Can't think of many Italian SUVs? That's because they haven't made many. But here are five exceptions to the rule.
Italian automakers are known principally for two things: supercars and superminis. And between cars like the Pagani Huayra and Lamborghini Aventador on the one hand, and the Fiat 500 and Panda on the other, it makes some of the best in the business. But that doesn’t mean the country’s storied carmakers haven’t tried their hand at other types of vehicles, too. While the Mediterranean country’s auto industry may not be the first to come to mind when you think of SUVs, here are five that have defied convention.
Our list starts with the toughest of them all: the Lamborghini LM002. Colloquially known as the Lambo Rambo, the tractor manufacturer turned supercar-maker produced less than 330 of these Countach-powered monsters in the late 80s and early 90s. Essentially Italy’s take on the Hummer, the LM002 had a military look to it but never succeeded in scoring any potentially lucrative defense contracts. Instead all of the 5.2-liter V12 trucks remain in private hands – including those of Saddam’s son Uday Hussein, until American forces blew it up.
Arguably just as tough as the LM002 and far more ubiquitous was the Iveco Massif. Also known as the Campagnola, the Fiat truck division’s off-roader was built from 2007 through 2011 in Spain by the Santana Motor Company. Power came from a more versatile 3.0-liter turbodiesel four. Designed (like many Italian automobiles) by the famous Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Campagnola/Massif was a competitor to the Land Rover Defender on which it was based. It was manufactured in the thousands in short and long wheelbases, and wagon, hardtop and pickup body-styles for both utility and military applications.
Alfa Romeo may be known more for little roadsters and hatchbacks, but in the years after WW2, it made a jeep called the Matta. Dubbed AR51 for military use and AR52 for civilians, the Matta had a tiny 1.9-liter inline-four driving all four wheels through a four-speed, dual-range gearbox. The Italian army used it mostly for reconnaissance as a scout vehicle, making it something of an Italian version of a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota FJ. The Matta ultimately gave way to the original Campagnola that was built by Fiat, (which itself would eventually buy Alfa) before that name was applied to the Iveco.
Plans are afoot to make a new Alfa Romeo crossover, but before that comes along, its big brother Maserati will start offering the Levante. Previewed by the Kubang concept and set to be based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee through the Fiat/Chrysler alliance, the Levante will be Maserati’s answer to the Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini’s Urus project, if parent company Volkswagen ever gives Lambo the green light. For the Maserati’s part, look for an array of engines to include the new twin-turbo V6 and V8 engines revealed for the new Quattroporte, likely to be joined by a V6 turbodiesel.
While the Maserati and Lamborghini crossovers are still in development, Italy’s exotic SUV market is still held down by an even more obscure manufacturer: Fornasari. The company was founded in 1999 to make the RR series, which includes the two-door RR450 and RR600 and the four-door RR99. Power comes from Chevy crate engines producing as much as 600 horsepower or more, propelling this oddball high-riding sportscars to 60 in around four seconds. We wouldn’t expect Fornasari to last very long once the Trident and Raging Bull marques start treading on its territory, though.