The Outlier: The Maserati Levante S Is A Refreshing Splash Of Color In The Grey World Of Premium SUVs
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If you’re after a midsize luxury SUV, you’re completely spoilt for choice these days. From the BMW X5 and Audi Q7, to the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne, the market is chock-full of great options that combine highriding luxury with betterthan- you-could-imagine sports manners.
The main problem with all of these cars is that they’re a bit, well, common. Head to Downtown Dubai, and you can’t move for the bestknown premium SUVs choking up the streets. These cars are all very good, but for that same reason, they’re bought by their thousands, meaning you’ll never stand out when you’re behind the wheel of one.
Happily, there is another option. At first glance, the Maserati Levante ticks all of the right boxes. It’s high-riding, spacious, luxurious, fast, powerful and good looking. And on top of all that, it’s a bit of an outlier. Despite it being priced pretty aggressively against the likes of the Ranger Rover Sport, it isn’t nearly as common a sight– even on the roads of the UAE, where Maserati’s brand holds serious clout.
Maserati Levante S
And having spent a weekend with the Maserati Levante S (the fast one), I can’t fathom why it’s not more popular. At the same time, I’m glad it’s retained an air of exclusivity, because that makes up a large part of its charm.
When Maserati first unveiled the Levante in 2016, I’ll admit to rolling my eyes. It seemed absolutely anti-thetical to what the Maserati brand was all about. In my eyes, a Maserati conveys style and panache, honed through the decades out of a rich racing heritage dating back to the classic events at Monte Carlo and the Mille Miglia. By contrast, SUVs are big, heavy, and cumbersome. Sporting and glamorous, they are not.
But then you see the Levante in the metal, and you think there might be something to it. The headlamps are angry little slits, outlining an enormous grille with the Maserati trident emblazoned upon it. Air vents along the sides indicate a genealogy with the Quattroporte and Ghibli saloons, and smooth lines down the sides and towards the back create a curvaceousness not usually associated with the SUV format. The pictures don’t do it justice– the Levante looks fabulous, as a Maserati should.
The same is true on the inside, which is a relief. Maserati is part of the Fiat-Chrysler group, and a couple of the switches are carried over from Jeep and Chrysler cars. It goes without saying that these switches aren’t up to the standards of the Levante’s rivals. Happily, with the exception of the finicky gear-selector, they’re well enough integrated into the overall design that you hardly notice them.
Maserati Levante S interior
The overall feel of the interior is one of absolute style and luxury. For the Levante, Maserati partnered with men’s fashion designer Ermenegildo Zegna, which provides mulberry silk inserts on the seats, door panels, roof-lining, and sunshades. The leather quality is beyond reproach; the stitching a work of art. The interior lighting is expertly placed, and the driving position perfection. Behind the leather-lined steering wheel are two Ferrari-style aluminum paddle gear shifters, which are wonderfully tactile and beautiful to behold.
For the infotainment, Maserati has thankfully not attempted to build its own system from scratch, borrowing heavily from the Uconnect touchscreen system found in the latest Jeeps and Dodges. A little Maserati panache has been added to the design of the 8.4-inch screen– the animations are smoother, and the resolution crisper. But the basic utility of the system remains the same as in the Levante’s less glamorous relatives, which is no bad thing. The Uconnect system is among the best offered by any car manufacturer– luxury or not. The audio in my test car came courtesy of an optional Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system with a 1,280- watt amplifier. It’s an option worth having if you like your music.
As you’d expect from an SUV, there’s plenty of space in the Levante, which is actually much larger than the pictures suggest. There’s ample leg and head room for back-seat passengers, and a seriously large boot with automatic opening and closing. As a result, the Maserati Levante successfully combines style and practicality into an attractive SUV package. But how does it drive? On paper, things look good. The Levante S packs a Ferrari-developed, twin-turbo, 3-litre V6, which develops 430 bhp and 580 Nm of torque. Power is fed through an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox to all four wheels, with traction managed by Maserati’s Q4 four-wheel-drive system. The 0-100 km/hour time is 5.2 seconds, and top speed stands at 264 km/hour.
Maserati Levante S
And things sound good when you push the start/stop button on the center console. The engine emits a raspy, high-pitched bark, before settling into a smooth tick-over. That noise remains gentle and in the background when you set off. To really goad the Levante into making a lot of noise, you have to push it. Hard. That may sound like an oversight, but if you consider the way that most SUV owners will drive their cars, it’s actually pretty sensible. The power and excitement is there when you want it, but for the rest of the time, the Levante is a big, four-wheel-drive softy.
My word, it’s good when you do push it, though. The Levante S’s throttle response isn’t quite as razor-sharp as an equivalent Porsche Cayenne’s, but once the turbos spool up, the force with which you build speed is incredible. It’s like a drop-kick to the pit of your stomach. Push past this and watch the rev counter top 5,000 rpm, and you’re rewarded with an incredible engine note. Baritone becomes tenor in a matter of milliseconds. A crescendo of power and noise at the top of every gear shift.
Things aren’t too bad around the corners, either. Sensibly, Maserati fits the Levante S with plush air suspension, meaning it isn’t quite as sporting as some of its rivals. But the steering is meaty and direct, allowing you to manhandle the car through the bends. You’ll notice a fair bit of body roll, but what astounds is the grip afforded by that four-wheeldrive system. Throw the car into a sharp bend at an insane speed, and it’ll stick to its line like it’s glued to the road. The Levante S doesn’t feel particularly light on its feet– its approach is more one of a bulldozer simply demolishing everything in its path.
The Levante S isn’t the perfect driver’s car (no SUV is). But it does at least look and feel like a proper Maserati. But given its exclusivity (and that glorious engine note), if I was in the market for a luxury, medium-sized SUV, it’d be a serious contender for my cash. It’s a practical, comfortable and good looking car with a Maserati badge. That it drives like a Maserati should be reason enough to consider it over any of the more common SUVs on the road.