Maserati Levante VS Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
- 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
- Stunning interior
- Superb space
- Comprehensive safety kit
- Unpleasant ride
- Four-cylinder diesel performance
- Challenging styling
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|
But this new version - the 2020 GLE - is exactly that. It's new.
The exterior is new. The engines are new. The underpinnings are new. The interior - yep, you guessed it - new.
Let's find out.
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.
All told, the Mercedes-Benz GLE 2020 model is an improvement in many ways over its predecessor. It's safer, more high-tech, considerably more luxurious and practical inside, and offers better value, too.
But, in 300d guise at least, it's let down by a slightly underdone engine, and suspension that just doesn't do a good enough job on rougher roads. It's close, but not close enough to be best in class.
Maybe that'll be a different case for the higher-grade versions with the most high-tech engines and the tricky optional suspension... we'll have to wait and see.
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?
You can make your own mind up about the styling of the new GLE. It's certainly more aggressive than the model that came before it, and Benz claims that it's the most aerodynamic SUV in its class.
The models on test were all fitted with the AMG styling pack and the bigger 21-inch multi-spoke wheels, and from some angles it's a striking car. I particularly like the way the rear-end treatment has worked for the GLE: the triangulated tail-lights, the lower bumper and the rear glass all work together well.
In profile, the GLE is quite challenging to look at. The rounded window-line is a bit awkward, and somehow the wheels just don't fit with the bulky guards (though I do like the way the AMG 21s poke out a bit at the back).
The front sees the diamond-style treatment to the grille for the AMG Line versions, but there's a lot of black plastic on the bumper, and the headlight shape gives it a bit of a droopy-eyed look. Is it just me, or is it a bit of a Bassett Hound?
It is a bigger car than before - 111mm longer (now 4930mm - and on an 80mm longer wheelbase, now 2995mm), and it's 15mm wider but 31mm lower - and it looks more substantial as a result. I'm just not sure it's pulling off its bulk as well as it could.
So the outside is pretty, er, interesting. We had comments from passersby to that effect, too, and in our comparison test it was the consensus of our team of experienced testers that the GLE had some challenging exterior design elements.
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.
The cabin presentation and pragmatism is excellent in the new-generation GLE. There was an existing version on site for us to compare, and to say it's like night-and-day would be generous to the old model.
A lot of that comes down to the MBUX twin 12.3-inch screens on top of the dash - one for all the driver instrumentation and controls, and the other for sat nav, media, car controls and other settings. They look great, and there are multiple ways to control them: the steering wheel controls, the touch pad between the front seats, the screen in the middle is touch-capacitive, and there's the much-bragged-about “Hey Mercedes” voice control system.
But it's more than just the screens: the finishes and materials used in the GLE are exceptional. The plastics are excellent, the brushed aluminium treatment that runs the width of the dash with ambient lighting, the surrounds on the vents (oh, so many vents!) - it all works so well together. But the open-pore wood finish is my favourite element, adding a touch of ruggedness that's also plush and luxurious.
The test cars all had the high-end leather treatment and optional bolster-heavy seats, and they're okay, but a little fiddly to adjust. I guess that's the beauty of driver profiles - the car will remember your favourite settings and make the adjustments as you get in or out by detecting the key.
There's also excellent storage throughout - the door pockets in all four doors are huge, there are cupholders front and rear, and loose item storage is decent, too. Plus there are heaps of USB-C (fast charging) ports up front and in the back.
Speaking of the back, the cars at launch all had the seven-seat package, which might appeal to you, or not. It's more than just a couple of seats in the back row, because it includes electric seat adjustment for the second row, with slide and recline functions allowing you to prioritise second- or third-row space.
The space in the second-row with the seats set as far back as they can go is excellent. There's heaps of room for someone my height (182cm) to sit behind a similar sized driver with ample knee room, headroom and shoulder room. You'll be able to fit three adults across the back, or if you have kids, there are three top-tether points and outboard ISOFIX child-seat anchors, too. No child seat restraints in the third row, though.
Whether you choose the five-seat or seven-seat option, the boot space remains the same at 825 litres with five seats in play. All models have an electric tailgate, too.
And if you're curious about the third row, it should be fine for anyone shorter than 175cm for shorter drives. It's not super spacious back there, and should be considered a 5+2 option. Really need a seven-seat Merc? You could get a GLS if you can afford it, or go for a V-Class luxury van. Go on. Do it!
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.
One thing that's really neat about the new Mercedes GLE range is that the brand has decided to specify each of the models exactly the same - that makes it simple for consumers, because essentially you're just paying more for a better engine.
That means the extensive standard equipment list is the same whether you choose the 300d entry-level diesel model at $99,900 (plus on-road costs), the mid-range petrol 450 model at $111,341, or the current range-topping six-cylinder diesel 400d at $118,142.
That may seem like a pretty slim range, but you can expect Mercedes-AMG to offer two additional performance-oriented models - the GLE 53 and the GLE 63 S - in 2020. And, for context, the current BMW X5 ranges from $112,990 to $149,900, while the Porsche Cayenne lineup spans from $117,000 to $242,000.
Standard equipment includes the company's MBUX multimedia system with dual 12.3-inch screens, LED lighting with adaptive high beam headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate, 360-degree parking camera, colour head-up display, the company's 'Artico' leatherette upholstery with heated front seats, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are multiple ways to personalise and customise your GLE, but one that's expected to attract a lot of custom is the “7 Seat Package” which adds third-row seats for people up to 180cm tall, and also incorporates electric second row seat adjustment (tilt and slide) and electric seat folding. The pack is $3900.
