The aroma of new Italian leather has always had that luxurious connotation; a new Bottega Veneta padded cassette will do it, as will a new Fendi sling-back, or taking a trip down a laneway to a leather store in Florence – and as I discovered, stepping inside a AUD $140,000 Maserati Levante SUV.
Like any grand leather purchase, the olfactory experience is just one part of the sale and any woman knows it is indeed the craftsmanship that is the true measure of luxury. Running my hand across the natural, Premium Fine Grain Italian leather on the driver’s seat – terracotta and butter soft – I find myself marvelling at the immaculately detailed hand-stitching that continues onto the dashboard and side panels (and in between the silk on the car’s main touch-points). The artistry behind the Maserati insignia imprinted into the leather on the headrests feels as deliberate as the placement of the analogue clock on the dash. For a big car, these finer details make it feel sleek and stylish and slim.
Yes, it’s one thing to sit inside a Maserati. It’s another to have it on loan for a weekend, a reality I was lucky enough to live. Admittedly, I was initially intimidated by its size, its noise, its front grille and perhaps the outlandish narrative I had created in my mind that a Maserati is to a sporty, rich male what a Daniel Lee creation is to me: an irrevocable Italian match.
“Do you want to turn on the Sports Mode?” the friendly representative from Maserati asks me as he shows me the capabilities inside the cabin.
“Sure,” I confidently respond with absolutely no clue in this chaotic world what might or might not happen. Within seconds, the sheer power of the car reverberates throughout the interior – rumbling, roaring, growling – and all I can think to say to you is: it’s surprisingly thrilling.
“Sport Mode in the Levante is there for a more spirited drive,” explains Glen Sealey, Chief Operating Officer at Maserati Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“Sports Mode makes the car more responsive; the engine tune is adjusted, the throttle becomes more sensitive, the gear changes more quickly and the exhaust valves open up to ensure the iconic Maserati engine sound is heard at its resounding best.”
“The steering becomes sharper and the electronic stability program becomes less intrusive, giving more control to the driver,” he continues. “You might engage this mode as you are driving along a beautiful winding road such as the Old Pacific Highway heading out of Sydney or the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. It makes the car feel like a sports sedan rather than an SUV. This is why we say the Levante is an SUV with the soul of a GT (Maserati Grand Tourer).”
While studies have even suggested the iconic Maserati sound is conducive to stirring the female libido, the thought of switching on Sport Mode at the traffic lights before taking off down the highway can be nerve-racking for a first-timer. But within ten minutes of driving this car out of Maserati’s Sydney headquarters, I felt really safe and in control; Sensory side mirrors told me if I was too close to another car, the cabin itself is really quiet so I was calm, there’s a 360 degree camera when parking and the luxury seats – oh, the luxury leather – hugged every curve. The car literally seemed to glide along with my every command as I drove myself and a couple of girlfriends down the South Coast of New South Wales.
“Whilst it is a large SUV, when you are driving it, given how connected the car is to the driver and the road, it doesn’t feel as big as what it is,” says Sealy. “Maseratis are built to be enjoyed with others. This is embodied in our GrandTouring philosophy; the ability to cover long distances, with people and luggage, in style and in comfort. The sporty character of the brand including the sound and the dynamics of the vehicle can be dialled up or down depending on the preference of the driver. This allows a true breadth of capability unlike any other sports car or SUV.”
This is the part I liked. I’m not an auto fanatic and liked that I could enable Sports Mode when and if I felt like it. But can I say that I actually felt powerful turning it on? (The only drawback is the model makes you want to drive fast – and you know the car has every capability to do just that – but Sydney’s speed limits rule to the contrary.)
Maserati has a history of naming its cars after the world’s most famous winds. “It started in 1963 with the legendary Mistral. Then came the Bora and the Khamsin. And recently the Levante joined the illustrious Maserati range,” says Sealey.
“The wind that bears the Levante name blows across the Mediterranean and can change from benign calm to gale force in an instant.”
“The Maserati SUV has a similar nature, although its powerful forces always remain under perfect control. In true Maserati grand touring tradition, nothing can disturb your comfort – whatever the speed, whatever the distance,” he continues.
In a deep night navy – with metallic flecks that sparkled when the afternoon sun hit it – the Levante SUV’s glossy, sophisticated body is one that turns the heads of both men and women. I wasn’t at all in the market for an auto acquisition – and truthfully wouldn’t have instantly thought of a Maserati as a first option. That has now completely changed.
I challenge you to simply sit inside one – and maybe take it for a spin around the block. For me, no other ride feels the same. No other car I’ve test-driven has nailed that freedom of adventure and style like the Maserati Levante. That speed and elegance. That masculinity and femininity. The natural leather on an entry-level vehicle. It took all but a few minutes for me to comprehend why this car is worth its price-tag.
