Car reviews - Maserati - Levante
Looks and sounds like a Maserati, strong performance from detuned V6, quick and smooth gear changes, communicative chassis, luxurious interior
Room for improvement
Noticeable bodyroll when cornering at speed, drinks a bit of fuel, limited rear headroom, poorer ride comfort on optional 21-inch alloy wheels
Maserati offers serious bang for your buck with 257kW/500Nm, cut-price Levante
14 Nov 2018
MASERATI flipped the script when it released the Levante large SUV in February 2017. Known for its stylish, high-performance sportscars, it followed the market trend towards non-traditional crossovers. While this move was controversial, it helped significantly improved the company’s sales.
It’s no surprise, then, that Maserati has sought to expand the Levante’s line-up, which was initially diesel-only in Australia. Its second petrol variant has now hit showrooms with the same Ferrari-built engine as the current flagship, albeit with a less potent tune. So, is the new price leader any good?
One hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars: the number that Maserati hopes will bring SUV buyers flocking into its showrooms. Make no mistake, this price point makes the brand more accessible than its ever been. At the same time, exclusivity is still important, so it’s not too ‘cheap’.
Compared to the Levante’s previous entry-level variant, the Turbo Diesel, this new petrol offering is about $15,000 more affordable. Sure, some advanced driver-assist systems have been lost along the way, but it is very much the same package, only for a whole lot less, and that’s really important.
Of course, if you want to add back all of the ‘lost’ equipment, performance-focused GranSport and luxury-orientated GranLusso versions of the range-opener are available from $159,990 before on-road costs, bringing the same price – and equipment – as their Turbo Diesel counterparts.
Maserati is keen to point out that its cut-price product is well and truly worthy of the trident badge. Performance, craftsmanship and design are three brand principles it claims the Levante still exudes, even in its most affordable form. Having now sampled the base variants, it’s hard to argue with it.
The Levante remains a stunning exterior design, flexing enough muscle with its wide haunches to be considered sporty while incorporating enough coupe into its profile to be considered stylish, but the latter does come at the cost of rear headroom, which is also impacted by the panoramic sunroof.
These themes are also evident in the interior, which has hand-stitched leather adorning most of its surfaces to create a genuine sense of luxury. Soft-touch materials are employed elsewhere, while hard plastics are only found on the lower sections of the B- and C-pillars. This is the real deal.
Smaller touches reinforce this strong effort, including the suede roofliner and column-mounted alloy paddle-shifters. More importantly, Maserati has finally addressed the Levante’s troublesome gear selector as part of this model-year update, opting for a new design that has a proper gate.
Technology-wise, the Levante is the same as before, with an 8.4-inch touchscreen powered by Maserati’s well-resolved MTC infotainment system, while a useful 7.0-inch multi-information display is nestled between a traditional speedometer and tachometer. It’s all run of the mill here.
What isn’t run of the mill, though, is this Levante’s 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine that’s designed by Maserati but built by Ferrari. Developing 257kW of power at 5750rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1750 to 4750rpm, it is an absolute hoot around town and on the highway.
Paired with a ZF-sourced eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and Maserati’s rear-biased Q4 all-wheel-drive system, the base Levante can sprint standstill to 100km/h in 6.0 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 251km/h. In reality, it feels as potent as these figures suggest.
Stamp on the accelerator and the Levante charges towards the horizon with vigour, even in its Normal driving mode. Compared to the Levante S, which uses a 316kW/580Nm tune of the same engine, the 2109kg price leader offers similar, almost indistinguishable performance off the line.
The deficits are only noticeable when accelerating at higher speeds, although overtaking is still effortless in the Sport driving mode, where the throttle becomes razor sharp. At this point, however, the eight-speeder holds onto gears, putting it at odds with its usual quick and smooth changes.
It wouldn’t be a true Maserati without a booming soundtrack to accompany this performance, and needless to say, there is no reason to feel let down here. The bi-modal exhaust system makes some nice noises with its flap shut, but engage Sport and it opens, ushering in a much louder symphony.
All of this theatre must come at a cost, right? Well, you would never expect a Ferrari-powered Maserati to be a light drinker, and the Levante is no different. While claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 11.6 to 12.0 litres per 100 kilometres, we averaged 13.1L/100km.
The Levante’s performance brief also extends to its handling, which is great for a large SUV. Given Maserati’s affinity for sportscars, its crossover model has a lot to live up to. However, it is unable to defy the laws of physics, exhibiting bodyroll through tighter bends, but this can be reduced ...
As always, the Levante’s suspension setup consists of double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles with six-level air springs and adjustable Skyhook shock absorbers, which can be made firmer via the press of an in-cabin button, while the independent Sport driving mode lowers the ride height.
While ride comfort is good, thanks to the absorption of most lumps and bumps, the suspension feels firm over speed bumps, even with the shock absorbers on their softest setting. The Levante shows composure over corrugated dirt roads, partly due to its obligatory Off Road driving mode.
Just don’t make the mistake of opting for 21-inch alloy wheels over the standard 19-inch rims; the former catches sharper edges on the road and lends itself to discomfort. Low-profile tyres also don’t make for a reliable combination if a spot of light off-roading is on the mind. Avoid at all costs.
The Levante’s positioning at the bottom of the range does become evident, however, when you assess its chassis; it is so communicative. Feedback via the electric power steering is outstanding, giving the driver a clear indication of what each wheel is up to, but it can be nervous at speed.
The chassis suggests that the Levante can – and does – handle a lot more grunt, while its steering is well-weighted and razor sharp across the board. The latter becomes even meatier and more direct when the Sport driving mode is selected. The potential here is very, very tantalising. Bring it on.
As far as Maserati’s current model line-up goes, the new entry-level Levante undoubtedly offers the best bang for your buck. Our tip is save yourself a few pennies and skip the GranSport, GranLusso or even the Levante S; there’s a new top pick now, and it’s pretty good out of the box.
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