Maserati follows other luxury car brands and switches focus to the SUV market with the debut of its Levante.
By: Damien Reid
You can’t blame luxury and sports car manufacturers like Maserati, Bentley, Jaguar and even Lamborghini for getting into the SUV game. While sales in their traditional categories are down by more than 20 percent, the big, moneyed off-roader segment has climbed 40 percent in the past five years alone. The Middle East together with North America were the first markets to get the Maserati Levante, with deliveries to Europe, Asia and the rest of the world starting in the first quarter of 2017. INVICTUS was among the first to get behind the wheel and see what it’s like, not only off-road, but also on road and–because it’s a Maserati–on the track as well.
During development the Levante was tested on five continents and in temperatures ranging from minus 38-degrees in the Arctic Circle to +50-degrees in the UAE desert. Based on the Ghibli, it uses the same Q4 torque vectoring AWD system, but is predominantly an on-road performance based car with the ability to venture off-road occasionally. Our time was split between the UAE where we ventured on to hard sand only, which the Levante handled with ease, then we visited Italy to take part in the Master Maserati driving course that now includes the Levante off-road course in Palma, north of Milan.
For just under $4,000 new and prospective owners can take part in the one and a half day course, which includes on-and off-road activities, as well as the chance the go for a blast in Maserati’s other models such as the Quattroporte, Ghibli and GranTurismo coupés. Driving with the guidance and instruction of a professional driver, the course is tailored to give the opportunity to experience the full performance range of the Levante–from mild to wild, on- and off-road–but in complete safety and on private property away from other motorists and police radars.
In one session we discovered its handling dynamics through a slalom course on the racetrack, as well as its wet weather grip, stability and braking performance during emergency lane changes. A few minutes later it was hot laps with an instructor alongside giving tips on how to extract the maximum from the car at speed, with everything filmed on GoPros and logged telemetry data, which we reviewed later on the laptop over an espresso.
After finding out what it’s like on road, the course moved to the hills and muddy terrain where the Levante’s hill descent control was put through its paces as was its impressive 10” ground clearance, its wading depth, 20-degree breakover angle, 22-degree approach angle and 26-degree departure angle. Basically, this means that with the suspension in the highest setting, it made short work of climbing over ruts and large rocks, cresting small rises and climbing and descending steep, loosely covered, low grip hills.
It was at this point when thinking back to its on-track performance, clocking 200kmh heading into a heavy braking zone and topping 125mph on the straight with ease, as well as the design practicality of being a five-door estate, that I properly appreciated the incredible versatility a high performance SUV like the Levante provides. Then there’s the exhaust note from the Ferrari-designed and built V6, which ranges from mild in most situations to ‘rather fruity for a family wagon’ when you place it in Sport mode. But as it’s not the V8, it does lack the aural punch of Maserati’s saloon and coupé range.
Helped along by an eight-speed automatic transmission with super smooth shifts, in most cases it sends 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels only, but in less than 50-milliseconds, the Q4 all-wheel drive system can split it 50/50 front to rear however when traction is needed over the nose. Additionally there’s also a limited slip diff to guarantee traction via the old mechanical way and it features air suspension with six ride height levels for off-roading. The five settings are essential as when it’s set in its lowest position the Levante has the lowest ride height and the most aerodynamic profile in its class, which is perfect for the work we next experienced on the track.
While body roll was minimal, there was a bit of wind noise from around the windows at speed, though in anything other than flat out situations you’d be hard pressed to notice it. The wind noise is likely due to the Levante carrying over Maserati’s pillarless doors from the saloons, which admittedly looks great and is a first for a car of this size. The concave grille up front is the focal point, with the flow of the front fenders, the squinting Bi-Xenon and LED headlights and the Trident badge all helping to accentuate it.
If you like leather and wood then you’ll love the Levante’s interior as it is everywhere; from the seats to the door trim and dash, the latter being dominated by an 8.4” touchscreen panel that recognizes drag, scroll, swipe and rotate gestures just like a tablet and also includes Bluetooth and navigation. The centre console houses the drive mode selector, a rotary knob and the air suspension switches, while the classic Maserati analogue clock remains at the top of the dash.
Standard equipment comprises cruise control, hill descent control, rain sensing wipers, keyless entry and a power lift tailgate with a kick sensor, while options fitted to our test car included a full panoramic electric sunroof and the 1,280-watt Bowers and Wilkins Surround System with 17 speakers. As a chariot for all seasons you’d have to go some way to find a more capable and handsome means of conveyance.