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Review: updated Maserati Levante
What is it?
Maserati’s first attempt at an SUV, now updated. It went on sale two years ago, but has now been tweaked and preened to make it fit for purpose against the latest Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport et al. Nothing fundamental has changed – the Levante is still based on the Ghibli/Quattroporte platform, but has been mildly facelifted with new bumpers, trims and a new engine.
That’s a 350bhp version of the 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 petrol that already saw service in the Levante with 430bhp. That engine continues, badged Levante S, while the final piece of the three-strong UK model range is the Levante D. For Diesel, obvs. Again a 3.0-litre twin turbo, this time with 275bhp.
One of the problems Maserati is battling is that potential owners think the Levante is too cheap – they expect to pay more. Nice problem to have. However, that asks some potentially troubling questions of the brand. Either it has its brand positioning wrong, its model range wrong or it’s targeting the wrong people and needs to appeal to a wider audience.
Whichever way, it would be useful to have a proper halo product up top to fill out the Levante offering. This is coming. A Levante GTS and Trofeo, both featuring a 3.8-litre twin turbo V8 with 550 or 590bhp respectively are due imminently. However as yet, there’s no guarantee of them being available in right hand-drive. Small potential sales undermine the business rationale, but if Maserati is serious about taking on rivals at all points, this is a car it needs.
What is it like on the road?
We drove both the Levante S and Levante D. Designed by Ferrari (it has a Ferrari codename, F160) it has quite a bit in common with the F154 engine found in the 488 Italia. It’s lovely to use if you indulge it. Maybe not as muscular low down as some potential rivals, but very happy to rev, raspy and potent at the top end and good to listen to. In short, entirely in keeping with how a Maserati should act and sound.
The diesel is more prosaic. It does a job, and is broad shouldered enough to support not only the 2,205kg kerbweight, but whatever extra mass you need to contain inside it. It’s also smooth and quiet. But it’s never going to make you feel like you’re driving a Maserati. Which is surely the point of owning one. In an attempt to lift the diesel experience, Sport mode introduces a partially-artificially augmented engine note. We’re unconvinced.
Both motors are equipped with ZF’s eight-speed automatic. It’s the best in the business, the only quibble being that the integration isn’t quite as smooth here as it is in cars that have more R&D resources behind them. BMW, for instance. However, what Maserati has got right is the gearshift paddles. You might not use them often, but when you do, you’ll love the cool feel and crisp action of the metal paddles.
The Levante’s competence also extends to the way it goes down the road. At higher speeds it’s stable and quiet and the suspension doesn’t make too much fuss of the surface it’s riding over. And if you do decide to find out if a Maserati SUV handles in the way you imagine a Maserati SUV should – with a bit of guts and go – you’ll discover that it’s reasonably crisp and more agile. Not as taut as a Cayenne, but with steering and handling that inspires confidence and delivers a good shot of enjoyment. Especially if you’re in the petrol. It’s another reason why we need the V8.
The whole thing is helped by standard air suspension. It can crouch for high-speed driving, lowering the centre of gravity and cutting drag. It lifts to keep the belly off the floor when you’re in the rough, and compensates for the considerable variations in load an SUV will be asked to swallow.
On the inside
Little known fact: the Levante has an adjustable pedal box. Like LaFerrari. Pointless? No, it does help the Levante cope with a wider range of body shapes and sizes. The driving position, therefore, is very adaptable, and most of the controls are well thought out and logically positioned.
As part of the facelift the gearlever has been redesigned. Might sound like a minor change, but it’s an important one as it now operates logically. A variety of buttons alongside allow you to tailor the ESP, dampers, height control and Sport mode, but less straightforward is the operation of the central screen. This features a double height rotary knob on the centre console. You’ll use it once, then just operate the 8.4-inch screen by touching it.
It’s an OK set-up, but hardly cutting edge. You’ll be using the sat nav on your phone. More importantly the Levante feels well made from quality materials. It feels solid, expensive. And it’s a good size – provided you’re not viewing it as a potential rival to an Audi Q7 or Land Rover Discovery. Unsurprisingly, a Maserati SUV is prepared to compromise practicality in favour of design.
The boot might have a large floor area, but hound-friendliness is compromised by the angle of the tailgate. Two people will be very happy in the back, but a third will be sitting less comfortably on a raised perch.
Provided you’re after a sporting, stylish SUV and practicality is not at the top of your agenda, the Levante makes a strong case for itself: it’s decent to drive, the petrol engine is appealing, spec it right (GranSport rather than GranLusso trim) and it looks individual. This is a much better all-rounder than many people give it credit for and deserves a wider audience. Maybe now it’ll get it.