AUTO ITALIA’S DESIGN CONSULTANT CHRIS HRABALEK DISCUSSES THE FINER POINTS OF AUTOMOTIVE DESIGN
Levante is the name given to Maserati’s 102- year awaited SUV; a vehicle with conceptual origins spawning more than a decade, originally in the form of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s 2003 Maserati Kubang GT Wagon concept, and more recently through Marco Tencone’s in-house effort, the 2011 Kubang concept named after a warm Mediterranean wind.
The Levante introduces a new era for the Trident intended to push annual sales beyond the 50,000 unit mark. The fact that half of all cars sold in the premium luxury segment are currently SUVs – and with predictions of a further increase to more than 75% by 2020 – is a solid reason why no premium luxury OEM can afford to ignore this lucrative segment. This is why traditional brands ranging from Aston Martin and Bentley to Jaguar and Rolls-Royce have traded their model heritage for a ticket on the SUV development bandwagon; after shaking heads at Porsche management for the past two decades.
If an OEM wants to survive and continue to build sportscars, they need to give the market an SUV first, it seems. The Maserati Levante is manufactured in three different engine configurations – including one Diesel – with powerlevels ranging from 275hp to 350hp and a list price to start in the low £50,000s. Maserati aims to target the image of the Porsche Cayenne combined with the pricerange of the Porsche Macan, resulting in the Levante as an elegant Italian alternative to a premium luxury SUV such as Jaguar’s F-Pace, et al.
Designwise, this has translated into traditional SUV proportions combined with surface-treatment and styling-themes quoted from the contemporary Maserati catalogue; namely a sloped coupe-like roofline, muscular rear wings, as well as the Alfieri concept inspired front grille, the trio of air vents on the front wings and a signature trapezoidal Cpillar graphic. Designing by numbers.
Its not as if there is anything significantly wrong with the styling of the Levante, but at the same time, one would be hard pressed to proclaim it ‘iconic’. Like many of the recent premium luxury SUVs, it achieves its target: a pile of pre-orders and a waiting list higher than most terrains it will end up being driven on. Yet, one wonders, if there will ever be another luxury SUV as unique and significant as Lamborghini’s ‘Lambo-Rambo’ LM002.
Automobiles in the ’50s and ’60s were built and bought with the knowledge that they will outlive the owner, but today’s products have traded craftsmanship for volume; think ecological canvas bag vs. handstitched leather bag. As successful as the Maserati Levante will undoubtedly become, it also mirrors the attitude of today’s consumption society and for this very reason the Levante is arguably perfect.