The return of a sporty Italian SUV
The list of SUVs I’ve driven that ended up putting a silly grin on my face afterwards is a pretty exclusive one. The most recent entry? Maserati’s Levante S, the brand’s first entry into the segment, first introduced last year.
Some may ask why the luxury automaker is venturing into crossover territory, and Porsche may be the best answer to that question. Its best selling models are not the 911s and Caymans, but rather the Macans and Cayenne utility vehicles, respectively. And so, Maserati is placing bets on this creation to produce similar results.
Stylistically, the Levante — named after “a warm Mediterranean wind that can change from mild to gale force in an instant” — is really just a bigger, off-road-ier version of the Ghibli executive sedan upon which the small SUV is based. It looks like nothing else in its class with its sliver headlights, big grille anchored by the trident emblem and a grinning mesh air intake spanning the width of the front bumper.
Each front fender is embellished with a succession of three small silver ducts, and more trident badges are affixed to each of the rear quarter panels. Bright red brake calipers latched onto cross-drilled brake rotors peeking out behind big five-spoke wheels. The back end may be the tamest part of the vehicle featuring an understated roof spoiler and quad exhaust pipes.
In contrast to its ready-to-pounce appearance, our tester was sprayed a subdued Grigio Maratea (dark grey) metallic colour. Open the doors, though, and your eyes are treated to a sea of “sumptuous” red leather covering almost all the interior panels and seating surfaces. Anything that isn’t is finished in either black leather, aluminum or carbon fibre instead.
It’s all in the sound
I’m truly a sucker for noise, and the Levante scratches my itch in all the right places. The engine, a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6, fires up giving only a hint of its true aural potential. Manufactured by Ferrari, the mill produces 430 horsepower and 580 Nm of torque at a low 1,750 rpm.
Running parallel along the eight-speed automatic shifter is a series of buttons: M for manual shifting, I.C.E. (Increased Control and Efficiency), Sport and Off-road, all fairly self-explanatory. Tapping Sport makes throttle response more aggressive, as well as opening up a set of pneumatic exhaust bypass valves that make the vehicle sound like a full-on racecar. Every shift results all sorts of pops and burbles coming out of the muffler, which is as addictive as it is gleefully obnoxious.
Not only can the Levante rocket from 0 to 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds, it can also go where other luxury pseudo-SUVs dare not. I had the chance to enter a small purpose-built off-road course consisting of muddy hills, big divots, small logs and other fun stuff and the standard intelligent Q4 all-wheel drive made getting through barely a challenge. An air suspension system and set of electronically controlled shock absorbers, automatically adjusted appropriately while in off-road mode, are both standard.
New for the 2018 model year is the addition of a Nerissimo Edition that basically dips the entire exterior in a black colour. The dark paint is set off by contrasting Black Chrome trim found on the upper part of the grille frame and Trident, side air vents, badging and alloy wheels. As a final touch, even the fog light rings have been blacked out.
It may come as a surprise that Maserati is actually a subsidiary of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and the Levante is assembled at FCA’s Mirafiori factory in Turin, Italy. The standard trim starts at AED 345,450, and the more powerful S at AED 387,450.