Judging by the forum response to our Quattroporte Trofeo last week, PHers still have a lot of time for charming Italian performance cars that run exclusively on hydrocarbons. And while the Levante Trofeo you see here doesn't take the form of a sleek saloon but rather the slightly more divisive one of a high-riding SUV, the mechanical setup it uses comes with hand-made Ferrari V8 kudos all the same. It did when the top Levante first launched in 2019, of course, but now the twin-turbo 3.8-litre produces its 580hp peak at 6,750rpm, 500 revs later than before, and the torque band has been stretched as well. Those are both good things - and they come alongside a mandatory-for-a-2021 infotainment update inside. Win win.
The work done to the engine under the bonnet consists of more than just your usual software upgrade, too. Maserati has worked with Ferrari to uprate the motor's internal components, including its pistons and connecting rods, while the 'high-tumble' cylinder heads were also given now camshafts and valves for greater power and efficiency. The result is a motor that not only likes to rev more, but also offers a peak torque of 538lb ft (identical to before) from 2,250 to 5,250rpm. Meaning the curve flattens 250 revs earlier, and stays flat for 250 revs longer. Something you might imagine to be quite handy in a 2,170kg machine.
Not only does the Levante share this motor and the accompanying eight-speed ZF gearbox with the Quattroporte and smaller Ghibli Trofeos, it also borrows much for the underlying platform, albeit with Q4 all-wheel drive rather than the full hairy chested rear-drive saloon setup. That said, the Levante is said to send 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels under normal driving scenarios, although, as evidenced by the SUV's 4.1-second 0-62mph time, both axles are called into play when necessary. That sprint time is three-tenths quicker the Levante GTS that uses a 550hp version of the same powerplant and four-tenths quicker than the QP Trofeo we drove the other day. It's two-tenths better than the 200kg lighter Ghibli Trofeo, all thanks to improved traction.
Nevertheless, thanks to the inherent bluntness of an SUV body - even a handsome one bearing mild aesthetic tweaks for 2021 - the top Levante facelift tops out at 188mph, 14mph earlier than its slipperier siblings. That still leaves it 5mph above Porsche's Cayenne Turbo S and 10mph faster than Jaguar's F-Pace SVR, mind. These things matter to Levante buyers, Maserati says, as does the ability for its car to actually be off-road capable. We strongly doubt any pre-facelift Levante Trofeo owners have gone much further than the village green carpark, but the updated car retains air suspension capable of raising and lowering the body through six settings, earning it an actual 'off-road' mode.
For some reason Maserati hasn't integrated the 10.1-inch touchscreen of the QP into the Levante, but rather just given the existing seven-inch screen its latest software. That means sharp graphics and quick reactions, as well as wireless Apple Carplay to go with the wireless charging in the centre console, but none of the digital 'wow' factor you get in rivals. This is as much to do with efforts to retain some traditionality in Maserati cabins as it is technical limitations, we're told, and it's certainly true that the controls you want in quick and easy access - volume knob, climate and drive modes - are all present and correct as physical buttons or knobs. Like the saloons, the steering wheel is pleasantly light on buttons, with only those to adjust the cruise and small instrument cluster display on the front. Stereo buttons are hidden on the back.
It means your eyes are rather drawn to the extended shift paddles, which come finished in a gloss carbon fibre in the Levante. They're sat ahead of analogue dials (remember those?) for the speedo and rev counter, making for a purposeful layout that ought to please those not convinced by the latest trends - while potentially leaving tech lovers a little underwhelmed. The rest is all as before: the leather sports seat are sympathetically mounted, with wheel and pedals in easy reach, and bonnet heat extraction vents in clear sight ahead. Even when it's off, the V8 feels omnipresent.
The Levante Trofeo's personality is instantly more thuggish than the QP's. The motor pulsates through the body on tick-over, its bass audible through the exhaust even at low revs. Roll the window down and the gravelly texture of the pipework is louder still with the deep note becoming more song-like towards 7,000rpm. Although the volume at full-chat is noticeably lower than before thanks no doubt to the new WLTP filter, it remains the most naturally tuneful model of its class. And the speakers play no part in it.
The performance measures up, too, with the sort of unbreakable traction you'd expect in a Q4 model, but a willingness to kick the tail out if you give the software the right signals to allow it. ESC off, throttle angle steep and steering input quick, the Levante Trofeo will happily squirm its way out of a bend, albeit with the security of a front-axle that gradually begins to tug the nose back straight as you wind off the lock. This is a big, tractable car, but enjoying the V8 is child's play. It's best in manual mode, of course, where the click-action of those paddles and reactions of the gearbox make the larger appetite for revs all the more satisfying.
The Trofeo rides well on the adjustable suspension, with a firm but nicely cushioned feel when the air springs are compressed as those 22-inch wheels find uneven tarmac - practically an inevitability when the rear track is 1.7 metres wide. There is an inherent firmness that can't ever be fully masked, with drain covers and potholes delivering noticeable thuds - although the payoff of that tightness is decent body control, with the softest setting allowing for some lean and pitch, but the sport and corsa modes considerably reducing the motions so you can really load up the car. By contrast to the waftier QP, the Levante Trofeo feels quicker on its toes, reacting to steering inputs keenly with both axles.
Tuck the nose into a corner with some commitment and a trailed brake, and the Trofeo rotates eagerly. Jump back on the power quickly enough and the car can be sent into an all-wheel drive slide, easily controlled via the limited slip diff and rear-axle torque vectoring. The driveline is genuinely very capable, although the steering provides little feel, even under load. It means you gain confidence through the faithfulness of the drive hardware and engine, rather than genuine feedback. In the Levante's defence, that's true for most of its rivals.
Consequently, the big Maserati remains a compelling driver's option in its class. To some that'll be enough of a USP, and any shortfall in interior tech is covered over by the fact that it still connects to your phone wirelessly - which is arguably all anyone needs in 2021. Either way, it's a traditional offering, a point hammered home by the finality of its production run, with Ferrari's engine supply deal to Maserati due to end by 2022. You're therefore looking at a flawed, fun-loving SUV with Prancing Horse bragging rights - and a short shelf life. At £125k, it can't claim to be cheap (the Cayenne Turbo S starts from £2k less), but Maserati's 580hp Levante is assuredly different.
SPECIFICATION | MASERATI LEVANTE TROFEO
Engine: 3,799cc, twin turbocharged V8
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 580@6,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 538@2,250-5,250rpm
Top speed: 188mph
MPG: 17.7-17.8 (WLTP)
CO2: 363-359g/km (WLTP)
Price: £125,370 (priced from; as tested £149,610, including Rosso Magma paint for £15,895, 22-inch Orione black wheels for £2,970, Nero black brake calipers for £200, Bowers and Wilkins sound system for £1,760, easy entry and exit seat and wheel system for £395, adaptive cruise control with stop and go function for £2,320, dark finish roof rails for £700)
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