The history of the automobile is rooted in the essence of the grand tour. What began as a rite of passage for mainly upper-class European young men became, by the dawn of the motoring age, a true test of man and machine. Today, each of the world’s most iconic driving challenges is an event of considerable endurance –we’re thinking Mille Miglia, Le Mans and Dakar. In homage to these great adventures, and as the October sun rose on a distinctly autumnal morning, Passions Arabia’s Simon Balsom set out on his own (slightly less edgy, yet nonetheless eagerly anticipated) grand tour from Paris to Monaco.
For those not fully acquainted with the ethos of Maserati, there are three keywords to learn and remember: elegance, sportiness and personality. While many of today’s contemporary motor cars can lay claim to any combination of two out of these three characteristics, very few tick a trio of boxes. Maserati – through their Levante, Quattroporte and Ghibli – successfully score a full-house with each model.
What lay ahead would be over 1,000km of exclusive Maserati-time heading south enroute towards the sun and sea of the Côte d’Azur. Our starting point of The Peninsula Paris provided a suitably unchallenging overnight stay. Once the home of Spain’s Queen Isabella II, after which it became the Hotel Majestic and where, in 1922, what is known as ‘the dinner party of the century’ was attended by Marcel Proust, Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso, today the hotel provides signature Peninsula luxury on Avenue Kléber in the 16th arrondissement.
Gentlemen, start your engines – The Levante
We’re cocooned from the worst of the morning’s Parisian chill within the new 2019 Maserati Levante. The Levante has rapidly become the Modena marque’s key model – it currently accounts for more than half of Maserati’s global sales.
Here’s what we already knew about Maserati’s luxury SUV – in the two-years since launch, the Levante has established itself at the very top of the crossover pecking-order. Combining elegance with functionality, the design concept of the Levante combines coupé lines with interior space for five people and exceptional aerodynamic efficiency. The Maserati of SUVs is instantly recognisable from a distance, thanks to its imposing grille, which was inspired by the sensational Alfieri concept, but also pays homage to historic Maserati cars like the Tipo 60 Birdcage.
For 2019, what was already a remarkable automobile just got even better. With a refinement of the exterior, including the addition of some well-engineered styling cues, the changes come most notably through Maserati’s installation of an upgraded version of its powerful Twin Turbo V8 engine under the bonnet of the Levante to deliver two of the fastest SUVs ever built. It is the first time that Maserati mates the mighty Twin Turbo V8 with its Q4 Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system.
Although it maintains the same 3.8-litre capacity and the V90 degree architecture, it has been re-engineered and significantly upgraded to deliver significantly higher power output, from 550hp in the Levante GTS to a prodigious 590hp in the Levante Trofeo.
It’s a big car, yet one with genuine sportscar performance and drivability. Performance figures have been upped to the higher end of the SUV class and are comparable to those of modern-day supercars: it takes 4.2 seconds for the Levante GTS to accelerate to 100 kmh while the mighty Levante Trofeo needs only 3.9 seconds for the same sprint. Top speed is respectively 292 kmh and 304 kmh.
As we thread our way through the Paris’s narrow and congested streets, the Levante remains a docile supplicant to our driving demands. With a light if not entirely nimble feel, it is a confident and comfortable partner.
The interior design of the Levante is focused either on luxury or sportiness, respectively in the GranLusso and GranSport trims. The spacious cabin blends innovative solutions, such as the state-of-the-art infotainment system, with precious materials like the newly introduced full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather.
Maserati Touch Control Plus (MTC+) is a highly responsive interface unit that works like a tablet, recognising drag, scroll, swipe and rotate gestures. The system includes radio and Bluetooth and supports satellite navigation.
Abundant space for five passengers, fine selection of premium materials, state-of-the art human machine interface and front – rear passenger compartments in sheer harmony are some of the first class features in the cabin of the Levante.
We find our way on to the highway and the traffic clears, and now the Levante reveals a fresh side to its character – one hinted at through those rather mouth-watering performance figures. It’s easy to forget the utilitarian and off-road abilities of this automobile. Right-foot firmly planted, and making progress amongst a fast-flowing line of cars is an inspiring emotion.
There’s a wealth of driver assistance systems under the skin of all 2019 Maseratis. Today, within this high-end segment, many of these are considered the basics – adaptive cruise control, surround view camera and park assist, traffic sign recognition. Others, including highway and lane keeping assist, are newly integrated and aim to reduce driver fatigue. These latest curios provide an element of fun and adventure, challenging some drivers to test how far they can travel with their hands off the steering wheel. No one gets very far – Maserati wisely fitted a ‘hands on wheel’ detection system, so the car swiftly returns responsibility to even the most foolish of drivers.
As a lunch stop beckons, we point the Levante down the pastoral lanes of Burgundy’s rural idyll and head for Château de Pommard. Dating back to 1726, a fine Burgundian lunch awaits at the end of an untroubled 50km tour of village streets, farm tracks and other unpaved roads. The Levante makes its home on any road.
The road to Lyon – The Quattroporte
The afternoon’s shorter yet more dynamically challenging route to Lyon was reserved for the Quattroporte. A classic example of Italian design, the Quattroporte has embraced gracefully the virtues of elegance and sporting attitude, particularly in the GranLusso and GranSport trims.
