Every September, the genteel folk of Monte Carlo are inconvenienced in moving their various luxury aquatic craft out to accommodate what is regarded as one of the world’s premier floating exhibits of superyachts. Port Hercules, the tiny Mediterranean harbour which nestles below the ringed gaze of apartment blocks and prestige homes which cling like high-browed limpets to the principality’s steep hillsides, becomes a hive of activity for the Monaco Yacht Show as dozens of trade stalls go up along the harbour-front, trucks disgorge boxes of nautical-themed wares and laden forklifts weave erratic paths between the pedestrians.
Manolo Blahniks give way to soft-soled boat shoes so as not to score the immaculate teak decking on which an early tranche of prospective customers sip champagne and exchange views on the relative advantages of choosing a stern-based helipad over a generous plunge pool with swim-up platform.
Berthed and arrayed below us from our perch on the top floor of the Yacht Club de Monaco are hundreds of millions of dollars in aquatic indulgence, and assembled nearby is the small fleet of Maseratis that will carry us from Monaco and north to Paris.
Some of our group are focused less on the latest nautical styles and more on haute couture as the City of Lights prepares to host its annual Fashion Week in just a few days’ time.
However, the journey, as the adage goes, is more important than the destination. Our preferred choice of the 2019 models for the first leg is a Levante S SUV GranSport with its Ferrari-sourced 430bhp twin-turbo V6 and pearlescent Bianco Alpi paintwork.
We are encouraged by the Maserati support crew and not for the last time during the journey ahead, to double click the “sport” button alongside the newly designed gearshift lever and enjoy the musica produced by the cavallinos rampante.
In warm-up, the combined Ferrari engines mutter a wonderful, rich basso profundo symphony. Even in Monaco, this impromptu concert draws a small, appreciative crowd and offers a timely reminder of how these engines provide such a unique appeal to the Maserati brand. Such is the attractiveness of the Ferrari opus is that encourages the downshift of a gear (or perhaps even two) as the pneumatic opening of special flaps sends the engine exhaust down the fastest possible path, delivering a more audible and always pleasing driving soundtrack.
The density of traffic in and out of the principality’s winding access roads varies from busy to sardine-packed, forming a starkly contrasting conga-line of tour buses, buzzing scooters and even mega-buck hypercars. Maserati’s brilliant sat-nav system, displayed on the MTC+ 8.4” centre screen and operable via touch or the centre console’s rotary dial, would provide an invaluable graphic and audio guide in the days ahead.
The 2019 Levante GranSport borrows a little something here and there in exterior styling from the newly announced, gob-smacking Trofeo 3.8 litre twin-turbo V8 version.
The GranSport’s side air intakes are now more aggressive in design, with side bezel plates and a front splitter. What’s quite astonishing for an SUV is the Levante V6’s drag co-efficient of 0.30. Not that many years ago, such a low number was only conceivable for low-slung sports cars.
Aiding this class-leading aero performance is the electric Air Shutter over the front grille, which opens and closes as required to allow cooling air to be fed to the radiator. Attention to detail extends to ensuring the outward face of the radiator is painted black so when viewed in the rear view mirror the open shutter is fully disguised behind the concave trident-badged grille.
There are clearly those designers within the Maserati team who identify a model year change the way fashion designers sense a seasonal shift, where new hues refresh the palette and inject vitality. There are two new tri-coat colours, which now brings the available Levante total to 11: Blu Nobile and Rosso Potente. The paints are created with the addition of glass flakes over a base coat, and finished with a clear coat. While it sounds simple, we’re advised it’s complicated to achieve, particularly to achieve such a high degree of quality in production.
There are 14 different lightweight alloy wheels from 18 to 22 inches in diameter, in eight distinctive designs. The S receives 19-inch alloys as standard (with the option to upsize), and slightly wider tyres (295mm) at the rear than the front. This front-to-rear disparity in wheel size is part of the reason why there’s an inflation kit offered for the Levante, rather than a conventional spare.
Performance brakes on the GranSport are identified, quite appropriately, by red calipers but should that not suit your taste, the colour choice is yours to make. A Levante with yellow calipers and the Blu Nobile tri-coat was a particular favourite of our photographer Lorenzo, whose Nikon was never far from his nose when it appeared. Maserati customers are encouraged to individualise so there’s the further option of the Nerissimo package. Upgraded for 2019, Nerissimo rouses an embrace of your inner Batman with a black grille, skid plates, daylight openings, tail-lights and exhaust tips, and complimented by black chrome badgework.
Maserati’s engineers listened carefully to remarks about the previous gearshift lever action and have introduced a new MY19 lever design across the full model range to control the shared eightspeed ZF automatic gearbox.
It’s a totally intuitive short-throw design that allows the switch from automatic (RND) to manual (M) shifting with a sideways fingertap. The Park (P) function is now engaged by a push-button on the top of the gear lever. Likewise, the driving modes are reconfigured.
