Maserati launched its long-awaited SUV, the Levante, at the Geneva Auto Show earlier in March, but the storied Italian automaker chose the New York Auto Show to introduce the vehicle to US.
Harald Wester, Maserati’s CEO, enthused over the Levante in an interview with Business Insider, but he admitted that the automaker was late to the SUV game.
Sales of SUVs have surged over the past few years, but Maserati didn’t have one to sell. Its portfolio consisted of luxury sedans, the Quattroporte and the Ghibli, and sumptuous GT cars like the GranTurismo.
“The Levante name was inspired by a warm, Mediterranean wind that can change from mild to gale force in an instant, mirroring the character of the first Maserati SUV,” said the company, part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and stablemate of Ferrari — until Ferrari was spun off in an IPO last year.
The Levante is part of a wave of SUVs from luxury and high-performance carmakers. Jaguar revealed its F-PACE at the Los Angeles Auto Show last year, and Lamborghini is putting its Urus SUV, shown as a concept car in 2012, into production.
Maserati is calling the Levante the “Maserati of SUVs,” and up close, it certainly looks the part. Maseratis are all about subtle sex appeal, something that’s tough to pull off with a big vehicle.
“Levante is a turning point in Maserati’s history,” the automaker said, and it’s right. But it was a necessary turn, and in execution, the Levante has what its takes to carry the fight to Porsche in particular, with effectively created the high-performance luxury SUV segment with the Cayenne.
Wester stressed to BI that it’s brands clearly located in the luxury market, not the premium segment, that Maserati will seek to take on. In the premium space, the default choices are built by Mercedes, Lexus, and BMW, among others. But Maserati wants to run with more discerning company.
The Levante “was conceived around three main pillars: design, exclusivity and performance,” Maserati said. “It represents the optimum blend of these three elements in the SUV world.”
The design is a good evolution of the overall Maserati vocabulary, realised at a heftier scale. The crossover also has the goods under the hood: the twin-turbo V6 comes in two flavours, one serving up 345 horsepower, the other 424. The latter can sprint to 60 mph in 5 seconds, according to Maserati.
Wester said that 2015 was a challenging year for Maserati, as the global luxury market softened. But he added that Maserati was able to “defend the brand” and didn’t resort tom competing on price. In 2016, with a new SUV to sell, he’s looking froward to reaching customers to automaker hasn’t been able to satisfy in the past.
The Levante hits showrooms later this year and starts at $72,000.
NOW WATCH: The best car of the year — the Volvo XC90
NOW WATCH: Money & Markets videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.