There is nothing subtle about the sound of a Maserati Levante V-6 on startup. It is an ideal way to start the day — and startle the unexpecting.
The Levante is a precision tool in the working class of superluxury SUVs. Most of the competing brands in this $100,000-plus segment of so-called utility vehicles — Bentley Bentayga, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Range Rover Sport SVR — begin with a family-oriented SUV that is turned into a leather-lined, overperforming SUV. The Levante, however, is more of a sports sedan that sort of looks like an SUV but has a little more cargo capacity than the midsize Ghibli sedan from which it begins life.
If you are shopping a superluxury SUV, the Levante has exclusive credentials as an ingot of wealth. Ferrari is the engineering division for Maserati’s family class of functional fast movers — with a smattering of parts-bin content from parent company Fiat Chrysler. (You know it when you see it, but it does not detract from performance or design.)
It is built the old-fashioned way, on an assembly line of skilled technicians at each station to guide the assembly in a handcrafted way.
The front part of the chassis is an aluminum casting with a reinforcing cross strut for rigidity. The rear section is rolled steel and the doors, hood and the cargo area aluminum, plus a magnesium dashboard brace.
The five-seat Levante was engineered for off-road function using Maserati’s Q4 Intelligent all-wheel-drive system and air suspension with Skyhook shock absorbers. But the electronic ride is more about competent handling, with the occasional dirtying of tires on the way to a glade. The system can route power 50/50 front to rear wherever it is needed, whether off road, on road or on track. The air suspension allows an adjustable ride height from 3 to 3.5 inches, for passenger entry to off-road clearance.
I doubt many owners will hook up the tent trailer for a family adventure, but the Levante can tow up to 5,952 pounds. In my test week, I stopped at a garden nursery and freaked when the large pot I bought left some dirt and debris on the back-seat floor. It just looked wrong in the carpeted terrain more suitable to Ferragamo loafers.
The lean exterior styling has a sleek 0.31 coefficient of drag — for an SUV shape. Its low center of gravity and balanced 50/50 weight distribution make it handle as a prancing horse. The ride quality even in Sport mode was composed and jiggle free on California’s concrete highways. Sport mode adjusts everything from accelerator response to shift points and suspension.
Six-piston Brembo brakes will get you out of trouble faster than you can get into it. Aluminum monobloc calipers grip 15-inch drilled rotors at the front and 13-inch platters rear.
There are four Levante models, with two choices of 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and two with the Ferrari-assembled 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8. All with eight-speed automatic transmissions and pronghorn-like steering-column paddle shifters.
And Maserati just announced the 550-hp V8 Levante GTS, capable of 0-60 mph in 4 seconds and a top speed of 181 mph. Starting at $120,000, it slots just below the top-of-the-line 590-hp Levante Trofeo, starting at about $170,000.
The entry Levante and Levante S are V-6 powered, with starting prices of $76,840 and $88,230, including the $1,250 freight charge from Turin, Italy. And then add $5,560 for either the GranLusso or GranSport trim treatments. The Levante S GranSport tester was $104,800 with nine options or packages. And more “bespoke” treatments are offered.
The base engine has 345 horsepower and 360 foot-pounds of torque from 4,000-5,000 rpm, making it capable, Maserati says, of 0-60 mph in 6 seconds. Its fuel economy is just one tick better than the upgrade 3.0-liter at 14 mpg city, 20 highway and 16 mpg combined, on premium fuel.
The engines are assembled by Ferrari in Maranello, Italy, and the 3.0-liter V-6 engine shares most of its core components with the V-8 found in the Quattroporte GTS – same bore dimensions, variable valve technology and very similar turbocharging, manifold and engine block technology.
The 424-hp Levante S has 428 lb.-ft. torque at 5,000 rpm — making it a second quicker to 60. And those potent engine and exhaust tones are real, not sound generated.
The S model has fuel economy ratings of 14/29/16 mpg, but I was averaging a surprising 22.9 mpg. Despite not using the I.C.E. mode (Increased Control and Efficiency), I attribute my exemplary mileage to learning how to play the exhaust notes like a pipe organ, though I hot-rodded the Levante only when safe to do so and have no idea how I ended up with better-than-EPA numbers. I won’t let it happen again. But I never wished for more power.
Available safety technologies include adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward collision warning plus, advanced brake assist system and lane departure warning system.
Also new is an advanced driver-assist package of highway (steering) assist, lane keeping assist, active blind spot assist and traffic sign recognition.
The Levante might be the best morphing of an SUV into a midsize sports sedan, yet. The design and layout have confidence without trial and error. The driver area, with 40 inches of headroom without the wide panoramic roof, has complete function, free of flashy gimmicks or over-exaggerated sport seats. There are useful cup holders, charging ports, storage areas and even a cooled box in the armrest console. Sightlines are good over the hood and not as bad as might appear at the rear three-quarter angle.
The back seat is more comfortable than in any midsize sedan. And the cargo capacity looks to have plenty of capacity for two or three hefty golf bags.
My only gripe-observations were the doors that clattered on closing and the shifter is notchy to select a gear.
This is the second year of production for the Levante and examples are still seldom seen, even in ZIP codes where superlux cars reside. There is exclusivity in ownership, when big Range Rovers, Cayenne Turbos and Teslas are now mundane sightings.
2019 Maserati Levante S GranSport
- Body style: midsize, 5-passenger AWD SUV with adaptive air suspension
- Engine: 424-hp, turbocharged and direct-injection 3.0-liter V-6; 428 lb.-ft. torque at 5,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-spd automatic
- Fuel economy: 14/19/16 mpg city/hwy/combined; premium fuel
- 0-62 mph: 5 seconds; top speed 164 mph
- Drag coefficient: 0.31
- Tow capacity: 5,952 lbs.
- Fuel tank: 21.1 gal.
- Cargo space: 19.4-57.4 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 40.2/NA in.
- Rear head/leg room: 39.1/NA in.
- Length/wheelbase: 197/118.3 in.
- Curb weight: 4,650 lbs.
- Turning circle: NA ft.
- Standard equipment includes: smartkey entry and push-button ignition, 8.4-inch touch screen display, surround-view camera, bi-xenon and LED headlights, piano black trim, 8-speaker audio system, 12-way power (heated and ventilated) front seats, 60/40 folding back seat, park-assist alerts,
- Safety features include: 6 air bags, torque vector control, stability and traction controls, hill descent control, brake assist, engine brake torque control (to prevent wheel lock in downshifts), trailer sway control, rollover mitigation, hill-start assist
- Base price: $91,980; price as tested $104,800, including $1,250 freight charge
- Options on test vehicle: Driver assistance package $3,000; high gloss carbon trim $2,850; full natural and perforated leather $2,500; tailgate kick sensor $100; Bowers & Wilkins audio system $1,300; ventilated front seats $900; lighted steel door sill plate $200; 20-inch gray wheels $300; Pirelli Pzero summer tires $420
- Where assembled: Turin, Italy
- Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance