Maserati stays firm on sporty character with Levante SUV


Posted by Damien O'Carroll on 16 February 2017

Undeniably impressive around corners, but will the Levante's ride be too firm for some luxury-SUV buyers?

Up in the rarefied atmosphere of luxury SUVs there is an unfortunate trend to try and be ''sporty", which usually leads to some uncomfortable compromises.

Personally, the whole idea of a "sporty" SUV seems rather silly to me. By its very nature, an SUV is far better suited to a luxury character, which Range Rover has done very well with over the years, thank you very much.

Really only Porsche has nailed the "sporty SUV" thing properly, but others still do luxury better. While the Jaguar F-Pace comes close to getting both right, but a fidgety ride blemishes the luxury claim.

Undeniably impressive around corners, but will the Levante's ride be too firm for some luxury-SUV buyers?

And when you do get the sporty thing right in an SUV, you are still left with a most unsporty ride height, seating position and weight.

Just one engine for Kiwi-spec Levante, a V6 turbo-diesel. Maserati doesn't offer the petrol in right-and-drive.

Just one engine for Kiwi-spec Levante, a V6 turbo-diesel. Maserati doesn't offer the petrol in right-and-drive.

When Maserati decided to chuck its hat into the SUV ring, things got interesting. Maserati has never really been too bothered with the "luxury" aspect of high-end cars, always standing out by offering the most uncompromisingly sporty option.

The Quattroporte, for example, is a large sedan that goes up against the BMW 7-series and Mercedes S-class, but is also a firm-riding beast that (in V8 form, at least) snorts and roars, and tracks across every imperfection in the road like it's reading a braille version of American Psycho.

Does that mean that luxury is a secondary concern in the new Levante SUV and that Maserati avoids that awkward middle ground that so many premium SUVs wallow in?

Interior quality and materials exquisite in some places; family connection to Fiat Chrysler is too obvious in others.

Interior quality and materials exquisite in some places; family connection to Fiat Chrysler is too obvious in others.

No, as it turns out. There are a lot of positives in the Levante package, but ultimately it suffers from the same issues as other sporty luxury SUVs.

It's even in the specification names. Levante will be coming to New Zealand as a single model with the option of Sport or Luxury packs.

The standard car costs $136,990 and sits on 19-inch wheels.

Yes, you can go off-road: there's a dedicated drive mode and the Levante can rise to an impressive 247mm ride height.

Yes, you can go off-road: there's a dedicated drive mode and the Levante can rise to an impressive 247mm ride height.

Because Maserati doesn't do the petrol V6 in right-hand-drive form, the only engine available is a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 that pumps 202kW of power and 600Nm of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.

Standard kit includes an 8.4-inch multimedia touch screen with satellite navigation, dual zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, radar cruise control, hill descent control, automatic wipers and headlights, keyless entry and a power tailgate.

The Luxury pack adds 20-inch alloy wheels, a chrome grille, premium leather trim, body-coloured lower panels, Harman Kardon stereo, wood trim, 12-way electric seats and a panoramic sunroof.

The Sport pack adds 21-inch alloy wheels, a unique grille and front and rear skid plates, a body-coloured rear spoiler, 12-way adjustable electric sports seats, a power adjustable steering wheel, colour-matched lower body, red brake calipers, shift paddles on the steering wheels and a Harman Kardon sound system.

Both the Sport and Luxury models cost $155,990.

On the inside the Levante is well-built and luxurious, boasting what is probably the best interior in the current Maserati line up.

While the high gloss wood trims are a bit cheesy, the open pore woods are stunningly attractive, while the good old fallbacks of piano black and carbon fibre are still agreeable.

A simple and attractive dash layout compliments the high quality of the materials used, with pretty much everything being highly customisable - depending on how much you want to spend. That's the Maserati way.

Maserati has raided the Fiat Chrysler parts bin, however. The touchscreen, a large number of switches and stalks and the awkward transmission selector that makes it frustratingly difficult to find reverse in a hurry will be instantly familiar to anyone who has driven a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Out on the road, the Levante's diesel V6 is nicely strong and refined, albeit suffering from a noticeable degree of turbo lag down low. Once up and running, however, the big torque makes things effortless and relatively rapid, as well as impressively refined.

Much like the Jaguar F-Pace, however, the Levante's ride quality suffers from its efforts to be sporty, particularly on the larger wheels.

Although the backroads north of Sydney where we drove the Levante were hardly representative of the best Australia had to offer, the Levante felt distinctly brittle and sensitive to imperfections, even on the 19-inch wheels. Thanks to the Maserati's air suspension, it's not as intrusive as the Jaguar.

As part of the launch we were also allowed some track time in the Levante, then some light off roading.

On the track it was impressively agile and well behaved, with its lowest-in-class ride height and nicely weighted, accurate steering.

Off the sealed stuff the Levante also acquitted itself impressively well, with the air suspension allowing a 40mm lift over the standard height, giving the Maserati a handy 247mm.

The hill descent control system is well calibrated. The Levante has Normal, Sport and Off road settings, but the car can also recognise when it's off road and adjust itself accordingly.

While the Levante still fails to find the perfect middle ground between sporty and luxurious (like everything else in the segment) it still comes close. Downsides are limited to small niggles, rather than annoying deal breakers.

Now, if Maserati was to do a RHD version of the V6 petrol, we might change that opinion. And if it would jam that feral Ferrari-developed V8 into a RHD Levante (a LHD one is rumoured) then we would be very happy indeed.

 - Stuff

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