Maserati Levante VS Audi RS Q3
- More affordable entry into Levante range
- Great engine note
- Almost identical standard features to the Levante S
- GranLusso and GranSport packs are expensive
- Limited room in the rear seats
- Steering is overly sharp and quick
Audi RS Q3
- 300kW small SUV? Yes please!
- Great dynamics but comfy ride
- Spacious with a decent boot
- Sportback has less headroom
- No standard head-up display
- No spare wheel
Maserati. What do you reckon that name means to most people? Fast? Loud? Italian? Expensive? SUVs?
And that may happen even faster with the arrival of the most affordable Levante ever - the new entry-grade, simply called Levante.
So, if this new cheaper Levante isn’t expensive (in Maserati terms) does that mean it’s not fast, loud or even Italian, now?
We drove this new, most affordable, Levante at its Australian launch to find out.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
Audi RS Q3
Think of Audi’s range of high-performance RS models as being like a knives in a kitchen knife block. They’re all sharp but they all do some things better than others. You wouldn’t use a bread knife to cut a tomato, would you? Well, I have before, because it was on the only clean knife and well, anyway it all went wrong, and it was a mess.
So, what kind of knife is the RS Q3, then? See, it’s a small SUV with 400 horsepower. Does it lose its SUV practicality? Is it like always driving an uncomfortable race car? Is it a fake – not really fast and just an expensive little ‘sporty’ SUV?
Well at the launch of the RS Q3 Audi also brought out almost its entire knife block of other RS models. And we drove them back-to-back. So having spent hundreds of kilometres driving both versions of the RS Q3 – the Sportback and the regular SUV version, along with the Audi’s other RS superheroes I know which knife the RS Q3 is and you will too after you read this review.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The entry-grade Levante is the best choice in the current line-up (Levante, Levante Turbo Diesel and Levante S) because it’s almost identical in performance and features to the pricier S.
I’d give the GranLusso and GranSport packs a miss on this base Levante, but would consider them on the S where they are possibly worth the extra $10,000 rather than the $35K asking price on the entry car.
The Levante does a lot right – the sound, the safety and the exterior styling. But the quality of the interior, with its FCA shared parts, lowers what should be a prestige feel.
And back seat comfort could be better, Maseratis are grand tourers and an SUV from this brand should be able to accommodate at least four adults in superb comfort – something this one can’t do.
Given the choice and about $130K would you choose a Porsche Cayenne or a Maserati Levante? Tells us what you think in the comments below.
Audi RS Q38/10
The RS Q3 is absolutely worthy of the RS badge – it’s plush, quick, comfortable, handles superbly and doesn’t lose any practicality over a regular Q3. Which knife is it then in the Audi RS model knife block? Well there was a moment on the launch when our convoy encountered roadworks in the bush and it meant everything from an Audi R8 (rear-wheel drive), RS 7, RS 6 Avant to a TT RS were forced to gingerly drive for a couple of kilometres on a bumby dirt road. I was in the RS Q3, with all-wheel drive, more ground clearance and softer suspension with more travel than the others – and it was tempting to stomp on the accelerator and leave the rest in my dust. So, it’s the adaptable one in the block - the small knife you end up using for everything.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The Levante looks exactly how a Maserati SUV should, with the long bonnet flanked by curvaceous wheel arches with their vents, leading towards a grille that looks ready to eat up slower cars. The heavily raked windscreen and cab-back profile is also very Maserati, as are haunches that muscle over the rear wheels.
If only its bottom was less Maserati. It’s a personal thing, but I find Maserati rear ends lack the drama of their faces and the Levante’s tailgate is no different in that it borders on plain.
Inside, the Levante looks to be a premium, well-crafted place, although closer inspection reveals there are certain items which appear to be shared with other brands which, like Maserati, are owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
The window and headlight switches, the ignition button, the air-conditioning controls, even the display screen all can be found in Jeeps and other FCA cars.
There are no functionality issues here, but from a design and style perspective they look a little basic and lack the refinement a buyer may expect from a Maserati.
There’s a lack of technological pizazz inside as well. For example, there’s no head-up display or large virtual instrument cluster as you’ll find in the Levante’s competitors.
