North Coast 500 by Maserati Levante

Thursday afternoon - 5pm to be precise - is typically an uneventful time of day, but Scotland was calling my name on a Thursday recently, and I listened with intent. An invitation to drive the Maserati Levante around the North Coast 500 had arrived and, luckily for me, I was the only one available. It would my first time in Scotland and, if others are to be believed, absolutely worth the effort.

I was trailing a bit behind the rest of the group as I landed at Inverness at around 9pm (I flew rather than drove up), where I was greeted by a Levante Diesel in Blu Emozione which, in my opinion, is the best colour; the 21-inch Anteo wheels are rather nice too. Surely that would be absolutely no off-piste adventures though? More on that later. Arriving later also meant my first leg of the NC500, up to Wick, was in total darkness. It doesn't matter how good the Levante's bi-xenon super duper headlights are, the darkness of the Scottish Highlands, combined with an ocean you can hear but not see, is enough encouragement to take it a little easy. Luckily, 'our' car came with the optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system (£3,460), which was very good company indeed.

Dawn (diesel) chorus
The crack of dawn soon followed and we were up and ready to see some of the famed scenery, and hopefully get a bit of a wiggle on to see what this 'sporty' 4x4 can do. John O'Groats was our first port of call, where the roads were mostly open and flat, with sufficient visibility to make any overtakes simple. Having said that, the 3.0 diesel does feel a little breathless at speed, which should come as no surprise from a car that weighs 2,205kg.

Another party piece of the Levante is it's near perfect weight distribution. And on these reasonably wide and open roads - on this part of the route, at least - it can really roll up its sleeves and be fairly good fun! Venturing on from a very windy and slightly snowy John O'Groats (featuring a mad person out running in shorts) we stumbled across some big, hairy... sand dunes. Hidden behind them a white sandy beach which wouldn't have looked out of place in the Seychelles. So we did what any normal person would do and took the car down there. This was effectively like a green lane and the Levante bumped over it all nicely. The grassy sand highlighted a bit of an issue though. This being that the parking sensors are annoyingly over sensitive and tend to shout at you from what feels like miles away, emphasized again when sticking two feet out of a parking bay...

Our next stint would take us through Tongue and Durness, then South to Lochinver. The absolutely breathtaking scenery in this part of the world posed a bit of a problem, though, but it was a rather nice problem to have; the 160-mile journey would have normally taken around five hours, but such is the way when you're being a bit of a tourist it took us more than seven. We were stopping every 10 minutes because we'd found an even more impressive area to photograph in the constantly changing landscape, and attempted to make the not-so-beautiful Levante look a little more pretty against a picturesque backdrop... The looks are actually growing on me, kind of like a four-wheeled Pug; so ugly that it eventually does a full U-turn.

Travelling on through Durness was my first encounter of their single track system with passing places dotted along the road. Interesting. Blind coastal corners being particularly interesting. It was here that the car's generous dimensions made themselves crystal clear and somewhat less welcome! Travelling at any more than 30mph in some sections was asking for trouble. Luckily, the Scottish Highlands are very sparsely populated. When heading through Scourie those beautiful two-lane roads returned and my wincing alleviated - the Levante is not the ideal car for small, single track roads! We were even advised to avoid the usual NC500 route into Lochinver on the B869, through Drumbeg, as it was apparently impassable in these cars! I shan't argue with that. Nonetheless, the Levante powered its way across the coastline and provided us with a comfy, relaxing ride and respectable amount of fun for a car of this size.

Off-road adventure
With day two done and dusted, I was determined to get the Levante off-road. Therefore, on the way down to Ullapool, we spotted an uphill forest track which looked pretty fun. It was, after all, very capable in the snow, so a little bit of mud and rock should have posed no problem at all... And you know what? It was genuinely impressive! The Levante's Active Air Suspension allows five ride heights which is, to be honest, excessive, but giving 40mm of extra ground clearance in Off-Road 2 mode allowed the car to glide over pointy rocks without tearing bumpers off. Which was nice. This little track soon turned into a rather steep and rocky incline, but the Q4 system handled the slippery conditions well; watching the power being transferred to wheels with grip was very satisfying while poking my head out the window, trying to dodge rocks. It actually left me wanting a little off-roader!

We left the rocky track unscathed to finish our final part of the journey; we had an option to cut out Applecross and head straight back to Inverness along the A832 to make sure we make our flight that evening. But that would be boring and I like a challenge! When I first saw yet more single track roads, this time combined with rain and a sign which read 'ROAD IMPASSABLE IN BAD WEATHER', I'll admit I thought it looked like a misjudgement... I am so glad we did it though. Heading up the thin track I felt like Frodo traversing Mount Doom in Mordor, except sitting in a heated leather seat. When we arrived at the top the views were incredible, but were now left with the descent back down the other side, and when a BMW X5 pops round a blind corner a little too quickly, you soon wish you had a little more stopping power. And some new trousers.

Having left Mount Doom, we were greeted by fast, sweeping A-roads, where the Levante is most definitely more at home. At higher speeds it hunkers down into Aero 2 mode, dropping the ride 35mm compared to Normal mode, which really makes it feel planted. There was time to ponder the Levante's qualities on these less demanding roads too. It's comfortable, reasonably brisk when required, quiet (bar some ever so slightly squeaky seats and an intermittent dash rattle) and capable off road. It took the journey in its stride and proved very impressive in many situations; most importantly, it got us to the airport on time. It's far too cold in Scotland anyway.

2,987cc, V6 diesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 275@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@2,000-6,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.9sec
Top speed: 143mph
Weight: 2,205kg
MPG: 39.2 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 189g/km (combined)
Price: £56,250





Comments (60) Join the discussion on the forum

  • spodrod 26 Jun 2017

    Loves an exclamation mark

  • nicfaz 26 Jun 2017

    Certainly does, in any future articles you have an absolute limit of one exclamation mark to use. No more.

  • PhantomPH 26 Jun 2017

    I've now seen a couple of these in the metal and I have to say I find them dog ugly. Such a shame. Mind you - all I can see when I look at it, is the Lexus effort which looks pretty much identical.

    I am a huge fan of a Mazzer (would have a GranTurismo MC Stradale in a heartbeat if I could stomach the depreciation) but I think with this thing they have lashed it to death with the ugly stick. frown

    I only mention this as (in the spirit of the headline of this article) if most are boulevard cruisers, the looks are what counts more than most other things...and it fails for me on this point.

  • Ares 26 Jun 2017

    Pal has just picked up an almost exact same car.

    It's lovely and in the flesh does fit the brand. Every first new SUV launched comes with it a tirade of abuse and 'selling out' whinges, but these stock cars pay for the exotic ones, and the Levante looks and drives very well for it's class, and for it's price point.

    Yes the 430bhp V6 would be nice, a V8 even nicer, but even without, the Levante is a compelling proposition. He's comes from a 535d (and an E92 M3 beforehand) and loves it.

  • matchmaker 26 Jun 2017

    Snow? When the hell did you do this journey?

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