What is it?
In essence, the Levante is Maserati’s rival to the Porsche Cayenne. Like the Porsche, it’s enough to make purists cry – and also like the Porsche, the volume sales Maserati plans to achieve from the Levante will help fund the further development of its sports car lineup.
Quite important, then – when you consider what a massive success the Cayenne and other premium SUVs have been. We’re testing the Levante in dynamic GranSport trim, fitted with a petrol engine.
The updated Levante comes as Maserati officially launches new GTS and Trofeo versions – both powered by a 3.8-litre, twin-turbo Ferrari V8. Both have been confirmed for the UK, but no prices or timings have yet been announced, so for now we have to stick to the standard V6 petrol and diesel variants.
Tweaks for 2019 for the Levante range are largely cosmetic. First, and perhaps not particularly noticeable unless you view the two variants side-by-side is greater differentiation between racy GranSport and cushy GranLusso trim.
There are full LED matrix headlights on the outside and new graphics for the infotainment inside, plus a redesigned gear shifter. Maserati’s also incorporated its Integrated Vehicle Control, which aims to prevent spirited drivers from killing themselves – but in a gentler, more progressive way than the hammer-down approach of most ESC and traction control systems.
How does it look?
It’s a stretch to call the Levante pretty – very few SUVs are – but it’s certainly imposing, and that’s what will matter to more drivers. For 2019 Maserati has further differentiated the two main trim levels – GranSport and GranLusso – giving each a different front bumper treatment and opting for different trims – piano black for the GranSport, chrome for the GranLusso.
Despite the LED daytime running lights’ tendency to make the car look somewhat cross-eyed, the Levante is a handsome beast, with a bold, upright front grille and a curvaceous rear. Smaller details – such as the trident badges on the C-pillars – just add to the overall effect.
What’s the spec like?
As you might expect, the pricey Levante comes with just about everything you could want in terms of equipment. The options list does include the Driver Assistance Package Plus, which contains kit we reckon should be standard on such an expensive car – such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot alert and a surround-view camera system to aid parking.
In true Italian style, the most difficult decision you’ll have to make when speccing a Levante is the trim. With several leather, wood, carbon fibre and other materials on offer, you’ll have to choose carefully – making sure nothing clashes with the gloriously sparkly exterior paint finishes. You can even opt for the seats to be trimmed in silk.
What’s it like inside?
The Maserati’s interior can’t quite compete with truly premium rivals in terms of quality and ergonomics. The latter is more idiosyncratic than irritating – once you’ve learned the odd positioning of some switches, such as the panel in the roof containing the boot release and parking sensor switch, you won’t be caught out too much.
Maserati’s infotainment display has received an upgrade, but it’s not up there with the best. The touchscreen-oriented interface means that navigating it with a scroll wheel while on the move is a difficult task, while the graphics look a little amateurish next to those of the likes of BMW.
Space is decent for the class, but it’s far from palatial – three adults will struggle to sit side-by-side on the rear bench and the boot is a lot shallower than it first appears. However, the Levante is the only car in its class with adjustable pedals – a small but welcome touch that aids comfort for the driver.
What’s under the bonnet?
There’s a lower-powered V6 petrol on the way later in the year but for now the UK makes do with two engines carried over – a 275hp V6 diesel and a 430hp V6 petrol.
We spent the majority of our time in the petrol, which true to the Maserati name is sharp, responsive, and very, very Italian. Put your foot down and the noise is simply gorgeous. It’s also amply suited to pushing the heavy Levante along at a high rate of knots – the car never felt like it was straining.
The petrol’s sub-25mpg fuel consumption might lead you to consider the diesel, but we were surprised to see a figure of just 26mpg registering on the oil-burner’s trip computer. Considering Levante owners are unlikely to be short of a penny, we’d opt for the petrol. The diesel feels clattery and unrefined for such a premium car.
What’s it like to drive?
Maserati prefers to think of its cars as Grand Tourers rather than sports cars, but in the SUV sphere the Levante is definitely one of the more agile.
The steering is smooth, accurate and well-judged, despite a move to an electric power-assisted setup. Combined with the power from that V6 petrol engine, the Levante can really hustle down a back road.
Standard air suspension also keeps things pretty comfortable, especially at a cruise, but you can tighten things up with liberal application of the ‘sport’ suspension setting, which lowers the Levante by 2cm for flatter cornering.
Alternatively, you can raise the air suspension and head off-road. Maserati promises the Levante will actually do some serious mud-plugging if pushed, but we sincerely doubt most will make it any further off the beaten track than a crunchy gravel driveway.
Is the Levante an objectively better car than the Porsche Cayenne? No.
Will that matter to a lot of buyers? Of course not – the Maserati badge is a byword for exclusivity and taste. Specced in the correct way, the Levante will look equally at home outside an exclusive member’s club or at a grouse shoot.
Opt for the petrol model and it goes almost as well as it looks, too. We’re still waiting for the insane V8-powered GTS and Trofeo models to arrive in the UK, though.
Model as tested: Maserati Levante S GranSport
Price (on-road): £79,125
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 petrol
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 430 hp
Torque: 580 Nm
Top speed: 164 mph
0-60mph: 5.0 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 23.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 273 g/km