Despite the Jeep-looking bits the Levante is truly Italian. The chief designer Giovanni Ribotta is Italian and the Levante is made at FCA's Mirafiori plant in Turin.
What are the Levante’s dimensions? The Levante is 5.0m long, 2.0m wide and 1.7m tall. So that means space inside is enormous right? Um… let’s talk about that in the next section, shall we?
Audi RS Q38/10
Like the household variety Q3 it’s based on, the RS Q3 comes in two body styles: a Sportback which has a sloping roofline giving it coupe looks; and a regular-looking SUV version which has the traditional more tall and upright design.
I’m not a fan of coupe SUV styling because it reduces headroom (read about that below), but the Sportback does look the more venomous of the pair.
That said they both look like little monsters in their RS superhero outfits which includes the aggressive front bumper boasting giant (and functional) air intakes either side of the enormous grille, 21-inch wheels with giant brakes and red calipers, side skirts and thick wheel arch surrounds for a flared guard look, chunky diffuser and huge oval tail pipes with a black finish.
Inside there are leather RS seats with ‘honeycomb’ stitching, metal pedals, and a leather flat-bottomed RS steering wheel, while the doors and dashboard are trimmed with Alcantara and aluminium.
The rest of the interior showcases the Audi’s most up-to-date styling and tech revealed when the Q3 arrived in 2019 – from the integrated 10.1-inch media display to the dash controls which sense when your hand is approaching and light up to help them find their way in the dark.
At 4506mm end-to-end the RS Q3 is a big, small SUV. For a bit of perspective, it's little brother the Q2 is 4190mm long.
You know the Tardis from Dr Who? The time machine police phone box that is much bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside? The Levante’s cabin is a reverse Tardis (a Sidrat?) in that even at five metres long and two metres wide, legroom in the second row is tight and at 191cm tall I can only just sit behind my driving position.
Headroom is also getting tight back there because of the swooping roofline. These aren’t major issues, but If you were thinking of using the Levante as a SUV limousine of sorts then the limited room back there just won’t be enough to let your taller passengers stretch out comfortably.
Also ruling it out as a chauffeur car in my view is the ride experience in the second row. I’ll cover this in the driving section below.
Cabin storage is pretty good, with a giant centre console bin up front with two cupholders inside. There are another two cupholders near the shifter and two more in the fold-down armrest in the rear. Door pockets are on the smaller side, however.
Audi RS Q38/10
This will depend on whether you buy the Sportback or the regular SUV-shaped RS Q3, but practicality does not vary between them as much as you may think.
The Sportback loses out on headroom for the rear passenger because of its sloping roofline. I can still sit back there but at 191cm (6'3") with amazingly high hair I’m getting pretty friendly with the ceiling. Legroom though is fine – and I have legs for days.
Having said that, if I was a backseat passenger on a trip further than just down the road I’d prefer to be in the regular SUV-shaped RS Q3 where its tall, flat roofline offers loads of headroom, and legroom is also good.
All RS Q3s, like the Q3, are five seaters, but bags not sit in the squishy middle back seat.
The boot’s cargo capacity is the same for both at 530 litres, which is also equal to an ordinary Q3. If you want to see how high the boot’s load lip is, I demonstrate it in the video above – best not to watch while eating, though.
I’ve never met an Audi with outstanding cabin storage and the RS Q3 is no exception, with small door pockets and a tiny centre console bin.
It does have four cupholders (two up front and two in the back) and the wireless charger living in the hidey hole near the shifter fits my big phone, so it’s not all bad news there.
Next to the wireless charger there are two USB ports (a mini Type-C and a larger Type-B), while the second row has two Type-C USB ports.
There are directional air vents for those in the back, too.
Price and features
Guessing you want to know just how much more affordable this Levante is compared to the other grades in the range? Okay, the entry-level Levante lists for $125,000, before on-road costs.
That may sound expensive but look at it like this: the entry Levante has the same Maserati-designed and Ferrari-made 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 as the $179,990 Levante S and an almost identical standard features list.
So how on this planet is it possible there could be a $55K price difference and yet the cars be almost the same? What’s missing?
Horsepower is missing – the base grade Levante may have the same V6 as the Levante S but it doesn’t have as much grunt. But we’ll get to that in the engine section.
