New programme makes you a master Maserati pilot
Advanced driving courses tailored for the Ghibli and Levante are held at Gerotek or Zwartkops
Sitting comfortably at the rear of a black Levante SUV as it speeds towards Gerotek, I realise it's a privilege to be driven in a Maserati for the first time.
My last and most recent encounter with a Mazzer was a Levante Diesel, which was on test as a pre-owned buy. I drove that all day. Then there was the Gran Coupe MC Stradale, circa 2013. I insisted on piloting that one, too.
My driver is not being intimate with the Levante’s throttle. Colleague and Sunday Times motoring editor Brenwin Naidu is at the helm. He is an accomplished driver and, understandably, the beautiful bellow emitted by the petrol V6 engine in the Levante S Gran Sport we are travelling in is egging him on, hard.
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Part of the reason we are converging at Gerotek, SA’s premier vehicle testing centre on the outskirts of Pretoria, is so Maserati SA can demonstrate its newly launched and globally run Master Maserati Driving Course, essentially an advanced driving course, but presented in premium indulgence as expected by clients of the brand.
The experience is standard fare to owners of Ghibli, Levante, Gran Turismo and Quattroporte — the current line-up. Unlike some driver classes by other brands, for non-Maserati owners the course is by invitation only. You’d have to satisfy Maserati’s strict client profiling system. If you’re not on their radar, you can’t discover or understand what Maseratis are all about or what they are capable of.
In the day's first lesson I learn that the SUV's Hill Descent Assistance programme works in two directions.
Tackling a forward steep gradient you prep the car by means of pushing a few buttons, before relinquishing all downward braking duties to the vehicle. Retardation is automatic. You can also choose the speeds at which the car slopes down via a toggle on the left-side stalk. Should you need to retreat back down, the same Hill Descent tech works in reverse.
Safety is paramount on this exclusive course, the aim of which is to hone the driving skills of Maserati enthusiasts on the road.
The next exercise sends the Levante fleet on to Gerotek’s oval track.
We don’t go flat out right away. Basic principles in understanding braking distances at different speeds are demonstrated, an exercise which also asserts the stopping power of the cast iron and aluminium Brembo brakes. Then we are let loose to flex the soulful sounding engines to near their 264km/h terminal velocity.
Despite looking quite straightforward, ovals can be a tricky undertaking. Because you are mostly flat out on the throttle, this requires the vehicle to be driven at speed at the top-most lane, right beside the steel barriers. I don’t have the Herculean bravery needed for such antics. It’s an early tap-out for me. Those in our group made of sterner stuff go around more times. It’s a chance to watch, from the sidelines, the beauty of the Levante in flight.
Next, we descend on the skid pan for a bit of slippery driving fun. A timed gymkhana is laid out and this is an opportunity to test the wet driving safety in the Levante. The behaviour is typical of the segment. It lumbers about while its stability electrics and AWD system scramble for optimum traction to keep it on the straight and narrow.
I’m satisfied that it’s a public protector, but to have any chance of posting a good time on the day, the traction systems must be disengaged. The Levante quickly proves that, in the hands of a skilled driver, it’s just as sporty and entertaining, some controllable sideways action elicited easily by a boot-full of throttle on some sharp turns on the circuit.
Our day concludes with a stop at a fine eatery. Maserati clients, on the other hand, will be treated to a mini-banquet at Gerotek’s dining quarters, so as not to waste their time. They need to return to the captain’s chairs to steadily steer corporate ships.
The experience costs R3,000 per person.