Maserati Levante VS Porsche Cayenne
- 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
- Mighty engine
- Relative fuel economy
- Buttons everywhere
- Perhaps too quiet
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|
The Porsche Cayenne is a whopper. It's a big, heavy SUV with tons of room for the family and a badge to keep the neighbours talking. It's also got a planet-bending V8 diesel engine and an air-suspended chassis that has to be felt to be believed.
|Engine Type||4.1L turbo|
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.
Porsche's push into the mainstream with Cayenne to take on compatriots Mercedes, BMW and Audi has been hugely successful and the Cayenne was the car that started it all. It's priced well (a BMW X5 M50d is $4000 more), has plenty of equipment and a stack of space but is also mighty handy in the bendy stuff.
It may not be a jacked-up 911 but it's certainly a Porsche. Seven out of ten Porsche customers think so too.
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?
There's no getting away from it, the Cayenne looks like a big car because it is. With big wheels and a big gaping grille, the Cayenne has street presence few cars can match. It still not the looker one would expect of the Porsche, but this second-generation version is much better resolved than the earlier cars and is less bloated looking.
Inside is very Porsche, and that includes Stuttgart's very unfortunate obsession with a button for everything. If you think the Macan has lots of buttons, the Cayenne matches the price differential by supplying even more buttons for your buck. This sort of thing makes car journalists squeal because when you've only got a week to learn what they all do, it's a race against time that's difficult to win. Standing back and thinking about it, most owners will be perfectly happy after a week or two.
As for the rest of the interior, it's a lovely place to be. Our brown interior with extra brown overlaid with mahogany (brown) may not be to everyone's taste, but it was certainly luxurious. Everyone gets a comfortable seat and plenty of room in which to enjoy it.
With the added light from the panoramic glass, it's an extremely agreeable cabin, with a great view out. The high console in the front makes you feel like you're sitting low in the chassis (you're not) and the whopping big Porsche steering wheel leaves you in no doubt you're in Porsche.
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.
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.
The Cayenne Diesel S kicks off at a startlingly reasonable (hey, it's all relative) $144,800. Perhaps against type, there's a lot of stuff packed into the Cayenne and you could cheerfully go without ticking a single box on the breathtakingly long options list.
The standard car carries a 14-speaker stereo, 20-inch alloys, power everything including steering column, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera, keyless entry, electronic dampers, hill descent control, cruise control, cooled glovebox, satnav, bi-xenon active headlights, auto lights and wipers, partial leather seats, sunroof, air suspension and tyre pressure monitoring.
On top of the standard features, ours had a full leather interior ($7690), Yachting Mahogany Interior ($6590 and is what it sounds like), Yacht Mahogany heated wood steering wheel ($1450, ditto), 21-inch wheels ($5610), soft close doors ($1790), black roof rails ($1390), panoramic glass roof ($1190), saddle brown seat belts ($1090), compass ($760), Porsche logos on the headrests ($450) and monochrome black exterior package ($450). This made a grand total of $173,300.
A purely subjective opinion: the mahogany you can probably do without, along with the brown seat belts. That's not a comment on the quality, either – in isolation, it's very pretty wood.
Porsche calls its entertainment system "Porsche Communication Management". Nestled between the air-con outlets, Porsche claims that it's a high resolution system, but it is starting to look its age (the second-gen Cayenne launched in 2010). The screen is good enough, though, and responds quickly to the touch. The 14-speaker stereo is a belter, with tons of power and good bass filling the big cabin and the Bluetooth performance is above average.
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.
The Diesel S packs a 4.1-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel producing an impressive 283kW and a mind-boggling 850Nm of torque. This will whisk all 2.2 tonnes plus passengers to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds and a claimed fuel usage of 8.3L/100km on the combined cycle.
You won't be astonished to learn we were using fuel at a higher rate than that, but with mostly city plus a good highway blast, we saw 11.3L/100km. Driving all four wheels is an eight-speed automatic transmission which has the added fuel-saving of stop-start.
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.
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.
Obviously, badge, output and heritage promise a great deal, which the Cayenne does its level-best to deliver. It's clearly not meant to be a high-riding 911 and those who are disappointed to read that should probably pop off and study physics for a bit.
For all its heresy, the diesel engine is a cracker, sending the Cayenne off the line with a hearty shove and very little racket. The 850Nm figure means the SUV will mince just about anything in the gears. Not even V12 Ferraris have this kind of torque.
With all-wheel drive and air suspension, the Cayenne corners mostly flat but also rides beautifully. It's an impressively comfortable car in all conditions and with the lazy diesel V8, you can drive it anyway you like.
For the most part, it just needs a toe waved towards the throttle. Get serious, though, and the huge rubber will keep you ripping along all but the tightest of bends. Couple that with a dynamic driving mode that speeds up the shifts, adds sensible weight to the steering and gives you a bit of rear-wheel drive playfulness, the Cayenne is impressively agile.
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.
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.