As for the other differences – there aren’t many, almost none. The Levante S comes with a sunroof as standard and front seats that adjust to more positions than the Levante, but both grades come with an 8.4-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, leather upholstery (the S does get more premium leather), a proximity key and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Those standard features are also identical to those in the Turbo-Diesel which sits above the Levante at $159,990.
Apart from less horsepower, no standard sunroof (as on the S) and upholstery which isn’t quite as nice as the S’s another downside to the base grade Levante is that optioning the GranLusso and GranSport packs is expensive… really expensive.
The GranLusso adds luxurious touches to the exterior in the form of metallic trim to the roof rails, the window frames and protection plates to the front bumper, while in the cabin thee front seats come in a choice of Ermenegildo Zegna silk upholstery, Pieno Fiore (full-grain) leather or premium Italian hide.
The GranSport toughens up the exterior with a more aggressive body kit with black elements and adds 12-way power adjustable sports seats, brushed-chrome shifting paddles and aluminium-face sports pedals.
The features those packages offer are nice – those silk and leather seats are sumptuous for example, but each pack costs $35,000. That’s almost 30 per cent of the list price of the entire vehicle, extra. The same packages on the Levante S costs just $10,000.
While the Levante is the most affordable Levante, and also the cheapest Maserati you can buy, it’s more expensive than its Porsche Cayenne (entry V6 petrol) rival which lists for $116,000, while the Range Rover Sport 3.0 SC HSE is $130,000 and the Mercedes-Benz GLE 43 is $135,529.
Is the new entry-grade Levante good value, then? Yes, for a Maserati, if you don’t option the packages, and yes compared to most of its rivals.
Audi RS Q38/10
The RS Q3 lists for $89,900 for the regular SUV body shape while the Sportback is $92,900.
Both come with the same standard features, including a 10.1-inch media display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 15-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system, leather RS steering wheel, proximity key, 360-degree camera, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, power tailgate, 'Matrix LED' headlights and three-zone climate control.
The standard RS seats are Nappa leather, the front ones are heated and power adjustable.
Looking at the standard features for a Q3 it’s clear Audi has fitted the RS Q3 with everything it has for the model – a lot of the equipment such as the sound system, climate control and LED headlights are optional on a ‘normal’ Q3.
Some of these features had to be optioned on the previous RS Q3, too, so relative to the outgoing model the new car is better value.
Engine & trans
If you’ve just read the section above on price and features, you’re now probably wondering how much less powerful the Levante is compared to the Levante S.
The Levante has a 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 and it sounds magnificent. Yup, the entry-grade Levante lets loose that Maserati high-pitched scream when you open the throttle, just like the S. It may sound the same as the S but the Levante’s V6 has less horsepower. At 257kW/500Nm, the Levante makes 59kW less in power and 80Nm less in torque.
Is there a noticeable difference? Not much. Acceleration isn’t as rapid in the Levante with 0-100km/h coming in six seconds compared to 5.2 seconds in the Levante S.
Shifting gears is an eight-speed ZF-sorced automatic transmission which is super smooth, but a little slow.
Audi RS Q39/10
Ordinary Q3s have four-cylinder engines which make no more than 132kW, but the RS Q3 has a 294kW 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine. Plus, with 480Nm there’s whopping torque for a small SUV.
This five-cylinder also powers the Audi TT RS and the RS 3 and is suited well to small and agile beasties like these, and also to the RS Q3 with its responsive and energetic ‘boosty’ nature. Aud’s 'S tronic' seven-speed dual-clutch auto shifts fast sending the drive to all four wheels.
Even if you were to drive your Levante conservatively Maserati says you can expect it to use at best 11.6L/100km over a combination of urban and open roads, the Levante S is a bit thirstier at an official 11.8L/100km.
In reality you can expect the twin-turbo petrol V6 to want more – just open road driving was seeing the trip computer report 12.3L/100km, You can bet that’ll go up in the city and climb higher if you like to keep raising the Levante's beautiful voice.
Audi RS Q37/10
High-performance cars with combustion engines love fuel and lots of it. Audi officially says the RS Q3 should use 8.9L/100km over a combination of open and urban roads. We’ll be able to test that once we have an RS Q3 in our garage, but either way, that’s on the thirsty side.