With a heritage that dates back as far as 1963, the modern-day Quattroporte is as distinctive and exclusive as its predecessors the least. The dominant, powerful nose is sculpted around the Alfieri shaped three-dimensional grille, which is pointed and imposing, featuring vertical chrome rib elements that contrast with the depth of the ‘sharknose’ effect.
New colours, wheel designs and interior veneers, a redesigned gearshift lever and Pieno Fiore natural leather interiors provide the ultimate refinement to the Maserati flagship sedan for 2019.
A superbly appointed interior, delivering streamlined, wraparound forms, which endow the dashboard and tunnel with a feeling of lightness, has long established the Quattroporte as the archetypal Italian sedan. The dashboard features a full-width surface in a variety of exclusive, precious trims, underlining the refined character of the Quattroporte and rounded out by decorative inserts on the front and rear door panels.
The roomy, comfortable three-seat bench offers excellent legroom in the rear. Two individual seats are also available as an exclusive option on the Quattroporte GranLusso. They feature ventilation and electrical movement, ensuring unbeatable relaxation during long working trips, and they can also be fitted with individual entertainment screens.
Whilst it’s perfectly possible to spend all day luxuriating in the rear of the cabin, don’t overlook the fact that Quattroporte is a capable driver’s car too. The flagship 3.8-litre V8 engine is the perfect representation of Maserati’s performance tradition. The engine produces 390kW at 6,800 rpm and 650 Nm peak torque from 2,000 rpm to 4,000 rpm, and the peak torque figure can be automatically overboosted to 710 Nm between 2,250 rpm and 3,500 rpm. These engine figures help the Quattroporte to reach 100 kmh in just 4.7 seconds and a top speed well above the 300 kmh barrier at 310 kmh.
Driven on both country roads and highways alike, the Quattroporte is an eager participant in this motoring adventure. Keen to propel its occupants at what in other lesser automobiles would be considered a reckless pace, the chassis of the Quattroporte has been precisely designed to meet the performance and comfort demands of Maserati buyers while maximising safety levels.
With similar driver assistance systems to the Levante, and a well-sorted suspension, the Quattroporte is the car of first choice for all-day cruising. Perhaps it’s the ideal contemporary expression of luxury Italian motoring; for sure it’s too often overlooked as such. For 2019 though, it’s more eye-catching then ever with two brand new tri-coat colours, the race-inspired Rosso Potente, which has been created to celebrate the heritage of Italian sports cars, and the Blu Nobile, with sparkling glass flakes glimmering under the sunlight.
Race to the sun – The Ghibli
A night spent at Lyon’s sleekly urban Villa Maïa was further boosted by dinner at Tetedoie. France’s third-largest city is well-known for its gastronomic prowess, and Christian Tetedoie’s eponymous restaurant with its Michelin star is something worth walking over broken glass to get to and enjoy.
The final leg of La Grande Route would take us from Lyon to Monte Carlo – and with the spirited Ghibli. Although this is the least changed of Maserati’s 2019 offering (of this we approve – we like it just the way it is) the fine men and women of Modena have added new adaptive Full LED Matrix headlights as standard on GranLusso and GranSport, new colours, wheel designs and interior veneers, plus an updated Nerissimo package, a redesigned gearshift lever with shorter travel and improved operation and the addition of Pieno Fiore natural leather now widens the choice of exclusive interiors.
None of these improve the performance of what was already an astonishingly nimble and pleasurable automobile but, to some, it may make it even more gorgeous to the eye.
Exactly where are we going with performance here? Well, the range-topping Ghibli S and S Q4 versions deliver 430hp and 580 Nm peak torque. This class-leading power output gives the Maserati sports sedan a top speed of 286 kmh and remarkable acceleration: Ghibli S makes it to 100 kmh in 4.9 seconds and the Ghibli S Q4, with the intelligent Q4 All-Wheel Drive system, in just 4.7 seconds.
The Ghibli is the quite possibly the perfect grand tourer. Like the Quattroporte, the chassis has been precisely designed to meet the demands of dynamic performance and long-distance comfort. It provides class-leading front legroom and, despite its coupé-like silhouette, comfortable head and legroom for all occupants. The driver’s seat offers 6-way electric adjustment, while the GranLusso and GranSport trims both have standard 12-way power front seats.
The rear seats can accommodate three people, providing optimised lateral support and guaranteed comfort even on longer journeys. And, as you’d expect, in common with the Levante and the Quattroporte, there’s a host of driver assistance gadgetry involved in making the Ghibli go even faster and stop even quicker.
There are few places more pleasant to watch the French countryside go by than from the driver’s seat of a Maserati Ghibli. If the concept of the grand tour were to be created today, we feel sure the Ghibli would be first choice for Europe’s young men and debutantes.
With effortless elegance, a profusion of sportiness and more personality than Nicki Minaj, the 2019 Maseratis represent icons of Italian design expressed as a sum of their parts. Featuring the best of interior design, urban design, fashion design and architectural design rounded off with fine engineering and Ferrari-derived powertrains, time in the Levante, Quattroporte and Ghibli should be on everyone’s 2019 wishlist.
As we rolled in to the Monaco Yacht Club at the end of our second day riving La Grande Route, we felt more than a tinge of sadness as we were parted from our automobiles. On the other hand, we felt like fully-fledged grand tourers in our own right.
With effortless elegance, a profusion of sportiness and more personality than Nicki Minaj, the 2019 Maseratis represent icons of Italian design expressed as a sum of their parts.