Like a lot of you, I spent the weekend patrolling suburbia in a white SUV. Unlike a lot of you, mine had Ferrari-built engine.
It went something like this: I’d innocuously pull up to a stoplight in the 2017 Maserati Levante S. Punch up sport mode. The bass comes on. Suddenly my white refrigerator of a retriever hauler sounds like something else. The light turns. I nail the gas maybe halfway. The low rumble turns to a growl. Like a real, legit growl. It sounds good. Not Camry V6 good, but menacing like an Italian sports car. Full-throated and angry. It gets louder.
For a moment I think some dude on motorcycle is being obnoxious nearby. That’s my car, I realize. Cover blown, I accelerate through the light, merging gracefully ahead of the slower vehicles dutifully cued up. Then I reach over and grab a warm bread stick that’s resting on top of a pizza and blithely enjoy some open space on the road.
That neatly sums up the dual personalities of the Levante. You can marshal all of the horsepower of 16 World Championships from the Prancing Horse. Or steer one-handed while you cruise suburbia. Your choice.
- So yeah, the Maserati-designed Ferrari-built twin-turbo V6 is pretty great. It makes the Levante feel special, more so than a BMW X5 or X6 or Mercedes GLE or GLE coupe. That’s the essence of Italian cars: the engine. Blasting around metropolitan Detroit with this 424-horsepower arsenal under the hood is a riot.
- The downside: As expected, the Levante is thirsty, slurping a quarter of a tank during relatively shortly runs around town, inline with its 14-mpg rating in the city. The highway is marginally better, getting 19 mpg, though with the 21.1-gallon tank, the you could theoretically get 338 miles of range.
- The Levante looks the part. With portholes, a long, creased hood, bulging fenders, and attractive head-and taillights, it conveys the appearance of Italian sport and luxury. The chrome door handles and trim tastefully add some bling to the design. My favorite part? The shark-tooth grille. With tall vertical lines and a monstrous Maser crest, the Levante almost sneers at you.
- The idyllic cabin does a solid job of keeping the outside world at bay. The interior is quiet at cruising speeds, broken up only by the engine’s bark. I’m quite comfortable. The rich brown leather was supple yet supportive, and I quickly find a commanding view of the road. It’s cool how the door pulls are neatly blended into the trim. Climbing in back, I find plenty of leg- and headroom. I’m surprised at how spacious it is back there for my average-size frame. Golf clubs fit easily, too. There is also plenty of space in the cargo hold, which swallows a half-dozen grocery bags, no problem.
- Maserati uses a version of the Fiat Chrysler Uconnect system, which is one of the better units in the industry. The touchscreen works well. It’s reasonably intuitive, and it’s also colorful. Aesthetics matter. This is a far better use of corporate tech than the infotainment in the Alfa Romeo Giulia. Instead of using the FCA system, Alfa went its own way, and after a weekend in that gorgeous sedan, I still had no clue how to operate the head unit.
So overall I like the Levante, especially in high-powered S trim. But it does take a bit of brain re-calibration. It’s like someone took the Maserati ingredients, put them into an SUV cookie cutter, baked them for 45 minutes, and boom: Italian SUV. Generally, I think it’s a respectable execution that lives up to the notion of Maserati. If Porsche can do it…
Speaking of that, I’d say a Cayenne is more fun to drive than the Levante, but the Maser rates ahead of the Germans on the driving excitement scale. I can’t wait to drive the Lamborghini Urus. Bentley and Rolls-Royce have or are making crossovers. Inevitably, I think Ferrari will have to follow suit, in its own way and at its own pace. Perhaps by 2025.
To Maserati’s credit, it’s the first Italian brand to make an SUV in modern times (Yes, I’m aware of the Rambo Lambo LM002 from a generation ago.). The Levante summons all of the history and performance of Maserati into an elegant, though sometimes over-the-top SUV package. I still stood out when passing through a tony neighborhood where cars like the Audi R8 were casually parked at the curb. The engine, the styling, the posh interior – by and large Maserati got it right with the Levante. The Italians can make an SUV that’s credible, without selling their sports-car soul.