Standing atop the abandoned pitlane buildings at Reims-Gueux, there’s a feeling of disquiet and a little sadness about what has been lost to the relentless march of modernisation. Decaying yet defiantly proud concrete structures are all that remains of the once-famous circuit an hour out of Paris, where once tens of thousands of spectators flocked to watch the racing champions of yesteryear compete.
Today, the circuit’s former main straight is just another busy nondescript French highway. One or two curious passersby clearly still sense the compelling pull that racing history exerts here. They stop briefly and wonder – as do we – at how much human drama and excitement unfolded here as the world’s great racing marques and their drivers thundered their cars down this strip of bitumen at over 250km/h.
Maserati racing and sports cars accepted the winner’s laurel wreath here dozens of times, among them the late, great, seven-times world champion Juan Manuel Fangio. It’s completely fitting then that we should make our pilgrimage to the crumbling remains of Reims-Gueux in a Maserati, to whom the Fangio name is inseparably linked.
And yet while it shares the same famous name and trident badge, the Levante 350 driven here embodies the modern face and marketing pragmatism of the Italian prestige sports car maker.
It’s a new petrol-engine model joining Australia’s best-selling Maserati SUV range in late 2018 to early 2019, and one certain to generate fresh waves of buyer interest and curiosity.
The Levante 350 will be the most affordable Maserati ever offered in this country. The petrol-engined 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 350 will still carry all the levels of safety, equipment, comfort and performance expected from Maserati.
The new model’s description denotes the engine power output of 350 horsepower. The Levante 350’s heartbeat remains that of a much-desired Ferrari-sourced engine, in a slightly decreased state of tune to its Levante S sibling.
Importantly for Australia, it will carry a higher level of equipment than that offered in Europe, while retaining all the quality materials, features and attention to detail befitting the trident badge.
From the ground up, the Levante 350 rides on 19-inch polished alloy wheels and its drive delivery is via the Q4 intelligent all-wheel drive system common across the Levante range, complete with limited slip differential and torque vectoring control. The underpinnings are all independent, of course, with driver-adjustable air springs and Skyhook shock absorbers which, at the push of a button, can be hunkered down for enjoyment on twisting backroads or alternatively ramped right up to provide an impressive 272mm of ground clearance when heading off the bitumen.
The Levante 350’s slick eight-speed automatic transmission adopts the newly designed gear lever and intuitive shift operation for all 2019 Maserati models.
Inside, the cabin look and feel are uncompromised. Hand-stitched leather from the seats to the steering wheel is matched to handsome piano-black fascia trim, while a 12-way power adjustment is provided to front seats.
The infotainment system is Maserati’s latest MTC+ with digital radio, a premium sat-nav system, Apple Carplay and Android Auto. Cruise control, blind spot alert, rear parking guide grid and parking sensors are integral.
Best of all, the engine soundtrack remains pure Maserati. And at the Levante 350’s new competitive price, there’s nothing quite like it.