When I reviewed the Levante S at its launch in 2017 I enjoyed its good handling and comfortable ride. But impressed as I was with performance from the engine I felt the car could be quicker.
So how then would a less powerful version of the same car feel? Not much different, actually. The base grade Levante is only 0.8s slower to 100km/h than the S at six seconds. The air suspension is the same as the S’s and returns a comfortable and compliant ride, and handling with the dampers in the firm setting is impressive for a two tonne, five-metre long vehicle.
Front brakes in the Levante base grade car are smaller (345 x 32mm) than in the S (380 x 34mm) and the tyres aren’t staggered either with 265/50 R19 all around.
The variable-ratio, electrically-assisted power steering is well weighted, but too quick. I found the car turned in too far, too quickly, with regular mid-corner corrections a tiresome necessity.
To me there’s no point going for the S based on the assumption that it’s going to be a much higher performing car. The Levante and Levante S and are both mild in their power delivery and have better dynamics than an average large SUV.
If you are after a true high-performance Maserati SUV then you might be best off waiting for the Levante GTS coming in 2020 with a 404kW V8.
The base grade Levante V6 sounds just as beautiful as the S’s, but there's one place where it isn’t very pleasant. The back seat.
At the launch of the Levante S in 2017 I didn’t have the chance to ride in the rear seats. This time around I let my co-driver steer for half-an-hour while I sat in the left rear position.
For starters it’s louder back there – the exhaust note is almost too loud to be pleasant. Plus, the seats aren’t supportive or comfortable.
There’s also a slightly claustrophobic, cave-like feeling in the second row, largely due to the roof's accentuated slope towards the rear. This, to me, rules it out almost completely as something to ferry guests around in comfort.
Audi RS Q39/10
In the intro I likened the RS model range to a knife block full of all well-crafted sharp things, each with different purposes.
The meat cleaver is definitely the RS 6 Avant which feels like a luxury locomotive with seemingly never-ending sledgehammer acceleration.
I’m beginning to regret the knife analogy because I don’t know knives very well. But I do know cars and the RS Q3 is probably the opposite to an RS6 Avant in that it’s small and agile, with an energetic engine that pauses only to catch its breath in the form of building its boost before sling-shotting you towards the next corner. And it’s loud inside - even with the windows up.
I was impressed by the ride comfort which never became harsh even in 'Dynamic' mode. The suspension is soft enough for acceleration and braking to make the nose pitch and dip, but handling, body control and composure is excellent.
While you can shift gears yourself using the paddles in manual mode, that transmission is best left in auto and in the 'S' setting. You’ll get the full noise under hard acceleration and lightning quick shifts to go with it.
Regular Q3s take eight to nine seconds to accelerate from 0-100km/h. The RS Q3 can do it in 4.5 seconds, which is getting into properly quick territory where steering wheels also becomes a handrails for something to hold onto as you’re yanked down the road with superb all-wheel drive traction.
The same 2.5-litre five cylinder is in the RS 3 Avant but that weighs about 200kg less and can hit 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. But the only way I can sit in the back of an RS 3 is if I put my knees under my chin – not so with the RS Q3.
The Levante is yet to be tested by ANCAP. That said, the Levante has six airbags and is equipped with advanced safety equipment such as AEB, lane keeping assistance and lane departure warning, blind spot warning with steering assistance, traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.
A puncture repair kit is under the boot floor.
Audi RS Q39/10
ANCAP gave all variants of the Q3 the maximum five-star rating in 2018 with the exception of the RS Q3 which is yet to be tested.
What I can tell you is that for this model Audi’s made the safety features standard across the range and this includes the AEB system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross traffic assistance, lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance.
Q3s come with a space saver spare, but the RS Q3 has a puncture repair kit.
The Levante is covered by Maserati’s three year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended at two year or 20,000km intervals. More brands are moving to longer warranties and it would be good to see Maserati offer its buyers longer coverage.
Audi RS Q36/10
The RS Q3 is covered by Audi’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year/unlimited kilometre coverage.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km with a three-year plan ($2320) or five-year plan ($3420) available.