Below, a couple of holiday snaps of my weekend in the countryside with my Maserati – and a few more detailed questions I had for Sealey that I thought might help you too should you wish to invest.
Move over Daniel Lee.
Jessica Bailey: Admittedly, I initially felt intimated to drive this car. But that feeling lasted all of a few minutes – I very quickly felt safe and in control. Can you talk me through some of the features that perhaps made me feel this way?
Glenn Sealey: The driving position in the Levante is all built around the driver, which, as you found out, comes as a surprise given the coupé-like exterior. Because the Levante provides vast amounts of feedback, the car feels connected to the road. The look and feel of the interior contributes to this as do the advanced driving systems that enable you to understand what is around you at all times even if you can’t see it. For example:
* The active blind spot monitor has three levels of support when a vehicle enters your blind spot.
* The 360-degree surround view camera helps with parking and spotlighting hidden obstructions.
* The Maserati Levante has front and rear parking sensors.
* The adaptive cruise control feature constantly monitors the vehicle ahead to maintain a pre-set distance, rather than just a pre-determined speed.
JB: Can you talk me through the main features of the Levante SUV?
GS: The Levante blends style and substance, performance and luxury in a uniquely Maserati way, unlike any other SUV with a vast array of sophisticated paint colours, elegant Italian trims and alloy wheels available. It’s available with a twin-turbo V6 or V8 Maranello-built engine and features a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission and intelligent all-wheel drive system.
Visual and functional highlights include an aggressively sculpted front grille with chromed bars, which is more imposing than ever given the elevated SUV proportions. There are also muscular, arching front wings bearing the iconic triple air vents. And there’s the ever-present Saetta logo in the steeply tapered, coupé-like rear section. Such details, along with frameless door windows, the subtle spoiler and quad tailpipes, make an emphatic statement about the unique, all-round strength of this vehicle.
JB: Can you talk me through the different types of Italian leather that are available across the different versions of this model?
GS: It is important to note that Maserati only uses natural leather and silk for their touch-points. Some other manufacturers use man-made substitutes on their entry products. Levante starts with a Premium Fine Grain Italian Leather – which was in the vehicle you drove. This is a natural leather and has some level of treatment.
The Premium Fine Grain is also available with a perforated central and lower section. This comes standard with seat ventilation providing greater comfort in hot weather. As above this is a natural leather and has some level of treatment.
Standard on the Levante GranLusso is Ermenegildo Zegna silk upholstery to the central back and base, another natural fibre which is unique to Maserati.
Optional on GranSport and GranLusso is a textile known as PELLETESSUTA. It is a new material developed by Maserati and Ermenegildo Zegna. It was ingeniously fashioned using thin strips of Nappa leather to create an ultra-luxurious “fabric” that is lightweight, soft and enduring.
Finally Pieno Fiore Natural leather is the highest quality leather available. It has little to no treatment. The beasts are all male and bred in a place where there are no insects or sharp objects as this creates marks in the leather. It is a full-grained leather without equal in the automotive industry, due to its naturally supple, soft feel and the way it becomes even more beautiful over the years. In addition to the seats, the Levante features hand-stitched leather on the dashboard side panels and other surfaces either in genuine wood, carbon fibre or Black Piano trim.
JB: Can you tell me the entry level price for the Levante SUV and the upgrades available – and prices of these add-ons.
GS: AUD $137,000 is the entry point of the Levante range and depending on the trim, engine and options, it goes from there up to our Levante Trofeo twin-turbo V8 at $330,000 RRP + options. Whilst luxury and exclusivity will always be part of the Maserati DNA, at this price point we give people the ability to have the luxury, high performance and exclusivity they desire on a daily basis. We have also recently launched our Fuoriserie program that allows you to personalise your vehicle like never before and create a truly one of a kind Maserati.
(Editor’s note: Fuoriserie, meaning “one-off” is Maserati’s ultimate customisation offering, that allows the customer to design their dream car with Maserati’s creative design team and craftsman’s, direct from the Maserati plant in Modena, Italy. From September 2020, every purchaser is offered the opportunity of a unique experience in the new “car tailoring” shop.)
JB: I have to ask: Why does the Levante rise up when you start the engine and lower when you turn it off?!
GS: The Levante suspension (the parts that connect the wheels to the body of the car) is an active air suspension rather than more traditional spring coils made of steel. This allows the vehicle to raise or lower as required to adapt to the road conditions; firm up when cornering but be soft when driving on rough roads. It allows the car to lift and increase clearance from the ground when driving on unsealed roads or lower during higher speeds to increase efficiency and road holding. The driver can select from six height settings depending on what is appropriate for the road or terrain. The car drops automatically to the lowest setting when you turn it off to allow easier entry and exit of the vehicle. This contributes to the feeling of it being smaller and easier to drive than what you originally thought.