Maserati has decided to enter the world of SUVs for the first time in its history, a bet as risky as it is ambitious that ends with the creation of the Maserati Levante. Although the history of the Italian firm has shown us that sportiness can be associated even with large sedans, getting into off-road vehicles is going much further. Behavior, performance and sensations, these are the promises of the new Maserati Levante, and today we put them to the test in its 430 hp version of Ferrari origin.
The Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR that we have already tested have shown us that high-performance SUVs exist. Very powerful cars and amazingly fast, enough to dare to set times in circuits like the Nürburgring. At the moment, Maserati has not communicated any intention of taking the Maserati Levante to the circuit, but after this first test we can already tell you that it would not be a crazy idea …
Maserati’s goal with the launch of the Maserati Levante is to grow drastically in volume, thus responding to the demand of a market that prefers to get an SUV rather than a traditional saloon. Although the Maserati Ghibli was a significant growth in sales for Maserati, the Levante will live up to its name and will become a breath of air that will attract many new customers, many of them former customers of brands such as Porsche or BMW.
At the moment, the Maserati Levante offers a range with 3 mechanics, all with 3 liters and in V6 Twin-Turbo configuration. We found a 275 hp diesel option, a 350 hp petrol version and an even sportier 430 hp trim option that gives life to the Levante S designation – which we are testing -. In all versions, the all-wheel drive with electronic torque distribution and the 8-speed automatic transmission is standard, leaving the differences in behavior in the set-up.
Although Maserati has communicated that at the moment there is no attempt to offer any variant of greater power, or even with a V8 mechanics, the truth is that the Maserati Levante is prepared to tame many more horses. The 430 hp we have tested have shown us that the Maserati Levante S is a car designed to convince even the most demanding, finding a chassis without qualms to unleash 500 or more horsepower. Will Maserati surprise us with an even more powerful Levante? I would not rule it out.
Despite being an SUV, the Levante S surprises with its dynamic qualities very similar to those of a saloon
I remember the test of the Maserati Ghibli S in a similar configuration with 410 hp, leaving me with a magnificent taste in the mouth by offering a very defined character where a sports saloon is because of how much it transmits, not because of its technical sheet. That same feeling is what I have found behind the wheel of the Maserati Levante S, and it is that in broad strokes I could say that the approach of the Levante is so successful that it makes you think that you are driving a Ghibli, only that your driving position is now about centimeters further from the ground. Although it may seem strange, agility is one of the great qualities of the Maserati Levante, something almost impossible to see in this type of SUV and that customers who are thinking of a high-performance SUV will surely appreciate. What’s more, I recommend the combined Ghibli and Levante test to see the tuning work of the SUV in person to get away from the typical problems offered by any crossover or SUV in sport driving.
To test the Maserati Levante S I decided to go to the same road that served as the setting with the Range Rover Sport SVR. A twisty and demanding road that quickly brings out the strengths and weaknesses of a vehicle. The Maserati Levante S is fast, and to show its specification sheet, but as we have often commented, when it comes to talking about sports cars, not only is it enough to offer good numbers, but the manufacturer has to make an effort that the car transmit your character and reactions to impress on us that feeling of sportiness. And indeed, despite being at the controls of an SUV, the Maserati Levante S shows a very racing spirit.
Its powertrain is not that of any off-road vehicle, and although its body is that of an SUV, under its skin hides a system that could well be worth to give life to a sports car ready to race on the circuit. The 3.0 V6 Twin-Turbo engine boasts an excellent, full and very forceful response. This mechanic uses two Twin-Scroll-type turbochargers that ensure that lag is minimal, especially in Sport mode. It is a noble engine driving relaxed, but it hides a rabid point when we squeeze the accelerator that is what makes it stand out from other V6s available on the market.
To tame those 430 hp, the Maserati Levante S employs an 8-speed automatic transmission by torque converter signed by ZF. We speak of a fast, obedient and very effective change in sequential handling. Demanding the maximum, the change executes our orders instantly, also having two large paddles made of aluminum behind the wheel that greatly facilitate sporty driving.
But the key to the Maserati Levante S is found in the combination of steering, suspension and all-wheel drive. Linking curves being aggressive with the steering is not a problem for the Levante S, and it is just at that moment when it offers a behavior more typical of a saloon than an SUV. The grip is surprisingly good when aggressive, and although we are talking about an SUV that prioritizes traction over the rear axle with 100% torque delivery in normal conditions, when it comes to guaranteeing traction – and only at that moment – is when the front axle enters the scene to contain possible oversteer. The steering and suspension work make the masses of the Maserati Levante seem less, giving a plus of confidence when rolling to the limit and without penalizing the feedback on what happens under our feet. That idea of agility is perhaps the point that I value the most in the Maserati Levante S, because it is something you do not expect from an SUV of this size.
In sporty driving, the Maserati Levane S is a car that involves the driver, something difficult to find among saloons, and almost impossible to see in an SUV. Understeer is minimal, and it is easily controllable with the accelerator, thus allowing you to get a smile on every curve … in fact the Levante S shares with the Ghibli that set-up that makes you play with the rear, being a car that invites to devour curves unceremoniously, literally. The all-wheel drive, based on this philosophy, is a logical addition acting only when we really need help to tame the 430 CV.
This time I have allowed myself the luxury of going even faster and for longer, but it is that with the Levante S I have reached that degree of confidence, and this is precisely what leads me to my conclusions about the Maserati Levante S. Maserati knew that building an SUV under the trident shield could not just be a matter of a good performance sheet, and for this reason they developed a specific platform whose DNA speaks openly of sportiness. Outcome? The Levante S is an SUV, but it is a car with soul and character, where we also find a unique design seasoned by one of the best V6s on the market.