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Oh please. Italians don’t do SUVs.
You are wrong.

What? What SUV has ever come out of Italy?
Top of our mind, a Lamborghini.

The LM-something?
The LM002. It reeked of power and a 290-litre fuel tank that could empty an Arab oil well within a minute of you saying 'Arab oil well'.

Fine. But that was the only one…
Technically, no. Lamborghini also made a prototype military SUV called the Cheetah that had a 5.9-litre V8 mounted at the rear.

And not very useful. The thing would tip over on inclines.

It didn’t win any wars then…?
We doubt.

But they aren’t SUVs in the real sense of the term…
You have us there.

Well, but the Maserati Levante here is in the ‘real sense of the term’.

Really? How?
For starters, the Levante doesn’t look like an abomination created by people in the middle of a hangover.

True. But is it the most beautiful SUV ever?
Well, the Italians have the knack of creating beautiful objects, and the Levante is almost there.

How so?
That front grille and the slim headlights are awesome. So are the signature three-vent slats on the sides, but it seems like the designers just wanted to bring things together at the rear rather than push design or beauty envelopes.

True. It also looks not that large…
It isn't. The Levante looks like a smallish estate or a largish hatch, but the lines do a good job of hiding the bulk of this thing. It’s 150mm longer than the Porsche Cayenne.

You're kidding.
No we aren’t. The Levante may look like it’s built to take on the Macan, but Maserati actually has its sights set on the Cayenne with the Levante.

It’s that good on the road?
If you push them both to their handling limits, the Cayenne and the Macan are a notch better than the Levante. The Levante is extremely good, but the Porsches are better.

Which means the Levante is not a bad handler?
Not at all. In fact, it’s pretty damn good.

Won’t be much of an off-roader then…
Well, we drove it over sand dunes, through ditches and put it through some extreme wheel articulation exercises that the Levante managed to pull through quite well for what’s supposed to be a sporty, posh SUV.

Wow. So an Italian exotic that can take on the Land Cruiser and Land Rover?
We wouldn’t go that far. The Levante can take on most terrains, but till we see it with our own eyes, we won’t bet this Maserati tackling terrain that would challenge purpose-built, body-on-chassis off-roaders.

What’s the engine like?
We drove a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol that makes 430bhp and 580Nm. It sounds rather nice for a turbo engine, and does enough to get the Levante to 100kph from standstill in 5.2 seconds. There’s also a diesel – 3.0-litre, V6 – the only engine that'll probably make it to India.

Why not the petrol?
It measures an exact 2,979cc, which is just under 3 litres, and Indian law stipulates that petrol engines under 3,000cc need to be separately homologated. So Maserati may most probably stick with a diesel that has no such requirements.

Damn. Any quirks with the Levante?
It’s a sorted, nicely put-together car. It rides well, handles well and definitely carries a cachet with the badge and road dynamics that can’t be matched by a BMW or a Merc or a Volvo. The only annoying quirk is with the steering wheel.

Too light? Too slow?
Oh no. It’s all fine with feel and sensation. It’s just a bit too large in diameter. The Levante, over sand dunes, is a car that doesn’t show its two-tonne weight. It quickly changes direction and the steering wheel is great with counter-steering to keep the tail of the car in check over slippery surfaces. But we wonder why modern Maseratis – the Quattroporte, the Ghibli and this Levante – have to have such a large steering wheel.

Is there room for a hotter version?
Sure, a 5.0-litre V8 GTS. Of course, that’s only on our wishlist and the Levante doesn’t come in that spec, yet. But this is a solid SUV with a great balance between sportiness, handling and luxury. If they can shoehorn the V8 from the Quattroporte GTS and tweak the suspension a bit, the Levante has potential to match the Porsches.

Awesome. When is it coming to India?
When we first drove it in January 2017 in the Middle East, Maserati was looking at an April launch in India. But now, that has been delayed to the third quarter of 2017.

That’s late.
It is. Maserati needs a hot-seller – to bring in the numbers – in India. And sporty SUVs are things Indians lap up hungrily, even if they are from pedigreed marques. The perfect time to get the Levante to India is now.

Pros: Engine note, transmission, ride, handling, off-road and desert cred
Cons: Steering too large, could do with more feel
Bottom line: A proper, competent, luxury SUV with equal on and off-road cred

Estimated price: Rs 1 crore
Engine: 2979cc V6 turbo petrol
Power: 430bhp at 5750rpm
Torque: 580Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission: 8A AWD
0-100kph: 5.2 secs (claimed)
Top speed: 264kph
Weight: 2109kgs

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