First Look: Maserati Levante 2.0

Chief exterior designer Giovanni Ribotta dishes on the 2018 release of the Italian brand’s fashionable SUV.

The Maserati Levante GranLusso MY18 in the Sharjah Desert.

Against the backdrop of the Sharjah Desert in the U.A.E, a radiant blue Maserati Levante glides across the saffron dunes like a preening model on set of an exotic photoshoot. I’m in the Persian Gulf for the debut of 2018 Levante MY18, the second generation of the 103-year-old Italian carmaker’s first-ever SUV. Aesthetically, the far-flung setting is the perfect catwalk for a car with a strong sartorial DNA—the interiors are custom fitted by Ermenegildo Zegna, with hand-stitched silk seating and trimmings, and the curvaceous silhouette is reminiscent of a coupé—though its performance in such an environment is what proves most impressive. Since the unveiling last year, Levante, named for the gale-force Mediterranean winds that gust through the Strait of Gibraltar, has earned high marks for both style and design, but not at the expense of power. The 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6 engine comes by way of Maranello, Italy, where it’s manufactured by Ferrari. For its  second act, Maserati installed a new range of technology upgrades such as a state-of-the art infotainment system and adaptive cruise control that introduces elements of automation. It feels almost sinful taking one into a landscape so severe that even the Arabian camels seek refuge from the relentless heat under the shade of power-line towers. Positioned in off-road mode, one of six driving settings, including sport and I.C.E. (“increased control and efficiency”), it was quickly apparent that Levante has brawn behind its beauty. “Maserati is one of the few brands where sportiness plays with elegance,” says chief exterior designer Giovanni Ribotta. From the brand’s design center in Turin, Ribotta delved into the design, technology, and performance behind Levante 2.0.

What are the hallmarks of Italian design that show up in the Levante?

We tend to describe Italian design in three words: elegance, harmony, and purity. The elegance and purity is proportion and the shape of our car. Italian design is always balance, aesthetic elements with functionality. Personality is something in our DNA. From the design point of view, try for that “wow” effect. The importance of the Italian designers of the past like Pininfarina, Giugiaro, Bertone is the craftsmanship and the art movement—that is Italian design.

Why did you task Zegna with designing the interiors?  

The core of the Maserati brand is the driver experience.We started the collaboration with Zegna to celebrate the centennial in 2014. It’s a unique offer in the market because of the exclusivity and customization of the premium Italian leather. Zegna appears in the seats, the door panel, the seaming, and sun visor. The richness of the material gives the sensation of a living room. 

The GranLusso interiors designed by Ermenegildo Zegna.

How did you improve the technology?

The Levante combines Italian craftsmanship and the hand touch of the materials with technology. The main features are the electric steering wheel [a semi-autonomous function], the new infotainment [system], and the rotary [that controls it]. 

What do the new driving modes bring to the experience behind the wheel?

The performance of the car is Ferrari. It’s a very powerful car, but at the same time can be quiet. The customer can drive comfortably and elegantly, but in a moment move to sport mode, changing completely the car’s sound and suspension. It’s the pure meaning of GranTurismo—power combined with comfort.

Is there an emotional aspect to the design? 

It’s very a special emotion to drive a Maserati. This emotion of the design, which is the opposite of ordinary, makes you say, “Wow, this is a Maserati.” So I think for a design point of view, engineering point of view, we have the same mindset. I think that the customer can feel the soul.

The GranSport driving through the dunes of the Sharjah Desert.
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