
The vehicle draws from components of other Maseratis. It is built on the same platform as the Ghibli and Quattroporte. The 4-wheel-drive Levante’s 8-speed ZF automatic is shared with the Quattroporte.
Base models are powered by a Ferrari-built twin-turbo 3.0L V-6 making 345 hp, accelerating from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.8 seconds and topping out at 156 mph (251 km/h).
The top-trim S model uses the same engine but with a higher output of 424 hp. It does 0-60 mph in 5 seconds and achieves a top speed of 164 mph (264 km/h). In the works is a 560-hp V-8.
The Levante will attract more young and female buyers to the brand, Wester predicts.
Maserati is drawing on its heritage as an iconic automaker that is over 100 years old. The company – part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – bills the Levante as “the Maserati of SUVs.”
“It is of a breathtaking Italian design,” says Wester, who is German. “The styling, how it drives, how it smells, how it handles, how it performs, is 100% Maserati.”
He is purposely vague about how many Levantes Maserati hopes to sell. “We’re not expecting 50% of market share.” How many then? “A significant chunk.”
The vehicle starts at $72,000. It goes on sale in the U.S. late this summer. Dealers are “absolutely thrilled about it,” Wester says.