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Everybody’s doing it – making an SUV. It’s all because of you. Yes, you.
Our tastes have changed, we’ve turned our backs on sedans, sports cars and hatchbacks. We want SUVs and the carmakers have had to adapt or risk their survival. Even Maserati. And at the start of 2017 the legendary Italian brand launched its first SUV in Australia – the Levante.
The problem is, it was diesel and it wasn’t received tremendously well. The sound wasn’t Maserati and it was… a diesel.
So, is this the Levante we’ve been waiting for?
I took a deep breath and tested it at its Australian launch to find out.
|Maserati LEVANTE 2018: (base)|
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
The Levante looks exactly how a Maserati SUV should – that trademark gaping grille adorned with the trident badge, the blade-like headlights and tail lights which also ooze family traits, the long bonnet and cab-back profile, the vents that dot down the front wheel-arch towards those massive haunches at the rear.
At 5003mm long, 2158mm wide (including mirrors) and 1679mm, the Levante S is big. In the morning when it steps out of the shower and onto the scales it looks down and sees 2109kg.
The Levante is an imposing SUV and if it was my money I’d definitely go for the GranSport pack because it accentuates that “I’m going to eat you” look even more with its piano-black finish to the grille bars, 21-inch wheels which fit those guards perfectly (the 19s look too tiny).
I haven’t been a major fan of Maserati interiors in the past because they seemed fussy, with too many fabrics and textures and bits that seemed out of place – maybe that’s just me, but since the Ghibli came along, the cabins have become far better in my eyes.
The Levante S’s cockpit is sumptuous, elegant and put together well. I love the leather upholstery dash in the S GranSport, ours had the option carbon trim inserts which wasn’t overdone.
Letting things down a bit for me are things you may not notice – unless you’ve owned a Jeep. See, Maserati is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and so is Jeep - and while the Levante is based on the Ghibli platform and not a Jeep, there are interior elements which it does share with Jeep. The display screen, the climate control switches, window buttons, start button… There’s nothing wrong with that - it’s just hard to ‘unsee’.
There are some surprises. Good and not-so good ones. First the good – that centre console storage bin under the armrest is enormous – you can put two regular sized bottles into it standing up. There’s also a storage area in front of the shifter, two more cupholders up front, another two in the back, and bottle holders in all the doors.
The boot has a cargo capacity of 580 litres which isn’t the biggest or the smallest around. But it’s the rear legroom which is a not so good surprise – I can only just sit behind my driving position. Sure I’m 191cm tall but I’ve sat in small SUVs with more space.
Rear headroom is limited, too but it’s because of the sunroof which lowers the ceiling height. I can still sit up straight but can only just slide my hand into the gap between my head and the roof.
Up front you’ll not notice any of these issues: like a sports car, the priority is on the front passengers - and primarily the person in the driver's seat.
The Levante S lists for $169,990 and Levante Turbo Diesel has kept its $139,990 price which it launched with at the start of 2017.
Standard features on the S include leather interior, heated and power adjustable front seats, an 8.4-inch touch screen with surround view camera, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, panoramic sun roof, power tailgate, bi-xenon headlights and 20-inch alloy wheels.
Be aware that the Turbo Diesel doesn’t quite match the S’s standard features and misses out on the sun roof and gets smaller wheels.
There are two packages you can apply to your Levante as well – the GranLusso (luxury) and the GranSport (sport). The S GranLusso and the S GranSport both list for $179,990. The packages add an extra $20K to the list price of the Turbo Diesel.
We tested the Levante S GranSport which is kitted out with 21-inch rims with red brake calipers, a blacked-out grille, rear spoiler, while inside it has a harman/kardon 14-speaker stereo, sports steering wheel, fine-grain extended leather upholstery, sports front seats and sports pedals. None of it makes the Levante go any faster, but it looks sure good.
As well-equipped as that may look there’s items which are missing: there’s no head-up display and no LED headlights – you can’t even option these. Dual-zone climate control is great but you’ll have to option the Levante further to get four-zone. The Mazda CX-9 gets all of these for a third the list price.
At the same time don’t forget that what you have with the Levante S is an Italian SUV with a Ferrari built engine for less than $170,000. If you’re at the Levante also and take drive in its rivals such as the Porsche Cayenne GTS, Mercedes-AMG 43 and Range Rover Sport.
