Maserati Levante S – A Fun Crossover That Gets No Love

It appears the cool thing to do in 2018, or really ever since the Maserati Ghibli and Levante hit showrooms, is to find a way to critique or bash the vehicles for interior and overall design quality. While I have reviewed a 2014 Ghibli in the past and was disappointed after years of building an expectation that never met reality, I can honestly say that is not the case for the Maserati Levante. In fact, I’m going to argue that it’s the complete opposite, especially for the 2018 model year. I can already see the eye rolls, but the Levante is one vehicle that you have to test drive and experience for yourself, rather than just parroting what a car reviewer is spewing on YouTube.

When the Levante hit the market back in 2016, there were a few flaws that would later be corrected. One being for the base model that front and rear parking sensors did not come standard, which was one major complaint especially when you’re paying more than $70k for a luxury crossover. Next would be that if you wanted to shift into reverse, the Levante would refuse to do so, and instead would shift into drive or park. This is something I didn’t encounter during my time with the 2018 model, and speaking of the current model year, front and rear parking sensors do come standard for all trims of the Levante.

Having read and watched many reviews prior to spending time with the sports crossover, there was a level of low expectations, and in the back of my mind I’m thinking this might turn out to be the Ghibli all over again. The minute I stepped inside and put the Levante in sport mode, that’s when everything changed. To drive a crossover that not only sounded like a sports car, but handled and drove like a luxury crossover immediately put a smile on my face. Where critics do give the Levante favorable ratings is the driving experience, and for good reason as your time behind the wheel isn’t boring and mundane like other vehicles in this segment.

The Levante I was testing was a fully specced $106k S GranLusso that came with Zegna silk and leather seats. They were some of the most comfortable bucket seats I’ve ever sat in, which certainly helped make the drive memorable. For a larger crossover, the Levante handled impressively well, and in tighter corners felt glued to the roads with very little, if any body roll. The gear shifts were almost instantaneous when using the paddle shifters, and for the first time, a test drive in a crossover was actually fun.

Obviously being an FCA product, the same infotainment system that can be found in a Chrysler was in the Levante. What I’ve never really understood was why this was that big of a problem, as Apple Car Play and Android Auto are offered, you get navigation, and you’ll also receive Sirius XM Radio and Travel Link. The one valid critique is that to access the heated and ventilated front seats there’s no button in the center console and instead to turn that feature on and off you have to use the touchscreen.

The smaller touches that can be seen in Dodge products is another problem most people have with the vehicle, but it’s something you begin to overlook when getting behind the wheel. That’s where Maserati may have the edge on competitors. The driving experience is nothing like other luxury crossovers from German automakers because you feel more engaged, and when the valves open in sport mode it will be irresistible to just drop a gear and leave the car that’s in the rearview mirror far behind you. The V6 engine that comes with 424 hp is going to surprise a few of your fellow commuters, and whether you want to have fun or go for a leisurely cruise on backroads, the different driving modes are suitable for either style of driving.

Pricing is one of the larger issues consumers have with the Levante, which is certainly a valid point. As a certified pre-owned crossover after the initial hit of the depreciation, the Levante then becomes a potential sought after vehicle that could be the better option for buyers in this segment.

Overall, Maserati’s first crossover isn’t a bad vehicle. Does it have flaws? Absolutely, but it’s nowhere near disappointing and if you can deal with the FCA infotainment system, you’re going to have one of the best sounding crossovers on the road today.

Here’s the full review for the 2018 Maserati Levante S GranLusso. Is it worth the price and a vehicle that should garner more respect in the automotive community? That’s up to the consumer and the individual.

Auto Sales Get Decimated In October – A Sign Of Things To Come?

The month of October was not friendly to most car manufacturers, as overall sales in the United States dropped 6%. This sharp drop can be attributed to volume sellers who saw declines that haven’t been posted in quite sometime. Is this a reason for concern moving forward? Is a slowing auto market going to be the new reality that manufacturers will face for at least the short term? New car sales have been slowing over the past few months, but October’s sudden drop in overall sales is nothing that should be taken lightly.

It should be noted that October of 2016 had two fewer selling days than October of 2015, but with some of the percentages that were posted, not even two extra selling days could change the outcome of a bleak new car market.

