There’s a fair bit of anticipation in and around the SUV market at the moment, as several top-end manufacturers bring their latest offerings to market, apparently unaware or uncaring of the tautological nature of the term “luxury SUV”.
‘Quattroporte sounds exotic until you learn the translation from the original Italian is “four doors”.’
Among them is, of course, the Maserati Levante. The marketing for this new vehicle makes me laugh. The Levante is dubbed “the Maserati of SUVs”. It’s an undeniable claim, and I suppose truth in advertising is to be applauded. The word “levante” means “rising” (as in the sun), in Italian. Possibly. I have no idea why it’s a relevant name, except maybe because this thing has the gravitational pull of a middle-aged G-type main-sequence star. But Maserati has entertained me before with its car names, and not only the ones named for mighty winds.
My favourite would have to be the Quattroporte. It sounds exotic until you learn the translation from the original Italian is “four doors”. That must have been an interesting marketing meeting: “OK, we’ve got a new car to sell. Let’s focus on its unique features. What’s the most interesting thing we can say about it? What’s that – it has four wheels? Don’t be ridiculous! Come on people, think harder. It has four doors? Great idea!”
Can you imagine the flack that any one of the emerging carmakers would receive if they released a model called Four Doors? It would be derided like one of those establishments with a literal English translation from the original language, like Surprise Cafe, or Very Clean Restaurant. It’s been a long time since I last drove a Maserati. It was the early 2000s and I think it was a Coupe (I have lost the photos). I do remember stalling it in the middle of a major intersection, which was not only embarrassing, but also no mean feat for a car with a semi-automatic gearbox.
And if I remember correctly some genius had installed the flippy-paddle gear change levers to the fixed part of the steering column, meaning that if you wanted to change gear with any kind of lock dialed-in you had to take one hand off the wheel to do it (or only change gear when driving in a straight line). I trust that they’ve remedied these sorts of niggly ergonomic issues in more recent releases.
Oh, but goodness me, the sound. I was told it had an engine built by Ferrari, and there was nothing about the racket it made when pushed hard that led me to doubt that claim. The first time I started it up, forgetting to open the garage first, I thought Neptune himself might have been banging on the door to reclaim his trident. It wasn’t until I repeated the error with a Ferrari 360 Spider a couple of years later (and terrified the cat into the bargain) that I heard anything else that sounded quite the same. It still makes me tingle thinking about it.
The Coupe was one of those cars that had something of a split personality. It would clearly announce its arrival, thanks to the noise it made, but then people would be looking past it for something more in keeping with that noise. Bystanders couldn’t reconcile the sound they heard with what they saw – it was as if someone had dropped a Formula 1 engine into a Commodore.
Despite its foibles, and despite the passage of time, I still have a bit of a soft spot for the Maserati. It was far from perfect but it had personality. I enjoyed driving it. It went quickly, stopped quickly and would get around corners briskly enough. With the roof down on a sunny day it was a great experience. And apart from that exhaust note, it did everything under a cloak of relatively anonymity. Perfect.
But back to the Levante. I have not had the pleasure of driving it, unlike Madam Wheels herself, but it looks the part and hopefully they’ve managed to make the sound more muscly – a suggestion MW made back in January. While I’ve never really quite got the point of Maserati – why not go all the way and buy a Ferrari? – and I still do not fully grasp the attraction of SUVs, I suspect that the sum of those two things may well be significantly greater than their parts.