Well of course Maserati now sells an SUV. After all, such rivals as Jaguar and Bentley now proffer sport-utes, and Lamborghini and Aston Martin will soon have SUVs of their own. Maserati — that is, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles — wasn’t about to let the other luxe brands suck up all that juicy SUV lucre without taking a bite of its own. Thus, the all-wheel-drive Levante.
Judging by the reaction of my fellow Angelenos, a lot of buyers (at least in SoCal) have been waiting for this very rig. Everywhere I took the Levante (that’s “leh-von-tay”) people came forward to pepper me with questions: “That really a Maserati?” “How fast is it?” “What’s the price tag?” “Does it have a built-in espresso machine?”
The answers: yes, it’s a real Maser (based on the Ghibli, in fact), it can do the 0 to 60 mph sprint in just 4.9 seconds, pricing for the uplevel SQ4 edition starts at $84,250, and, no, it only has built-in espresso if you spill your Starbucks all over the center console. The Maserati easily drew as much attention as the Jaguar F-Pace I sampled several months ago. My test car was still something of a novelty, but in a few months I’m sure I’ll be seeing Levantes all over town.
It has a clean and elegant shape adorned with that familiar Maserati face, the traditional triple portholes just aft of the front wheels, and muscular haunches in back. The look was nicely finished off with optional 21-inch Anteo alloy wheels, part of the $6,800 Sport Package 21 (which also adds red brake calipers, high-gloss carbon trim, plus premium leather sport seats and sport steering wheel). My tester also included a 900-watt Harmon Kardon audio system, a surround-view camera, and several other options, pushing the sticker to a lofty $98,950 — more than the base sticker for the 440-horse Porsche Cayenne GTS.
The Levante comes equipped for battle, mind you. Under the hood of the sporty SQ4 model lies the same twin-turbo DOHC V-6 found in the Ghibli sports coupe — but thanks to redesigned intake and exhaust systems power climbs to 424 hp in the SUV. There’s enough grunt here to keep the Levante nose-to-nose with the Cayenne GTS in a sprint, though for maximum thrust you’ll want to switch into Sport mode (which opens up the exhaust baffles and unleashes a thrilling snarl). You have to keep the engine on-boost or the Maser tends to hesitate, but its ability to sprint hard is almost miraculous given its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight.
All Levantes get a ZF 8-speed automatic with manual shift paddles. And that’s a shame. The shifter feels old and clunky — quick downshifts, for instance, are hit or miss — and the shift lever in the center console, which lacks detents, is maddeningly frustrating to use. In my week with the Levante, I never was able to click into reverse without a fight, often selecting park or neutral instead. It’s awful.
Once you’re underway, though, the Levante is a brilliant hustler. It’ll loaf along at triple-digit speeds (empty desert roads are nice) with supreme ease and quiet. At one point I looked down to see that I was going 30 mph faster than I thought I was. Seriously. Just a hush from the engine compartment, almost no wind noise. The Levante is pleasant that way: it has an electrifying snarl under full throttle but, when cruising, can run along with just a whoosh (as long as you click out of Sport mode, closing the exhaust baffles).
In Sport the ride is quite firm, pliable enough on smooth California tarmac but, I’m betting, probably too stiff for the battered asphalt of snowy climes. The standard air springs can be raised or lowered, at the touch of a button, as much as 3.4 inches, though I never found an off-road track bad enough to give the system much of a workout.
Surprisingly, in this age of electronic steering systems, the Levante‘s remains hydraulically assisted. It’s not the best such system out there, but the feel is fluid and delivers good road feel — though it’s less effective at transmitting increasing cornering loads. Still, the Levante likes to romp through the twisty stuff. You’d never guess it weighs two and a half tons. And it sounds fabulous.
For all of its fleetness of foot, though, it’s in the cockpit where the Levante shines brightest. Yes, some of the switchgear is generic Fiat/Chrysler stuff and, yes, the turn-signal stalk is way out there in another zip code, but mostly the Levante just radiates that magical Italian blend of style and timeless elegance. The cabin is a feast of lovingly crafted and beautifully stitched hides, polished carbon trim, and classy aluminum accents — all accented by the intoxicating aroma of premium leather. At the center of the dash lies a big, sharp display screen that’s quick in response and easy to use. The driver gets a set of simple analog gauges and a superb, perforated-leather wheel. Rear-seat passengers enjoy abundant room, though I did note that the layout eats into rear cargo space. There’s even a handsome little clock atop the dash, a bit of icing on a cockpit as sweet as a slice of Tuscan tiramisu.
Maserati has ambitions to sell around 30,000 Levantes on our shores annually and — judging by the rig’s swiftness, style, and the undeniable allure of that “Maserati” nameplate — the company will likely succeed. In some small ways, the Levante comes up short, but in the broad strokes it more than holds its own — and does so in a manner unique to the class (at least until its Lambo rival rolls around).
No, the Levante doesn’t offer built-in espresso. But it’s a downright luscious ride for getting one.
2017 Maserati Levante SQ4 Specifications
|PRICE||$84,250/$98,550 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6/424 hp @ 5,750 rpm,
218 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||14/19 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||197.0 x 77.5 x 66.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||164 mph|