ON THE ROAD- Ian Lynas tests the Maserati Levante

Mention three names and my heartbeat rises, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari and Maserati, yet to the best of my knowledge, I have no Italian blood.

On learning that the Italian manufacturer was going to produce an SUV, my heartbeat stayed normal, had the great name made a mistake? No, not at all. I wonder what the brothers Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore, and Ernesto would think, they built the two litre Grand Prix cars for Diatto, however in 1926, Diatto suspended the production of race cars, leading to the creation of the first Maserati and the founding of the marque. Now the famous trident adorns the Levante. The world of motoring never fails to spring a surprise and recently Ferrari announced that they would enter the SUV segment-  however, we will have to wait until 2019 for that event. The question must be asked, why have Maserati launched an SUV? Such vehicles are fast becoming one of the most sought after currently available. We are now in a situation for a car manufacturer not to offer at least one SUV in their line-up, sales are lost to the competition and they come in all sizes, the newcomer certainly fits into the large and grand category.

High end brands Bentley and Jaguar are recent converts to this exclusive club and now Maserati has joined with its never to be disputed style and heritage. According to a company spokesperson they see the new SUV taking 48 per cent of all the company sales and in their largest market the USA, SUVs have huge appeal and again this vehicle with the Bologna emblem proudly on its grille is set for success. With the trident sparkling in the sunshine I took to the scenic and challenging roads of North Yorkshire, perfect to put the Levante to the test and yet another surprise awaited me. Maserati felt that I should have first hand experience the off road capability of their big SUV, so I found myself on the huge 14,000 acre Duncombe Park Estate where on an off road course the newcomer more than proved its off road skills. This question I have asked on many previous occasions; how many owners will ever face the type of off course that I did? The answer is always the same, very few. Full marks to Maserati, they have faith in their Levante.

The new SUV is Italian through and through and not like a number of other prestige vehicles which are manufactured beyond the borders of their own domain. With the same chassis, only 20 percent stiffer, than the Maserati saloons, the big SUV delivers excellent ride and handling. And there are five ride heights to play with, this vehicle is prepared for what ever the conditions may be and there is even a parking ride height, all of which are electronically controlled. With four drive modes designed again to suit the individual requirements of the driver and the intelligent Q4 tracking systems deliver safety and motoring pleasure. One thing is certain the exterior styling is bold with a grille of rather large proportions and the interior is sheer quality, creating a perfect driving environment. Maserati has come late to this sector of the market, clearly they have learned taking I believe some inspiration from the Porsche Cayenne which they see as the major competitor. Next year we shall see an all new Cayenne. When I tried the Levante the sole power choice was a diesel engine with plenty of performance; 275bhp enough to sprint from rest to 62mph (100kph) in 6.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 142mph ( 228kph). Working in harmony with the engine a well proven eight speed automatic ZF transmission. Just recently an announcement re a petrol engine and the new power addition is a twin-turbo three litre V6 Ferrari unit with 420bhp, rest to 62mph (100kph) in a mere 5.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 164mph (263kph). Further luxury can be added with a choice of packs to further enhance the Levante. With this latest addition to the Maserati family new customers will be attracted. Levante petrol £70,755, diesel £54,335 (N.I. prices)