PHOTO BY TIM PLOUFF

Driving the Maserati Levante with “Mr. Maine” Bill Green, Part II



CUMBERLAND — Maserati claims that its new Levante SUV is “snarling responsiveness to long-distance refinement.” Built in Maranello, Italy, with a throbbing engine built by Ferrari, there is no arguing with the brand’s distinguished pedigree — even as you survey the interior and find hints of the FCA hardware used for various controls. These controls don’t diminish the functionality or the panache of the car’s layout.

With Bill Green as my guest pilot for the morning, it clearly becomes evident that the Levante has a lot more going on than Bill’s beloved daily driver, a 2015 Toyota Tacoma pickup.

The push-button ignition rests left of the thick-rimmed steering wheel, ala Porsche (like the brand’s early race cars, to facilitate faster running starts), while the console houses an electronic shifter with ample pocket space nearby. An intuitive U-connect screen augmented by excellent behind-the-steering wheel toggle controls streamlines navigation, audio and entertainment.

Bill revels in the Maserati’s supportive seats. He quickly focuses on the oversized paddle shifters and immediately becomes enamored with A) the thrust that can be generated, and B) the intoxicating exhaust note that results. Our pace quickens, as Bill grows younger by the minute.

Driving 40,000-50,000 miles a year around Maine, often for WCSH-TV in its company cars but also in his own Tacoma, Bill states that he has become too accustomed to one hand on the wheel — despite racetrack driving lessons deploring the practice. The Levante accommodates his style with predictable behavior — as we continue to grow younger.

Bill tells me his first car was a ’66 Dodge Dart with the slant six, which elicits the admission that my second car was a ’68 Dodge Dart GT. He paid $700 and it came with a payment book, which we later agree would be nice for our government to get used to using, since they seem intent on burying our futures in debt.

A Bangor boy through and through, Bill’s second car (perhaps his favorite) came from Mrs. Darling — a ’66 MGB that took him to Orono and the University of Maine. After school came a ’75 Buick Skylark convertible, which he had painted after (confessing) that car took him to his fastest road speed ever, 105 mph. “It took a long time to get there, and it felt like the car wouldn’t hold together, but that was a thrill.” The Maserati can exceed that speed in the first four of its eight gears.

An ’81 Opel followed — “just an awful car, but it was cheap to own and run and helped me get out of debt, an important stage of my life.” That curse was followed by a Renault Alliance; sensing a trend, we went back to discussing the Levante.

The rakish rear roof profile suits buyers perfectly; they want the style of a “coupe-like” crossover, while embracing the power, performance, traction and space of a speedy crossover. The Levante covers all of those bases in spades — except the cargo space, where a conventional trashcan will not fit under the power liftgate, just in case you still have trash duty in your cul-de-sac.

With a proclivity for graceful speed, it would be nice if the Levante had an electronic heads-up display standard, as the leather-clad wheel handily covers the sections of the tach and speedometer that would remind you of your, ahem, pace. After 800 miles, those were the only complaints from my seat.

Bill, on the other hand, was anxious to enjoy more of the twin turbos’ sonorous melody, amazed by how easily the Levante builds speed. While listing the plethora of practical, sensible family cars gracing their garage through the years — Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Saab 900 (after recovering from college for two), Ford Escape (“blew the engine in that one”) plus the Tacoma and a CRV, Bill is not unlike many drivers who have been out of the market during the rapid transition to electronic-assisted driving aids and the explosion of interior features. At least in the Maserati, these controls remain simple and effective.

When asked about why his show works so easily, Bill said that he learned a great deal from working with Bud Leavitt in his early years. “Many valuable lessons about people, Maine, and my career, came from Bud.”

Bill’s Tacoma is his de facto office. He also claims that it is his dining room, often twice a day as he pursues subjects across the state. “It’s not lunch if I’m not going down the highway 72 mph with food on my shirt,” he said.

With a shout-out to his mechanic, Rich Harmon, for keeping his fleet running for decades, Bill marveled at the features that the Levante had that his pickup did not. “I might never spend this much for a vehicle, as impressive as this Maserati is, but there is a lot here that I want in my next truck,” Bill declared. This came after we visited a friend to pretend that Bill and Pam had “splurged” for a new Maserati.

That conversation probably takes place more than people think, as the Levante is not only a great Maserati but a great luxury SUV. The Maserati boys would be proud.

While maybe not quite the vagabonds that Henry Ford and gang were, Bill illustrated the value of integrity and humility that backs up his weekly show. Don’t be braggin’ because you’re from Maine.

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