Think Maserati and you'll probably conjure an image of a stylish, high-performance coupé, or maybe a scarlet, open-wheeled Formula One car from the 1950s with a legend like Juan Manuel Fangio at the wheel.The last thing you'd expect is a big, family oriented 4x4. But you'd better get used to it, because the Italian luxury car maker has just unveiled the biggest surprise of the Frankfurt Motor Show - the Kubang SUV.
It isn't as far fetched as it sounds, not least because of the tie-up between Maserati's parent company, Fiat, and US car firm Chrysler. Stick with us here, because the Chrysler group contains all-American 4x4 manufacturer Jeep, which has leant its rugged mechanical knowledge to Maserati. It's an unusual combination, but stranger things have been known than a blend of tough off-road ability and outright luxury - just look at the Range Rover.
The Kubang was first seen in concept form at the Detroit Auto Show in 2003. At the time it was dismissed as a one-off concept, but the model on show at Frankfurt this year is near enough production-ready. It's reminiscent of rival luxury SUVs, particularly the Infiniti FX, but it's also not a million miles away from the successful Porsche Cayenne.
Penned by Maserati's Lorenzo Ramaciotti, head of the company's style centre, the Kubang is a huge car in every sense. It's totally imposing, with a vast, rounded grille and a seemingly never-ending bonnet. The headlights are unusual, shapeless things, and, even at a staggering 21 inches, the alloy wheels aren't big enough to fill the arches. Presumably Maserati left a little room to make the car appear more capable off-road, though it's unlikely to be the kind that sees much wadi-bashing action.
At the rear, it's curvy for a hefty 4x4, with a fastback C-pillar and a Maserati trident badge in the rear corner. The only real let-down is the cheap-looking black plastic finish on the wheelarches and rear bumpers, which isn't great on a car that's likely to wear an elevated price tag.
There isn't much information on engines yet, other than that they'll be built at Ferrari's Maranello factory - but it's a given that they'll be powerful and tuneful, and the company has confirmed that there will be an eight-speed automatic transmission.
We've even been promised sporty handling, despite the car's ungainly size and girth. It may ride on underpinnings that Jeep will at least have a hand in developing, but we're told the brakes, engine, suspension and handling will all be pure Maserati.Love it or loathe it, the Kubang is sure to be among the crème de la crème of SUVs when it eventually appears in showrooms. It isn't likely to worry a Land Rover on some tricky off-road slopes but it's certain to make the likes of Infiniti and Porsche SUV fans think twice. Road presence aplenty, the cachet of the trident badge on that huge grille and Ferrari DNA running through its fuel pipes are sure to render Maserati's first 4x4 appealing to the privileged few. Whether or not it has the polish to take on the established luxury SUV market remains to be seen.