The transformation of Maserati from a maker of pretty but also pretty rare hand-built grand touring coupés into a fully fledged global luxury car brand has been forging ahead at full steam for the past three years.

But with this road test subject it comes to a rather large and conspicuous climax.

The new Levante is interesting because it takes the Italian brand into a third permanent production base and swells its showroom offering to five models when, throughout a century of history, it has rarely built more than two or three at a time.

It is also vital, because it takes Maserati into the biggest and most lucrative part of the world’s luxury car market.

But it’s most remarkable because, as you’ll no doubt have noticed, it’s an SUV: a £54,000, high-riding, four-wheel-drive, five-metre-long reason not to buy a Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6 or Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé.

Whether Maserati should be making such a car has become a moot point. As recently departed company CEO Harald Wester could always be relied upon to point out, risking the Maserati brand on a big 4x4 – given how popular they have become – is actually much less cavalier than declining to do so.

With Porsche, Bentley and so many other luxury brands already feeding off the benefits of big-selling SUVs and Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini soon to join them, Maserati has clearly judged that its sporting reputation isn’t likely to be eroded here – and if it is, it’ll be a price worth paying.

The Levante is, of course, just one part of a process of wholesale expansion and change at Maserati. While the Granturismo and Grancabrio are still largely hand-built at Maserati’s long-established headquarters in Modena, the current Quattroporte and Ghibli have, since 2013, been made at Bertone’s old Grugliasco plant.

In that context, Maserati’s expansion into a refurbished part of Fiat’s historic Mirafiori factory in Turin (where the Alfa Romeo Mito is made) for Levante production seems like a less contentious move than it might have.

And yet, as brand traditionalists will note, this car is certainly not built in Modena, it’s no sleek, elegant saloon or coupé and, for the time being, and in the UK at least, it’s available only with a diesel engine.

So just how much of the heart and soul of a ‘proper’ Maserati is left?

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Top 5 Sports SUVs

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Kia Stonic
    First Drive
    19 September 2017
    Kia's Rio-based SUV is short on personality and interior finesse, but it's one of the better-handling small SUVs out there
  • Citroën C3 Aircross
    First Drive
    19 September 2017
    Funky, small Citroën C3 Aircross SUV hits the spot where it needs to and misses it where you’d expect it to
  • Vauxhall Grandland X
    First Drive
    18 September 2017
    The Vauxhall Grandland X is a re-skinned Peugeot 3008 that's too bland and offers too little to stand out in an increasingly competitive market
  • Hyundai i30
    Car review
    15 September 2017
    Hyundai’s next-gen bedrock model gets a ‘new era’ look and shrunken turbo petrol, but is it enough to take on the Volkswagen Golf
  • Range Rover Velar First Edition P380
    First Drive
    11 September 2017
    High-spec variant of Range Rover's most road-biased model yet offers unrivalled tech and plenty of luxury, but has a less clearly defined focus