With the greatest of respect to owners of some of the household-name Italian highway eye candy in the UAE, it doesn’t take a Mensa level of imagination to own one. Pockets full of dirhams and directions to the nearest dealership are just about the only prerequisites, however remarkable the automotive engineering feats in question.
Maserati, on the other hand, evokes a sense of the connoisseur; of drivers looking for something with an enhanced sense of character. If you will, a pair of tailored leather shoes versus top-of-the-range Nike Air Max trainers; a feeling of individuality that fosters a sense of mutual respect between owners. Oh and there is that sound.
“I was considering other vehicles – Aston Martins and things like this – but the second that I heard the Maserati, there’s nothing else I could buy,” admits Casey Coker, 32, an American who is co-founder and co-president of the Maserati Owners Club UAE. “It’s something you connect with. I’ve met multiple members just driving on the road. You wave at them, end up going to the same petrol station and spark up a conversation. It brings people together.”
His club counterpart, Abdul Aziz Al Nahdi, a 38-year-old Emirati, speaks similarly when asked why he chose the carmaker. “For me, to be honest, to be unique,” he explains. “The brand, the sound and how it looks.”
Both men owned the Quattroporte GTS and were working for Adnoc when they first made contact via Instagram based on their love for Maserati – Coker has since left to set up his own company – but didn’t realise at the time that they were colleagues. Al Nahdi has just sold his four-door in favour of a new GranTurismo, while both men cite Ferrari Enzo-derived limited-edition sports car the MC12 as their dream model. After meeting in real life, they soon established the Owners Club, which was officially recognised by Maserati in 2014.
“When we first got recognised by Maserati, we were at 60 members – that was within a year from when we had started,” Coker says. “Now, we’re more than 130 and growing. Our demographic is quite diverse. We’ve got 18-year-old kids who’ve just got their first car to 65 year olds; from US, Australia, Russia, Germany, India, everything.”
The club’s activities span everything from track days and driving skills courses through to luxury hotel stays and social activities. At a recent gathering at Dubai Autodrome, meanwhile, one noticeable addition to plentiful Ghiblis, GranTurismos/Cabrios and Quattroportes was Maserati’s contribution to the sports SUV sector, the Levante.
Looking at the Levante on track, with its bolshie front splitter and grille, you wouldn’t necessarily imagine it being an off-road warrior – this is, after all, a vehicle that does 0 to 100kph in 6.0 seconds, can hit 250kph, and claims the lowest centre of gravity in its segment. Not so, though, when I get behind the wheel of the revised 2018 model at a test drive in the desert around the border of Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah.
Power outputs from the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 are unchanged from the launch 2017 model year – 350hp in “regular” guise, upped to 430hp in the Levante S. Both variants have two trim levels: GranLusso and GranSport. There is very little real-world variation between the two in cosmetic terms, but the former is identifiable by metallic-finish front skid plates and roof rails, plus black brake callipers; the latter gets a black grille and skid plates and red brake callipers, should you want to trainspot the differences. Indeed, so subtle are these differences that it leads to comedy car-changing capers and confusion between my group of test drivers.
But we already knew that the Levante was a very capable ride on the road, recreating the feeling of being ensconced in a sports car, popping exhaust and all with the correct driving modes engaged, only with a driving position that allows you to feel somewhat superior.
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On the soft stuff, it is surprisingly supple and able to take on sand that other sports SUVs would put themselves into reverse to avoid. Its “intelligent” all-wheel drive is based on plenty of fittingly clever technology. It aims to give the feel of rear-wheel-drive Maseratis as much as possible, but will transfer torque to the front wheels as required up to a 50:50 split within a matter of milliseconds.
The weight distribution is 50:50, meanwhile, and the air-spring suspension ensures that you won’t feel as if you are being catapulted across a never-ending cattle grid when bounding across surfaces of the somewhat more corrugated variety.
It is no baja truck, admittedly, but the speed it can carry on sand is still impressive. And that includes when banking on steep-sided desert bowls or making its way across tracks with terrain like the waves on an electrocardiogram of a patient who has received a particularly nasty shock.
Much like the ethos behind the Owners Club, the Levante wields bucketfuls of refined character, while stretching its legs into territory that should continue to raise Maserati’s profile in the region.