CUMBERLAND – In 1914, two disparate events occurred that would make large impacts on American society, as well as on automobile styles, performance, and general attitudes about luxury motoring.

Event one was Henry Ford’s gathering several friends, including Thomas Edison, tire magnate Harvey Firestone, naturalist John Burroughs, with Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge occasionally joining in, and as the “Vagabonds,” essentially creating the summer road trip.

While the group boasted about their “auto camping” (they rarely roughed it) feature stories in newspapers nationwide encouraged Americans to get out and explore everything the country had to offer.

The Vagabonds’ annual trips – in Model T Fords, of course – continued until 1924. Talk about starting a trend: This summer, pundits estimated that 50 million Americans hit the road for July 4.

Back to 1914. Across the globe, five Italian brothers founded a car company to build Grand Prix race cars to compete across Europe. The Maserati boys found success, but didn’t start to build street-going cars until 1926. Through a succession of ownership by other automakers, Maserati remains, to this day, the only Italian car company ever to win the Indy 500.

Rival Ferrari acquired the brand in 1998, creating a luxury marquee for the sports car builder. In 2005, Fiat acquired both brands – which are now all owned by FCA – Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

To play the role of a 2019 “Vagabond” and sample the virtues of one of the world’s most-storied automotive brands, we called Bill Green of News Center Maine and “Bill Green’s Maine.”

He graciously accepted the offer, openly telling his wife, Pam, in the background that “some guy wants me to drive his Maserati!”

The Maserati Levante is the brand’s first SUV. Like countless luxury automakers who once eschewed the prospect of selling some kind of “truck,” market forces now dictate that you will build a competent SUV/crossover, or your business will wither and die.

The Levante, available in four trims (Levante, S, GTS, Trofeo) defined by four different engines (345-hp turbo V-6, 424-hp twin-turbo V-6, 550-hp turbo V-8 and 590-hp twin-turbo V-8) fights for marketshare against the Mercedes GLE, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6, Land Rover Range Rover, Audi Q8; some shoppers might consider the high-end versions of other brands. At 197 inches long on a 118-inch wheelbase, the Levante is within tiny measurements of each competitor.

Pricing starts at $75,980, climbing to $171,475 for the Trofeo. Our sampled S GranLusso started at $91,980 before adding 21-inch triple-five-spoke Helios sport wheels, Bowers Wilkins Audio with AHA, Apple and Android compatibility, Trident accent stitching to the heated and cooler leather seating, plus the Driver’s assist electronics and the Rame colored mica-paint that brought the sticker to $103,285.

Maserati also builds the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans as well as the GT Convertible and Gran Turismo coupe.

The snarling twin-turbo V-6 is hand-built by Ferrari. It does not disappoint when prodded. It barks at redline and delivers on the audible sensations that have always been a signature statement of Maserati. AWD is standard with an 8-speed automatic plus an automatic 5-way active air-suspension with selectable modes. The chassis is also polished, composed, compliant and generally spectacular.

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 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) and 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 reveled in the Maserati’s supportive seats. He quickly focused on the oversized paddle shifters and immediately became enamored with A) the thrust that can be generated, and B) the intoxicating exhaust note that results. Our pace quickened, as Bill grew 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 Tacoma, Bill stated that he has become too accustomed to one hand on the wheel, despite racetrack driving lessons deploring the practice.

Predictably, the Levante accommodated his style – as we kept growing younger.

Bill said his first car was a ’66 Dodge Dart with the slant six. (My second car was a ’68 Dodge Dart GT.) He paid $700 and it came with a payment book, which we later agreed would be nice for our government to get used to using, since its seem intent on burying our futures in debt.

Bill is a Bangor native, and his second car (perhaps his favorite) was ’66 MGB that took him to Orono and the University of Maine. After school came a ’75 Buick Skylark convertible, which he had painted. He confessed that the 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,” he said, “ 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. A conventional trash can will not fit under the power liftgate, just in case you still have trash duty in your cul-de-sac.

It would be nice if the Levante had an electronic heads-up display standard, since 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 eager to enjoy more of the twin turbo’s sonorous melody, and amazed by how easily the Levante builds speed.

While listing the plethora of practical, sensible family cars gracing the Green garage through the years – Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Saab 900 (after recovering from college tuition 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, longtime Maine outdoors columnist and television host, in his early years. “Many valuable lessons about people, Maine, and my career, came from Bud,” Bill said.

Bill’s Tacoma is his defacto office. It is often his dining room 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.”

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.

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