There’s now an Off-Road button to join the engageable modes of ICE (Increased Control & Efficiency) and Sport. ICE mode is the everyday preference, and makes the gearshifts nearly indiscernible.
The Q4 all wheel drive system always delivers grip bias to the Levante’s rear wheels as befits the handling characteristics of a sports-luxury SUV. But on snow, ice or loose surfaces, in just 150 milliseconds the electronically controlled multi-plate wet clutch system directs assistance to the front wheels for a 50:50 drive split front-to-rear.
On the winding roads, there’s a feeling of control and capability that affords complete driver confidence. The Levante’s sophisticated skyhook suspension responds intuitively as the Maserati enters a bend, making automatic adjustments to counteract any shift in the centre of gravity, maintaining a level ride and full composure even when the outside wheels encounter broken edges of the roadway.
Entering the autoroute, the Levante requires very little throttle input to hunt along comfortably at the stipulated 130km/h speed limit. It’s an accomplished open road cruiser, eating up the kilometres with ease. All the passive and active safety you’d expect is there in support, too, such as active blind spot assist, lane-keeping, highway assist (which provides subtle opposing pressure on the electric steering should the car wander out of lane), and adaptive cruise.
It’s testament to the comfort and support of the 12-way powered leather seats and the effortless manner in which the Levante adapts to road conditions, from the fast clip of the busy autoroute to the narrow country lanes, that there’s no hint of driver fatigue when arriving at the lunch stop at Chateau la Coste, in the French countryside of Aixen-Provence and where we can take a closer look at the vehicles in detail.
Little wonder the Levante’s on-road cabin ambience is so subdued; its cabin doors wrap right under the sills with a thick seal at the foot and close with a vault-like clunk.
There’s widespread approbation in the group for the new Pieno Fiore natural leather interior trim added for 2019 in a choice of black, red or tan, together with the Ermenegildo Zegna Silk interior option, with its oh-so-soft anthracite inserts to the seats, door panels, roof lining, and sunshades. It’s made exclusively for Maserati by the Zegna wool mill in Trivero, Italy.
Chateau la Coste itself presents an intriguing diversion. Owned by millionaire Irish property investor and businessman Paddy McKillen who, although a teetotaler owns luxury hotels right across the UK and Ireland, the property attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year for its gallery and the world-class art installations spread in a somewhat arbitrary manner right across the 200 acres.
Complex and intriguing sculptures by the likes of Ai Weiwei, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel are among the dozens of pieces, some nestled in tree-lined glades and others among the rolling hills of vineyards.
Hours which could be spent here but time is tight so it’s appropriate to swap into the Maserati Quattroporte, the elegant large sports sedan of the range, for a quick and relatively straight-forward autoroute hunt north to Lyon.
The spacious and curvaceous executive sedan was an appropriately relaxed choice for the autoroute. The Quattroporte cleaves cleanly through the air due to its very low drag, and the kilometres reel by effortlessly, with pleasure.
Beneath the subdued cabin ambience beats the soft, delightful burble-thrum of the Ferrari engine casually at work. Only a gentle pressure on the throttle is needed as we regularly work out to the fast lane to dispatch slower traffic but there’s an occasional irresistible urge to press the Sport button, such is the pleasurable lift in volume and brio this prompts from the clever exhaust system.
For 2019, the low-slung Quattroporte benefits from the same upgrades noted on the Levante. New for the Quattroporte are 20-inch Perseo and 21-inch Atlante alloys which can be mixed and matched to the customer’s choice of GranLusso, GranSport or Nerissimo packages.
The adaptive full LED headlights, with tri-bladed daytime running lights (DRLs) introduced by Maserati across the 2019 model range, come into play as the French autumnal light deepens further. There are three automatic lighting settings – town (for under 50km/h), country (50-110km/h) and motorway (over 110k/h) – and we experience the benefits of each as our journey takes us off the autoroute and into the historic heart of Lyon.
Rising early to the soft, almost surreal morning light, our choice of the Ghibli S GranSport in the entirely appropriate Rosso Potente paintwork is given the nod of approval by our enthusiastic test driver, Filippo Pensotti, whose personal time away from corporate duties is invariably spent on racetracks and rally roads.
All the enhancements, including the new gear lever, full LED Adaptive Matrix and the Maserati Touch Control Plus (MTC+) infotainment, together with the new colour palette and trim choices, are carried across to the smaller sports sedan.
The new twin cup-holders in the Ghibli’s centre console – so important for the US market – are put to early use and there’s new-for-2019 cabin veneers to admire, with customers given the choice between the sporty Carbon Fibre Twill or the finely striped, glossy wooden Rovere Veneer.
Working the light, beautifully balanced Ghibli through the narrow, twisty rural roads between the ripening vines lining le Route des Grand Crus was a fitting way to finish our introduction to the Maserati 2019 model range.
The catwalks of Paris were beckoning eagerly to our small, diverse tour party group and at the admission of the accompanying Maserati designers, the latest fashion, whether in metal or material, is always deserving of attention.