Another mover and shaker for the SUV market? Alvin Thomas puts the Maserati Levante through its paces.
Shhh! It’s a Maserati, and if you look closely, it’s an SUV. How on earth did this happen? When did Maserati jump on the SUV bandwagon? After all, the boffins in Modena, Italy, have been successful – for the past century or so – at their job of producing some of the finest sports cars that have ever graced the face of this earth.
Why then – after all these years – is Maserati starting production of an SUV? Are the forces shifting towards something more radical? The answer, however, is very simple, and one that you would never have expected: they’re building an SUV because they can, and because they are going to be phenomenal at it!
Sure, they could have simply revamped the GranTurismo or even brought back the sexy-looking mid-engined Bora. But what Maserati is looking to do with the Levante is to break into a market that has been predominantly dull – and to be completely honest, a tad too German – and improve upon it from every angle.
And that is exactly why the Maserati manages to break into this segment successfully. For starters, the Levante is gorgeous: it has lines and vivacious curves, which only belong on cars designed in Italy (I swear, no Asian or German car could pull off these looks). It has a hexagonal grille that manages to look more like a styling accessory than an actual air-intake, and its lights are thin and chiselled to give it an aggressive guise. As a matter of fact, the more I stare at it, the less it looks like an SUV, and more like an actual sports car. Underneath the flared (and long) hood lies a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 – spawning an almost unbelievable 430hp and 580Nm of twist (torque) – that drives all four-wheels. The result of all this power and growl is an SUV that can hit the 100kph mark from a standstill in a mere 5.5 seconds – and that’s impressive for a vehicle that weighs two-tonnes.
The Levante does manage its weight pretty well around corners, remaining largely settled and poised. That can be attributed to its chassis – a combination from the Ghibli and Quattroporte – that is extremely stiff.
Of course, you can still poke it with a stick – by slamming on the throttle mid-corner – to invoke oversteer (better known as drift), since much of the torque is sent to the rear wheels.
I found the steering to be extremely well-weighted and precise. Surprisingly (and thankfully!), Maserati is one of the few manufacturers that still sticks to hydraulic steering, as opposed to electric. Thanks to this, you can really chuck the car around corners with maximum confidence. Drifts and slides are extremely easy to hold, and there’s very little roll from the body, especially if you set the car in “Sport Plus” and “manual” modes. Upon doing this, the SUV lowers itself to aid in cornering, and also sharpens the throttle response and gearshifts.
Apparently, if you hit 180kph, the Levante will also crouch itself furthermore, to cut drag and maintain stability (of course, I didn’t do that). But, the faster you go, the more stable the Levante becomes.
The gear shift – especially upshifts – from the eight-speed automatic gearbox is fairly quick, and isn’t too far off from the dual-clutch systems of today. As expected from a car with a massive turbocharger, there is a slight amount of turbo-lag at low rpm but you can bypass that by taking control of the shifts yourself and sticking to lower gears since most of the torque kicks in a little over the 2,000rpm mark.
Doing so also lets you listen to the gorgeous V6 baritone, which has to be my most favourite feature of the Levante.
The exhaust note is unmistakably “Maserati”, and it really makes this car feel more animated. It’s almost as if you’re travelling with a wailing animal than driving alone. It has to be heard to be believed: the Levante sounds astonishing. The soundtrack is almost poetic than mechanical.
However, when you’re in the mood to quieten things down, you can simply switch the I.C.E system (engine management modes) to be efficient, and you can sit back and relax while you drive. The ride in the Levante is incredibly potent and it to glides over bumps on the road with ease, despite running on wide low-profile tyres.
The seats are extremely comfortable and cushy too, and there’s tonnes of space within the cabin. The cabin itself is finished in leather and real wood, and quite plush. Much of the interior – including the headliner – is covered in soft-touch materials.
There really is a sense of Italian-ness to it all – it really is an amazing place to be in.
The Levante is an SUV that many will want to drive. As a matter of fact, I haven’t received as many stares from passers-by as I got in this Maserati or in any other SUV I have ever driven. And that’s a true testament to the sheer authenticity and exclusivity of the Levante.
This isn’t an SUV. In fact, this isn’t even a car. The Levante is in essence a ballerina stuck in gorgeous Italian car attire. And it just wants one thing: to be let free on the roads. And because of all of this, I would go as far as saying that this is the best SUV to have ever come out of Italy. Sorry Lamborghini LM002.
And for once, I am not exaggerating..