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The Levante SUV is arguably the most important model in Maserati’s 102-year history. Why? Because it enters a totally new segment for the brand, a category that allowed it to roughly double the number of Trident-badged cars sold around the world in one year, especially in the US and China. That alone is impressive.
Actually, a lot about this luxury SUV raises eyebrows. No one ever expected Maserati to make an SUV, and then once it went on sale, no one expected it to be any good. But the unexpected happened. This SUV is surprisingly good.
Luxury SUVs are all the rage right now. In a segment dominated by the Range Rover, the Porsche Cayenne created its own niche market and redefined the genre. Then came other luxury crossovers like the Bentley Bentayga, while next year we will see the debut of the Lamborghini Urus with Aston Martin’s DBX slated for a 2019 launch. So the Levante has to pack a punch to keep up in this increasingly competitive segment. If the Range Rover is Jan-Claude Van Damme-- the consummate martial artist boasting perfectly chiselled features, then the Levante is Jason Statham, with unique features and a surprising ability to get over any obstacles in his way.
So what about those features? Its styling is indeed unique. Rather than calling the Levante beautiful, I think its styling is aggressive, sporty and edgy with definite hints to its Maserati heritage like the headlights, grille and badge. It certainly turns heads. This SUV sits low on the road and actually looks more like a large hatchback than an SUV.
It is based on the same rear-wheel Ghibli platform and therefore has a long wheelbase and plenty of rear legroom. Employing a perfect 50:50 front-rear weight distribution, this SUV’s secret weapon is its AWD system, two off-road modes and a five-level air suspension that can lift ride height for off-roading or lower it for high-speed driving or cornering.
The AWD channels 100 percent of its torque to the rears during normal driving, and can redirect a maximum of 50 percent to the front axle when rear traction is compromised. While I was not able to take the car off-road, I can say that it devours corners with a stability and poise equalling the best in the segment. What I especially liked was its hydraulic power steering – not electric – that gives the Levante better weight and feel and a well-judged steering response.