Car reviews - Maserati - Levante - S GranSport
Brilliant engine note, potent performance, crisp handling and chassis balance, interior fit and finish
Room for improvement
Engine can use more oomph at lower revs, 21-inch rims can hamper ride quality, extensive options list can drive price up
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6 Dec 2017
LATE last year, Maserati finally bit the bullet by releasing its first SUV – the Levante five-seater.
Initially launched with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 as the sole powertrain choice, the range has now been bolstered by the addition of a Ferrari-built 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 that pumps out 316kW/580Nm, representing a 114kW boost over the oil-burner, while only sacrificing 20Nm of torque.
With the choice of petrol or diesel, the Levante can now truly take the fight to the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport.
Does it have what it takes to best its European luxury rivals?
From a business standpoint, the decision to sell an SUV has been a beneficial one for Maserati, with the Levante making up 59 per cent of overall sales for the Italian brand since its launch.
It faces competition from the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport, as well as other more mainstream options such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
Offered in almost identical specification levels as the existing turbo-diesel range, the main difference with the Levante S is that the oil-burner has been swapped out in favour of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 built at Ferrari’s factory in Maranello, Italy.
Maserati has crafted a reputation for making sportscars with screaming engines and involving drive experiences, and the car-maker has managed to channel that spirit into the Levante S.
During our drive in the Levante S through the countryside around Bathurst in New South Wales, the sonorous V6 and its addictive bark was arguably the most compelling element of the vehicle.
Pumping out 316kW/580Nm, power is ample and comes on particularly strongly from 3000rpm and above.
Power does take a little while to boot up, but once moving it can propel the 2109kg Levante from zero to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 264km/h.
A distinctive and intoxicating exhaust note has always been a hallmark attribute of Maserati vehicles, and the Levante S is no different, offering an angry and raspy aural experience.
Putting the Levante in Sports mode using manual paddle shifters and stomping the accelerator produces a gunshot-like crackle that comes with upshifts, a noise that would put a smile on the face of even the most austere individual.
The experience is addictive, and makes you want to hear the engine sing over and over (within legal speed limits, of course).
Employing an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, gearshifts are crisp and responsive, and are lightning quick in manual mode.
Power is sent to all four wheels with Maserati’s rear-biased Q4 all-wheel-drive system, which can distribute torque from 50:50 front/rear to 0:100 when needed, to give the Levante the feel of other rear-drive Maserati models.
Combined with the standard limited-slip differential on the rear axle, the Levante’s all-wheel-drive set-up provides impressive levels of grip, with the wheels showing no signs of slippage even when through hard cornering and aggressive throttle inputs.
Bodyroll is minimal, and the car generally feels well planted through corners, thanks in part to its class-leading low centre of gravity.
Most of our time behind the wheel of the Levante was spent in Sports mode, which dialled up engine response, noise levels and suspension firmness, however for those who are looking to complete a leisurely run to the shops, the ICE mode (Increased Control and Efficiency) offers a far more relaxing experience.
ICE mode makes for a much more liveable experience, and is perfect for the A to B customer who doesn’t want to feel like a racecar driver every day of the week.
Normal mode strikes a good balance between Sports and ICE, and still gives off the addictive exhaust note when travelling at regular speeds.
As a result of largely aggressive driving in sports mode, fuel consumption figures ranged between 14 and 18 litres per km, up from the official combined cycle figure of 10.9L/100km. Buyers should expect somewhere between the official and launch day figures with real-world driving.
Six-pot front Brembo callipers with 380mm drilled discs provide ample stopping power, which is user-friendly with light braking input but can rapidly haul the two-tonne Levante to a stop when need be.
During the drive we were exclusively behind the wheel of a GranSport variant, which among other features comes with 21-inch wheels.
Given the size of the hoops and its relatively low profile tyres, the Levante S rides surprisingly well, helped by its air suspension set-up.
However, rough country roads expose a slightly unsettled ride, and it hits some potholes hard, although the plush seats cushion the ride somewhat.
There is some tyre roar, but the cabin is generally quiet and serene.
Handling is precise and communicative and offers quality feedback through the wheels, giving the Levante a sporty feel that softens at low speeds.
Sporting a new electric power steering set-up, steering can be slightly twitchy with minor inputs, however it is a small price to pay for the inclusion of a number of advanced driver assist systems that the electric steering allows for.
Stepping into the interior for the first time, the Italian craftsmanship is apparent with a sweet blend of leather upholstery, contrast stitching and generally excellent fit and finish.
Materials feel premium in quality and solidly built, with an attractive red-leather interior layout befitting of a $150,000-plus SUV.
Housing the infotainment system is an 8.4-inch touchscreen, which might not be the best in its class, but still gets a tick for usability.
Operation of the touchscreen is mercifully lag-free and the screen offers high resolution with an attractive interface layout, however it can’t quite match other competitors for simplicity, practicality and usability.
Head and legroom is ample for front passengers, however taller rear passengers may struggle to get comfortable.
The coupe-like tailgate of the Levante also slightly compromises luggage space.
Some buyers might be taken aback by the extensive options list, which can quickly lift the price of the Levante, however the GranSport and GranLusso, which add $10,000 on to the price of the base model, provides most of what a customer would want out of their vehicle.
While other Maserati models have fallen behind competitors in certain areas (infotainment, safety features, practicality), the Levante has righted some of these wrongs, while retaining the raucous nature synonymous with vehicles wearing the Trident badge.
The Levante S packs good looks inside and out, potent performance and an engine note that is utterly addictive.
While competitors may offer a more compelling all-round package, the Levante is for those who want to stand out.
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