Maserati Levante Review
It’s a battle of old-skool versus new-skool to decide if the Levante is worthy of the mark of Trident
By Shahzad Sheikh
Click below now to watch our video review of the new Maserati Levante now.
We’ve seen Maserati re-inventing itself with the new Ghibli and Quattroporte saloons launched in 2013, but now with an SUV bolting from the stable, there’s a much stronger sense of the legendary Italian sports-luxury marque shedding its shackles to a non-conformist past, and embracing the unilaterally enforced domestication and dilution of modern motoring. A little sad for a maverick brand that was previously most famous for its flagrant disregard of the established playbook.
What that means is that Maserati used to be stuck in a decadent Rock Star persona in which it would thrash its garage and happily fling its owner into a pool of oil, whilst sniffing NOS and shagging a Giulietta, all the whilst appearing impeccably cool.
Today the saloons are all grown up respectable execs in chic suits swiping hard on their sharp-edged smartphone windows to the world of banality. And if you think that’s bad, here’s the mumsy homemaker Maser with the requisite 2.4 sprogs and a dog, a house on The Palm and mollycoddling protection up the wazoo.
Yes the Levante is Maserati’s first SUV – it’s safe, practical, dare I say reliable. Worst than that, it’s quite modern! It has controls and instrumentation that makes sense, and they all work and they don’t throw more than occasional tantrum at the least opportune moment. You can thank Chrysler for that though, to a large extent.
Wow – hold on there! You see I just read your mind (I have powers) and I know exactly what you’re thinking: ‘oh, so this is just a Jeep Grand Cherokee tailored in Italy.’
That’s not at all true! Yes okay, you’ll recognise a lot of the switchgear and the infotainment interfaces from your lesser neighbour’s daily driver, as well as the obstinately obtuse gearshift selector that’ll fight you at ever ratio, and become downright belligerent should you attempt a three-pointed turn in the style of a frantic Austin Powers.
But, underneath this is all Maserati. In fact it shares its platform not with the Jeep but its saloon siblings the Ghibli and new Quattroporte – so by all means quell any notion of this being cynical badge engineering and don’t dwell too much on the fact that rumour has it the platform is actually derived from the Charger/Challenger/300C chassis.
And anyway that’s okay because that itself was inherited from a Mercedes E-Class platform from several generations ago, and Germany’s apparently not that far from Italy, so it’s all kinda legit. Sorta.
There’ll be no tolerance here either, for any spurious suggestion that the V6 unit Masers are using these days are really just disguised versions of the Chrysler V6 Pentastar unit (a pretty strong motor to be fair). And the proof of that, as the Italian marque will repeatedly reiterate, is the fact that the engines are assembled by its fancy cousin, no less than fabled Ferrari itself, just down the road! Pay no mind to the fact that the engine block is actually machined by Chrysler in America and shipped to Maranello, and could well be similar to the Pentastar block.
Anyway this twin turbo V6 puts out 350bhp and 370lb ft of torque sending it mostly to the rear wheels (intelligent 4WD can send up to 50% of the torque to the front if you experience embarrassing slippage) through an 8-speed torque convertor auto, and is good for 251kph and 0-100kph in 6.0 seconds.
It’s not priced like a Jeep starting at AED329,000 ($90k) – with warranty and three-year service contract – with this particular test car feature in the video weighing in at AED415k – thanks to better trim, nicer leather, driver assistance kit, alcantara on the ceiling, sexier paint finish, Bowers & Wilkins sound and 21-inch wheels.
The S version, not reviewed here, has 430bhp, accelerates eight-tenths quicker and lists at AED363k ($99k).
Even the regular car gets adaptive suspension with six different ride height settings, best in class aero, lowest centre of gravity, traditionally Maserati 50:50 front/rear weight distribution, leather, cruise, cameras and more.
There’s a sports mode which also impacts the exhaust, but whilst in something like a Granturismo (with that seductive V8 and voluptuous curves) I’d keep it in Sports all the time, even if I was just going across the road for some Faluda, in this car it just results in an annoying low-pitched drone that only really gets aurally exciting at higher revs.
Performance is perfectly adequate even in this car, and handling is better than most SUVs with faithful steering and reassuring dynamics thanks of course to that low grav, equal weight spread and keen set up.
What’s not so great though is the ride, despite all that infinitive adjustability. It’s okay when the road is smooth, but drive over a dirham coin and you’ll feel it, hit a speed bump and future generations of your offspring will remember the ordeal. Some of this might be down to those ridiculous over-sized wheels though.
Maseratis of old: every time you got in one you would be totally flummoxed by the controls whereas today’s Levante is entirely user-friendly; before there was a constant nagging doubt that it was about to break down, you get no such fear today; practicality and comfort was only afforded to oddly-shaped humans, but the Levante is sublime and the seats are great; the old semi-auto style tranny would leave you shaken and stirred, the new box carries out duties discreetly; the V8 engine note would get you fizzing in embarrassing places even before you picked up your dressed-to-kill date, the current noise has you turning up the Bluetooth volume; the old cars were about form over function, the new Maseratis, well they balance that a lot better for sure.
The Levante is a genuinely desirable and appealing alternative to a Porsche Cayenne. It’s the Mummy Maserati for the coolest lady in the school car park, as well as the ride for the downtrodden dad who’s had to give up the knicker-snapping Stradale after being accused of being a pathetic baldy with a mid-life crisis.
The Levante is not quite the Maserati that I remember or desire, but it’s about the most stylish SUV out there and is pretty trending right now alongside the Jag rival. So definitely a worthy contender, rising high up the rankings, in a sea of same-again SUVs currently cascading into the market.