Fiat-Chrysler Massacre

It has not been a good year for the Fiat-Chrysler group, and October magnifies the downward trend in sales for most of the brands. Chrysler posted a decline of 44.7%, Fiat down 24.3%, Dodge -16.4%, and Jeep -6.6%. Three out of the four brands listed are down on the year for new car sales, while Jeep is still maintaining an increase of 9.7%. With Dodge ending the Dart and Chrysler no longer producing the 200, sales figures being down was to be expected, but for the auto group as a whole, there’s not much excitement for any of the brands, besides Dodge which produces the Challenger and Charger.

BMW, Volkswagen, Volvo and Land Rover Experience Sales Decline

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Volvo and Land Rover, two manufacturers who are both up on the year in new car sales in the United States, saw sharp declines in the month of October. Volvo, a brand that has been revived thanks to the all new S90 and completely redesigned XC90, experienced a 14.6% drop in sales. Land Rover saw a decline of 23.2% in October. Despite the sharp drop in sales in the United States, Volvo and Land Rover are still having a fantastic year overall, and shouldn’t be too concerned about the final quarter of the year, unless lower sales figures overall in the automotive market becomes a trend.

BMW may be the biggest surprise for lower volumes in sales, not only for October, but for the year of 2016. Down 18.4% last month, and down 9% for the year, BMW is the only brand out of the big three luxury manufacturers in Germany that has experienced declines. Mercedes Benz and Audi are still strong, and while sales were flat in October, the loss of two sales days could be a contributing factor. Volkswagen on the other hand has not recovered from Diesel Gate, and with a loss of 13.5% on the year and another double-digit loss last month, it just continues to get worse for the German auto brand.

Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati, and Porsche Have Strong October

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Not everyone is reeling from the October blues, there are car brands that had a fantastic month with Bentley, Jaguar, Maserati, and Porsche having double and even triple digit increases in sales. The British are leading the way and Jaguar’s 226% sales increase can be attributed to the F-Pace and XE, which have both taken their respective markets by storm. The F-Pace is Jaguar’s first attempt at making an SUV, and so far it has been a great success, while the XE, which is the British’s answer to the BMW 3 Series, is seeing strong sales since it’s arrival to the market earlier this year.

Bentley’s impressive gain of 158% in sales last month is all thanks to the Benteyga, which is Bentley’s first ever SUV. In October, the Benteyga contributed more than 33% of sales for the Bentley brand. While the British luxury car maker is down on the year by 6.8%, the entrance into the luxury SUV market has yielded strong sales figures, with the Benteyga making up about 50% of Bentley’s sales in the US since it’s debut on the market in August.

Maserati, much like Bentley and Jaguar, has seen strong sales numbers since entering the SUV market as well. The Levante, which also brought in about 33% of sales in October for Maserati, has received raved reviewed by journalists and consumers. Maserati has hit a home run with their luxury SUV, and that is starting to trickle down to other cars in the lineup. The Ghibli had a strong month alongside the Levante, leading to Maserati’s 11.8% increase in sales for the month of October.

Porsche had the best month out of all German brands in October, with luxury SUV’s again being the main contributor for strong sale. Up 10.7% in October and 3.2% for the year of 2016, Porsche has seen tremendous sales figures and it’s the Cayenne and Macan that is carrying the once sports car dominated lineup.

Strong sales across the board for luxury brands could be a good sign, despite the slowing of overall sales in the market. While Fiat-Chrysler, BMW, Volvo, and many others struggled in October, there’s no reason to panic just yet. If the fourth quarter of 2016 continues a downward trend and that transitions into the new year, then there would be a legitimate reason for concern. As for right now, we can only hope that October isn’t the start of a trend, and that the holiday season and the incentives that come with it could motivate consumers to buy in November and December.

Off-Roading In New Hampshire: 3 Feet of Snow? No Problem

New England, especially the Boston area, has gotten hit hard the past three weeks with Nor’easters and blizzards. In New Hampshire, a group of guys are enjoying the relentless snow by taking their full size SUV’s off-road.

