Y’s Alvin Thomas tests an SUV that blends Italian styling with performance and practicality at a (relatively) affordable price.
Ever since its launch two years ago, the Levante became Maserati’s answer to the SUV market. It’s a striking SUV with the character of its much snazzier sports car siblings – the GranTurismo and the Quattroporte.
Speed, charm and appeal; it had it all. However, it still lacked one main aspect: a touch of Ferrari – a twin-turbocharged V8.
And that’s exactly what Maserati is addressing with this mid-life refresh. Underneath it all now lies a full-blown Italian V8 that breathes out enough muscle to outsmart its new rivals – the Lamborghini Urus, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and perhaps even the Porsche Cayenne Turbo.
What you’re looking at here, then, is a track-ready monster that will smoke most sports car offerings from the UK, the US, and even Italy – and those too by some margin.
For the most part, the Levante resembles its leaner six-cylinder offerings as it still comes with the sleek headlamps and signature grille.
Mind you, it tends to stand out with a much more aggressive body kit; carbon fibre lip and side skirts; and wider tyres to put down the entire grunt.
It’s understated in its appearance yet overpowering in its overall stance. Other cues include wider intakes upfront to channel in more air into the engine, GTS badging in the rear, and some sharp lines that separate it from its counterpart.
This translates to the interior too: there are carbon accents everywhere – from the large carbon paddles affixed to the column to the center console and other accents on the dashboard.
There’s no mucking about here. The Levante GTS knows it’s a different beast to the regular ‘S’ and it wants everyone in the cabin to know it. Even the leather feels plusher and the seats a bit more snug.
Whether or not it’s as race-ready as its brawnier sibling – the Levante Trofeo (which we’ll be driving soon) – we don’t yet know but there’s still enough to blow the socks off your passengers.
Impressive, yes, but not as remarkable as how well-specced the car is even with all the added super-SUV. There are no unnecessary efforts to save weight: you still get the 8.4-inch TFT touchscreen sporting Maserati’s own skin and user interface, radar-guided cruise control, collision mitigation system, blind-spot monitoring and a host of other safety features.
Space inside is still aimed at pleasing five passengers and the boot space is still pegged at 580 litres. It also comes with the power-operated tailgate to appease families.
Despite all that, however, the most pacifying feature must be what’s underneath the hood. So, the long front now houses a 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8 sourced from Ferrari underneath its bonnet.
It turns the engine bay into a covenant that breathes out 550hp and an earth-shattering 730Nms of torque. The powertrain is further completed with an eight-speed ‘ZF’ tranny that drives all four wheels.
The results are staggering, frankly. Naught to 100kph is achieved in a mere 4.2 seconds and it will even go on to hit 291kph. There are several aero elements to keep it stable at high speeds; namely, a spoiler and vents that close at high speeds to help keep the car planted on the road.
And planted it remains.
We got to test the performance briefly at the launch event – where we could push the car through tight corners, and gun it on the straights.
Aside from the screaming V8 that bellows upfront, there’s a performance that’ll keep you on your toes at any given moment. The way the Levante GTS goes through the digits is utterly mindboggling.
Slamming the pedal to the metal reveals acceleration that can (nearly) lift the front from the ground. It’s an illusion that beggars belief.
The sheer torque that’s spun from as low as 2,000rpm is hard to explain. Perhaps comparing it with the effect of thrusting down the runway in a jet plane would be the nearest comparison.
We know it’s a bit juvenile to compare performances of a flight and an SUV but it’s the effect of hauling a heavy-bodied (at about two tonnes) piece of aluminium down the tarmac that truly staggers us.
It’s also incredibly controllable and safe to push hard, with a new electric steering added to the mix. While this makes the SUV less predictable initially, we could pin the vehicle down in a matter of minutes.
No corner is too tight for the GTS, and no straight too long.
And coupled with the heavy and responsive steering, we could eke out every bit of performance from this capable SUV.
The turn-in and attacking nature of the Levante is probably what helps it power through the corners. It’ll take a bit of confidence to still plant your foot on the gas pedal through the bend but once you begin to trust the ESP, traction control, and all-wheel drive system thoroughly, you’ll realise that there’s no scope of rolling over.
Even body roll is kept to a minimum. However, we found a bit of understeer to creep in through the tightest of turns; probably a feature dialled in to avoid the SUV from landing on its head.
It’s pushing the very laws of physics to its limits, we must say.
Aside from that, the gearbox is better tuned than its V6 siblings, switching gears with ferocity and eagerness. It even likes to hit the rev limiter at 6,000rpm often before the pop-off valves come into play.
It’s a fun vehicle to play with after a long, hard day at work. Just keep in mind that the fight between yaw and pitch on the vehicle will probably be a tad taxing on your body. After all, it’s a two-plus tonne vehicle and it’s always best to respect that.
Still, we don’t suppose its drivers will expect top-dog performance from it at every moment.
And that’s where its soul lies: in cruising up and down the highways with little to no fatigue. Then there’s the soulful soundtrack that pounces on you from the exhaust.
It’s a blend of the flat-plane crank from the American muscle coupled with the soul and depth of an Italian supercar. The resulting symphony is eye-wateringly beautiful; even comparable to some of the finest sports cars we’ve ever driven.
From a fierce note that’s analogous to eight-cylinder engines to the accompanying low notes that you’d perhaps expect from a Pink Floyd song playing from the exhaust, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece waiting to be composed.
This is perhaps what separates the Levante from its rivals. There isn’t any sense of pretension as to what it can do. There aren’t any unnecessary frills to make it look like a million dollars but when you want it to, it can rival the performance of some of those cars that do cost as much.
Is this the finest performance SUV ever made? The answer to that we’ll never know but we’ll tell you this: it has already risen to the top as the fastest and most capable one we’ve ever tested.
We’re in love – and that’s high praise for an SUV that deserves the accolade. But it’ll not live for long; we’ll be hopping into its tauter brother – the Levante Trofeo next week.
• Engine: 3.8-litre ‘twin-turbocharged’ V8
• Transmission: Eight-speed ‘ZF’ automatic
• Power: 550hp
• Torque: 730Nms
• Top Speed: 291kph
• All-wheel drive
• 8.4-inch TFT touchscreen
• Radar-guided cruise control
• Electric power steering
• Bowers & Wilkins audio system
• Surround view camera
• 20-inch alloy wheels
• Lane Keeping Assist
• Full-LED headlamps
• 580-litres boot space
• Integrated Vehicle Control
• Navigation system
• Six airbags