Other option boxes include the AMG Sport Package ($9900, comprising an AMG bodykit, panoramic roof, wireless phone charging and leather upholstery), the Night Package ($4800, adds black exterior accents), the Vision Package ($4200, including panoramic roof, wireless charging, 13-speaker Burmester sound system) and the Energising Package Plus ($6200, adding multi-contour front seats with massaging, heated armrests, air fragrances).
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.
Powering the Mercedes-Benz GLE is a selection of engines, with petrol and diesel offered.
The entry-level power plant is the 300d, which uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with 180kW of power (at 4200rpm) and 500Nm of torque (from 1600-2400rpm). It has a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive as standard.
The range-topping diesel is a thumper. It's the 400d, which runs a 2.9-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder with 243kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 700Nm of torque (from 1200-3000rpm). It also has a nine-speed auto and AWD standard.
The sole petrol model at launch is the 450, which employs a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with 270kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 500Nm (at 1600-4500rpm). It uses a nine-speed automatic transmission with AWD, but this version is the only one with mild-hybrid tech, using 48-volt EQ Boost tech to help add 16kW and 250Nm for short stints of added performance (0-100km/h in just 5.7 seconds, apparently), and allowing the engine to shut off under light throttle or lift-off situations.
If you plan to tow, there's a factory-fit tow pack available that allows 750kg unbraked and 3500kg braked towing across all grades. This pack is the one from the factory - remember that - and it costs $1900. If you instead fit one as an aftermarket fit, the figures are 750kg/2700kg respectively.
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.
Fuel consumption varies between the models, as you'd expect.
The 300d is the most frugal of the mix, with an official combined cycle fuel use claim of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres. The 400d, with its bigger six-cylinder diesel, is said to use 7.7L/100km. The 450 petrol model has the highest claimed fuel use, at 9.1L/100km, and that's despite the fact it's the only version of this trio to bring electrification into the mix with the EQ Boost 48-volt mild hybrid system.
On test at the launch of the GLE we saw a displayed return of 9.4L/100km for the 300d model, but there was a fair bit of country road and highway driving in the mix.
All versions of the GLE are fitted with an 85-litre fuel tank.
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.
The launch drive was limited to the 300d variant, though I did get a chance to sample the version with air suspension, as well as the model with the standard steel suspension.
Now, before we get too nerdy, this is an important element for a luxury SUV. Ride comfort is arguably as vital as effortless power. And, sadly for the GLE, neither model sets any benchmarks for suspension control and comfort.
The steel-sprung model doesn't have adaptive suspension at all, meaning that it can be bouncy, wobbly, unsettled and stiff all at the same time. The country road I sampled it on showed that the standard suspension offered up a quite nervous experience, never feeling as settled as a luxury SUV really ought to.
The air suspension version is definitely better, but still not as good as a BMW X5, Audi Q7 or VW Touareg. It lacks the body control and comfort that a true luxury SUV ought to offer.
Now, that might matter to you, or it might not. You might think the look of the car - with 20s, 21s or 22s filling the guards - is more important than how it deals with lumps and bumps. But it's our job to tell you how the land lies, and the GLE simply can't match the better SUVs in this segment as a driver's tool.
There is another level of suspension which the CarsGuide team (myself included) hasn't yet had the chance to sample - the E-Active Body Control system, which includes curve-tilting so it can make the car feel level through corners, and a system that'll scan the road ahead to predict bumps and lumps and prime the suspension to deal with it. That system is $13,000... and, while I haven't sampled it yet, it's my hope that it makes all the difference to the GLE.
So, what about the other driving elements? Well the steering is light and accurate, and decently responsive at low speeds or highway pace, and you're never left guessing as to what'll happen.
The engine, too, is decent - a 2.0-litre with 180kW and 500Nm is nothing to be sneezed at - but in a vehicle this large, with a kerb weight of 2165kg, and with a nine-speed automatic taking care of forward progress, it can be a busy engine.
That's because the transmission will shuffle between ratios when you encounter a hill as it doesn't quite have the grunt to simply stick in a gear and tug you along. It's not that big of a deal, and the transmission is smooth enough and pretty hard to catch out, but it is a little less effortless than a six-cylinder would no doubt be.
All in all, I was left wanting more from the drive experience. Maybe the higher-grade models with the highest-grade suspension will prove a better flag waver for the new-generation GLE.
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.
As you'd expect, the Mercedes-Benz GLE has achieved the highest possible five-star ANCAP safety rating under the stricter 2019 criteria. Indeed, the GLE was given the best ever score for child occupant safety.
The GLE is loaded with the safety technology and equipment you would expect. There's auto emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist (with active lane assist - it will merge into the next lane when you indicate), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera with reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, semi-autonomous parking, and driver fatigue detection.
The GLE has nine airbags (dual front, front side, driver's knee, rear side, full-length curtain).
All GLE models have three top-tether restraints for child seats, and dual ISOFIX anchors in the second row. The seven-seat model has no third-row child restraints.
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.
Mercedes-Benz stands by its three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, stating at the launch it has no plans to extend it to match what most of the mainstream brands now offer (five years). But it's not alone in the luxury segment in that regard.
The big point the company's local reps made was that they're trying to lower the cost of ownership for customers through servicing packages. You can pre-pay them, or you can pay as you go (PAYG).
The GLE requires maintenance every 12 months or 25,000km. The pre-pay option is $2700 for the first three years/75,000km of maintenance or, if you decide to PAYG, the costs are $850, $1200 and $1250 (totalling $3300 over the same period). It makes sense to pre-pay then, and you can bundle the cost into your finance, too, so you'll notice it less.
There is three years roadside assist included at no cost if you buy the car brand new, as it coincides with the warranty period.