Parallel Universe Levante

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.

2003 Maserati Kubang concept. Image:Topspeed
2003 Maserati Kubang concept. Image: Topspeed

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.

Image:Topspeed
Image:Topspeed

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

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. [Dis]content Provider.

8 thoughts on “Parallel Universe Levante”

  1. Is the 2005 Fiat Croma not a product of the Kubang´s concept?
    Maybe Fiat thought that it makes more sense to built a roomy car without 4-wheel-drive, additional ground clearance and more than four cylindres.
    For me, that was the right decision, beacause the Croma is a fine car ( A Fiat with some nice luxurious Lancia details inside). For Fiat it was a missed opportunity – it would have been very easy to built a car that looks better outside and inside than the ugly Porsche Cayenne.

  2. Markus: are you the only person who more than tolerated the Croma? I have no right to criticise as I liked the Opel Signum. We are members of small fan clubs.
    Why did ItalDesign get to do the Kubang? Perhaps as a nod to the work done on the 3200GT?

  3. Although I still like the Signum as well, the Croma is definitely not what I’d call a pleasant design. I think one word quite sums up the difference: wheelbase.

  4. Giugiaro, like all Italian carrozzerie was not averse to rehashing concepts if he thought it was going to get him commissioned. The 2005 Croma was a similar concept and undoubtedly a handy device to own, but it certainly wasn’t much to look at. Also similar in concept was the Mercedes R-Class, itself not a particularly successful model. It’s difficult to say whether the Kubang would have been a success. The fact that the Cayenne sold straight out of the box suggests they had the correct recipe. Now if the Maserati had happened first?

    1. The Croma’s failing are down, in part, to the couldn’t-care-less styling. Having sat in one, I found the exterior sight lines disappointing. That said, it all works and undoubtedly there were comfy, cosy versions that have pleased their owner more than a Vectra, 3 or A4 ever could.

  5. The Croma was facelifted quite hastily – about two years into its life – with the Grande Punto. Those I’ve seen looked like an improvement at the time, now I’m not so sure.

    Does the Malibu MAXX have any saving graces whatsoever?

    1. Golly, the Malibu Maxx certainly was ‘just kinda funny lookin’. I don’t imagine it caught on. I can’t imagine why anyone thought it would.

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