The Ford Excursion, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, and Land Rover LR3 took on the snow like champs. With vehicles like these, it’s hard not to have a good time. Who said adults can’t have fun in the snow too?

These guys are going to have at least another week of fun and fresh snow with the recent snowstorm, and another possibly hitting next weekend. Skiing and snowboarding is cool, but taking on three feet of snow in a heated interior, maybe a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in your hand, and off-roading with friends just seems to take winter sports to a whole new level of enjoyment.

Has Italian Ownership Changed The Chrysler Group For The Better?

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT (left) and Dodge Challenger SRT Supercharged (right)
Chrysler Group / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

When Italians and Americans come together the end result is usually awesome, and Fiat-Chrysler is no exception. What has transpired over the past few years for the American manufacturer is a combination of the first three Rocky films, as Chrysler was this beat-up, almost irrelevant company, and in a matter of a few short years has become a force to be reckoned with. While Chrysler is changing the definition of American luxury, Dodge has become the automotive world’s version of Rocky Balboa; two tons of Italian-American muscle that has redefined what muscle cars are.

Starting with the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, clearly Italian influence is making its impact as the new muscle car now has a 707 hp engine, which makes it the most powerful American muscle car ever manufactured. But Dodge didn’t stop there, they’re now Hellcatting the Charger, which just like it’s brother, will be the most powerful four-door sedan sports car to come out of America. While Dodge’s SRT department retains the credit for creating the two beasts, Italian ownership clearly had some input on the power. Seeing that Fiat owns Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, they’ve incorporated Italian engineering with American muscle which has spawned two sports cars that’s making the Dodge Viper obsolete and forgotten.

By 2016, we’ll also have an SRT Dodge Dart which is certainly going to draw some attention, as smaller, powerful four-door compacts are becoming a trend. Even though the company is still Dodge, you can’t help but feel that it’s becoming an Italian car more than American, which is a good thing. The Chrysler group needed a push in the right direction, and by having a luxury manufacturer in Chrysler, and now what appears to be the performance division in Dodge, there is the right balance that’s boosted sales throughout the year.

Jeep on the other hand is becoming Fiat’s extended arm, as the new Jeep Renegade will be based off the Fiat Panda, a vehicle we don’t get here in the United States. The Jeep Cherokee has definitely been Italian-ized with that new, European look. It’s been recently reported that Jeep claimed Trackhawk as their performance name, raising speculation that we might see a Hellcat-like SUV that may change the perception consumers have on SUV’s in general.

Right now things couldn’t be better for the Chrysler group. They’re producing vehicles consumers want, spanning across multiple age groups that’s reshaped their customer base, and becoming more like a European auto manufacturer than American. Their new image of being young, fun, with a dose of luxury has certainly changed how Americans see the Chrysler group, and they’re now seeing strong sales because of it.

Chrysler Sales Rise 17% in May as Jeep and Dodge are in Demand

Chrysler reported strong earnings in May, as Jeep, Fiat, and Dodge carried most of the momentum heading into June. Jeep sales alone rose 58%, Fiat up 18%, and Dodge Ram trucks up 17%. Surprisingly the Chrysler brand itself didn’t report any gains, in fact sales were down 22%. The hope is that the redesigned Chrysler 200 can reignite sales as it will be the first model to get a whole new makeover that will be present in all Chrysler vehicles.

The Dodge Journey and Dart both had a great month, putting together a 33% gain in May. The Challenger on the other hand barely managed a 4% increase in sales, as subtle changes to the body didn’t seem to phase consumers.

With GM having their own problems, this is great news for the Chrysler group as confidence in their brand appears to be growing. The Jeep Cherokee is a favorite among buyers as it brings it’s all-new design and reputation as being a strong and durable SUV.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the 2015 Dodge Charger will sell. After the Charger’s unveiling at the New York International Auto Show, it didn’t get a warm reception. Some consumers didn’t like the fact that Dodge basically put the body of the Dart on the chassis of a Charger, making the once fierce-looking four door sedan look tame.

Despite Chrysler being owned by Fiat for a few years now, the company is still evolving and making major changes to their lineups. If sales continue to grow, there will be a bright future for them as their five year plan heading into 2018 looks very promising.