When we told readers we were heading to the launch of the Levante S and asked them what they wanted to know they didn’t tip toe around the issue: “When are they releasing one with a proper engine?”
My thoughts exactly – the diesel version Maserati launched with back at the start of 2017 was powerful, with 202kW, but didn’t sound the way a Maserati should. Because diesel.
The answer to the question is: it is now here! The 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 in the Levante has been built by Ferrari, and not only does its sound almost bring me to tears it’s so beautiful, but the 321kW and 580Nm it produces is delicious.
Gears are shifted through an eight speed ZF automatic transmission – this is my opinion the best production car transmission on the market, with its seamless shifts.
The Levante S can get thirsty, with Maserati claiming that after a combination of open and urban roads you should see consumption of 10.9L/100km. During my few hours and few hundred kilometres with it the tripmeter told me I was averaging 19.2L/100km. What? Don’t judge me.
My expectations weren’t high. I’d been burnt before with some Maseratis and other exotic brands – going in and testing a new model and being super excited and coming out a bit underwhelmed. I was dreading driving the Levante S. I thought this would be another high-end let-down.
I could not have been more wrong. I have tested the Ghibli, the Quattroporte and Maseratis that Maserati doesn’t even make any more and I need to say that this version of the Levante, the Levante S GranSport, is in my opinion the best Maserati I have driven. Yes, I reckon Maserati’s best car is an SUV.
That exhaust note even at idle is magnificent, and when pushed just a little bit the V6 twin-turbo petrol screams like a Maserati should. But it’s more than just sounding right. The Levante S feels right. Most of the time the all-wheel drive system sends all of the mumbo to the rear wheels but diverts drive to the front when you need it.
So you can power though corners like a rear-wheel drive sports car, but when you turn up the heat the system will send up to 50 per cent of the drive to the front. This combined with a perfect 50:50 front to rear balance makes the Levante feel solidly planted, secure and controllable.
I reckon Maserati’s best car is an SUV.
Rolling on massive 295mm rear tyres which look like oil drums and 265mm rubber at the front grip is excellent.
The increase is horsepower over the diesel that the V6 brings means the Levante S has been given an upgraded brake package with 380mm ventilated discs with twin-piston calipers up front and 330mm ventilated and drilled discs with single pistons at the rear. Stopping is almost as impressive as accelerating.
The Levante weigh two tonnes and 0-100km/h in 5.2 seconds is quick – I’d think a more brutal shove to get that down to 4.9 would be impressive. Yes, I reckon acceleration could be better. Still, that’s like saying I don’t like this bowl of ice cream because there’s not enough ice cream.
Air suspension makes the ride super comfortable but still composed. Sport mode has two levels – the first sets the throttle, shifts and exhaust note to an aggro level, but keeps the suspension comfy; but press the sport mode button again and the suspension will firm for handling that is remarkable – given that this is a five-metre-long SUV.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
One of the issues we had with the previous version of the Levante was that seemed to lack some safety equipment you’d expect on a prestige SUV – we’re talking auto emergency braking, or AEB. But that’s been addressed in this latest update: AEB is now standard across the range. There’s also blind-spot warning, lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control. Also new is the speed limit reading technology – which actually sees the sign – it worked for me even on a small temporary road works speed sign.
The Levante hasn’t been tested yet by EuroNCAP, or given a safety star rating by ANCAP.
The Levante is covered by Maserati’s three-year/100,000km warranty and this can be extended to five years.
Servicing is recommended every two years or 20,000km. There is currently no capped-price servicing in place.
The Levante S is indeed the Levante we have been waiting for - now not only does it look right, it sounds right, and drives impressively. Now you can have your Maserati sports car and SUV in one.
|(base)||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$117,370 – 134,970||2018 Maserati LEVANTE 2018 (base) Pricing and Specs|
|GRANLUSSO||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$138,820 – 159,610||2018 Maserati LEVANTE 2018 GRANLUSSO Pricing and Specs|
|GRANSPORT||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$138,820 – 159,610||2018 Maserati LEVANTE 2018 GRANSPORT Pricing and Specs|
|S||3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$147,510 – 169,510||2018 Maserati LEVANTE 2018 S Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||7|
|Engine & trans||10|