The weird double-decker roof design you see in our spy images, combined with the elevated suspension and extra weight, aim to mimic the Levante's higher centre of gravity and frontal area as Maserati tests various aspects such as chassis, drag and aerodynamic stability.
Expect the production model to take design cues from the 2011 Kubang concept (bottom image).
The Maserati Levante will be based on FiatChrysler's new Giorgio platform that brings both all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive layouts. The platform is all steel compared with the aluminium/steel platform that sits beneath the Maserati Quattroporte and Ghibli sedans.
Maserati also has new V6 (368kW+), V8 (412kW+) and diesel (250kW) engines in the pipeline.
The Levante could debut in teaser form next year before a production reveal potentially at the September Frankfurt motor show. Australian sales are expected to start in 2016.
The model is crucial to the brand's plans to reach 50,000 global sales by 2015, though Maserati says it won't necessarily be its best-seller.
Levante will be built in Turin and eventually twinned with a new Alfa Romeo SUV.