Wind of change: As Maserati finally reveals its commercially critical SUV in production spec, we take another look at a distant ancestor: 2003’s Kubang concept.
The Levante has been a long time coming. How long? Well, it’s been thirteen years since Maserati first dipped a hand-tooled loafer in the crossover stream. In the intervening period that’s become a raging torrent, possibly explaining the tougher-looking, higher-riding vehicle we can see and purchase, subject to the mercurial whim of FCA’s masters.
In that time, there’s been two concepts named Kubang to speculate over, the first of which is this 2003 effort, created at a period when Maserati was being reinvented under the auspices of Ferrari’s Luca di Montezemolo; the prancing horse having assumed full control of the Tridente in 1999. During this period a series of handsomely credible Pininfarina-designed cars were created under the Quattroporte and Grandturismo nameplates.
So given the close relationship Montezemolo developed with Pininfarina, it’s curious he then approached Georgetto Giugiaro of Ital Design with a brief to design a sporting grand turismo estate. Nevertheless, the Kubang GT Wagon was the result – some way short of an SUV, but not quite a crossover either. Giugiaro said of the design; “With the Kubang, we stretched the concept of the automobile as far as our imaginations would let us, without losing anything that would be expected from a thoroughbred GT.” Styled in the idiom of its saloon and GT counterparts, Kubang was intended as a fast, responsive and versatile five-seater four wheel-drive sports estate – a concept Montezemolo could be said to have revisited with the Ferrari FF some years later.
Debuting at the NIAS auto show in 2003, the Kubang was well-received and the word at the time was that Maserati was serious about building it, but why that didn’t come to pass remains unclear. Perhaps development money simply wasn’t available. Perhaps Porsche’s Cayenne of the same year created uncertainty within Maserati over Kubang’s concept? Either way, it now looks like an error, especially given the new Levante’s elevated position in Maserati’s current product plans.
One has to wonder where Maserati’s fortunes would now lie had a production version of the Kubang been realised in the mid-2000’s? Certainly, Porsche’s trailblazer demonstrated the pent-up demand for an upmarket, sporty go-anywhere wagon. Had the more visually successful Maserati succeeded – (some clumsy detail styling notwithstanding) – perhaps it would have become the crossover template rather than the ‘only it’s mother could love it’ Cayenne. We’ll probably never know, but a clearer picture of likely success can be gleaned from the car Maserati is offering now. If Maserati’s current saloons are to your taste, you’ll find the Levante right up your street. In fact I expect to see quite a number of them round these parts in the not so distant future.
Further reading and technical specifications for the 2003 Kubang concept can be found here