Maserati Levante S Gransport: Driven

Some people seem to think the Maserati Levante is a strange and disappointing--looking luxury SUV - perhaps mostly judged in the context of the particularly high aesthetic standards of its maker, which has knocked out some sensationally pretty offerings over the years. I am not one of those people. Having just spent a couple of days in the company of the updated 2018-model-year version - and yes, there really is one, even though the Levante's barely a year old as a UK showroom model - I'd say the big Maser's even more handsome than it was. Not the best-looking car of its kind, granted - but it's up there.

But I do have a problem with the car: or, rather, I did. For reasons best-known to the Modenese senior managers of this famous old firm, they decided to introduce the Levante to right-hand drive markets last year with only the option of its VM Motori-sourced 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel as motive power. This doubtless was in recognition of the fact that the UK luxury SUV market was, at the time, about 90 per cent diesel-powered. It was at that point, of course, a UK luxury SUV market with a great many more Volvos, BMWs, Audis and Land Rovers in it than Porsches and Maseratis.

The diesel engine in question was already serving in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, after all - so why wouldn't it be good enough for a Maserati SUV? Anyone who's sampled it in a Ghibli saloon could tell you. Because even by diesel standards it's not especially powerful, smooth, responsive, pleasant-sounding or anything else you might want the engine in your new Maserati to be. Honestly, as V6 diesel's go, it's just a bit average.

The most crucial thing this 2018-model-year revision does is to correct that beast of a dropped clanger. Maserati UK now offers the Levante in both 275hp V6 diesel and 430hp V6 S twin-turbo petrol forms, with the entry-level 350hp petrol engine a possibility for addition to the range later still. And I reckon most Maserati owners would prefer that narrow-angle 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo petrol motor (made by Ferrari, but different from the F154-family 2.9-litre V6 that powers the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio) to the diesel in much the same way that most Hollywood A-listers would prefer to find out that the Harvey who'd just turned up uninvited to their after-show party was the one from the insurance adverts - and not the other one.

Maserati's petrol motor isn't quite a match for that Alfa engine, truth be told - but at least it feels like it belongs in the Levante. There's a definite elasticity to its accelerator pedal response, at its most marked below 3,000rpm, which makes the engine feel a little bit like it's always surging to keep up with the position of your right foot rather than being perfectly atuned to it. But it certainly pulls hard, revs cleanly and with vigour, and has enough torque to make this 2.1-tonne car feel sports-car-level brisk. And it sounds lovely: expressive and authentic at all times through Maserati's quad-piped active sports exhaust, though at its undoubted best when you select the car's sport driving mode.

Come to think of it, you'll actually need to select it twice. That's assuming you want to get the most involving drive out of this car, because it takes two presses of the car's 'sport' button to get the powertrain, the height-adjustable air suspension, the 'skyhook' adaptive dampers and the car's new electromechanical power steering setup - which is the only significant mechanical change on the car for this 2018 version - all to adopt their most purposeful settings. And when they do, the Levante is transformed from something that's not far shy of, say, a Range Rover Sport for rolling comfort, luxury and refinement into something that's equally un-shy of a Porsche Cayenne for driver appeal.

It'd be a Cayenne S, granted - 'cos the Maser's performance level certainly isn't Cayenne Turbo-spec. But the way the Levante stops itself from rolling when you guide it through a tight corner, and then manages grip levels between its front and rear axles so that it stays true to your intended line, poised in its attitude and ready to accelerate out as soon as you are, mark it out loud and clear as a true driver's car.

The new power steering system's pretty good, too. Maserati had to swap the old hydraulic setup for a rack-mounted electromechanical one in order to integrate the semi-autonomous lane-keeping and crash avoidance and mitigation functions that are becoming increasingly common on the Levante's luxury SUV competitors. If you can get these things on a Volvo XC90 after all, why not on a Maserati? The new rack has also allowed Maserati's engineers to tune the car's steering to be lighter and easier-going at manouvring speeds, and then heavier than the old 'HPAS' in sport mode. There's notably less feedback of cornering load through it than you used to get through the Levante's rim, but even allowing for that you're not missing out on much.

The other principal changes to record are not to the Levante itself but to its trim hierarchy, which now starts with a base model and thereafter splits into identically priced 'GranLusso' and 'GranSport' model derivatives. It's the latter that comes as standard with the 20in rims that better-fill its wheel arches than the 'GranLusso''s 19s, and also with the piano black body trim additions (radiator grille, skid plates, diffuser, roof bars) that add that 'murdered-out' visual note of stealthiness to the car that so nicely completes its look.

So configured, and with an engine designed and built by Ferrari rather than the company that puts diesels into London taxis, the Maserati Levante finally drives, sounds and generally seems like the car it should have been from the outset, at least as far as UK buyers are concerned. And more proper driver's cars in amongst the comfy, pleasant, capable but fairly soulless machines that dominate the luxury SUV market can only be a good thing.

Inspired? Buy a Maserati Levante here

2979cc, V6, twin-turbocharged 
8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 430@5,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 428@5000rpm
0-62mph: 5.2sec
Top speed: 164mph
Weight: 2,109kg
MPG: 25.9
CO2: 253g/km
Price: £76,995

Matt Saunders







P.H. O'meter

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Comments (38) Join the discussion on the forum

  • RacerMike 21 Oct 2017

    Nice check engine light in the picture of the cluster...

  • ducnick 21 Oct 2017

    Yep still there where the petrol v8 should have been

  • SnoochyPooch 21 Oct 2017

    RacerMike said:
    Nice check engine light in the picture of the cluster...
    As with most cars you’ll see all your warning lights in position 2 on the ignition...where have you been hiding?clap

  • SnoochyPooch 21 Oct 2017

    RacerMike said:
    Nice check engine light in the picture of the cluster...
    As with most cars you’ll see all your warning lights in position 2 on the ignition...where have you been hiding?clap

    Edited by SnoochyPooch on Friday 20th October 23:40

  • JMF894 21 Oct 2017

    SnoochyPooch said:
    RacerMike said:
    Nice check engine light in the picture of the cluster...
    As with most cars you’ll see all your warning lights in position 2 on the ignition...where have you been hiding?clap
    Beat me to it pah!

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