At the centre of attention
What attention! The test drive hasn't even started yet and people are already curiously circling the test car. Car connoisseurs may not have seen the Levante in real life before, but nevertheless try to outdo each other by listing all the specifications off by heart. Outsiders don't even recognise the logo, but still sense that this is no ordinary car.
That the Levante makes such an impression is partly due to its successful design. Many car manufacturers have developed a house style and apply it to all models. That works fine for sedans, hatchbacks and estate cars. But when the same house style is applied to an SUV, the final product is out of proportion, resulting in a lacklustre and mostly clunky car.
In the Levante, on the contrary, all the proportions "fit" perfectly. Thereby, the nose is not blunt, but pointed and streamlined. The huge grille (with active slats behind it clearly visible to improve aerodynamics) impresses, while the headlights have a vicious look. The large wide-beam lights below even give the Levante a downright mean look. As would be seen later, it has an effect. In practice, everything and everyone moves aside for the Levante; only an ambulance with siren commands more respect from other traffic.
On the inside, the Italian manufacturer also manages to put its own spin on the SUV concept. The seat is relatively deep, while the dashboard is high. The steering wheel is particularly large and the driver has a view of the bonnet. As a result, the Levante feels big and powerful. At the same time, the bodywork is uncluttered, making this not an intimidating car to drive. And that is sometimes different with SUVs of this size (>5 metres).
The space in the front is good, but nothing special. Legroom in the rear is moderate. Moreover, the front seats have a hard backside, which presses annoyingly against the knees of rear passengers. The boot measures 580 litres. This is average for a car of this size, but huge in absolute terms.
As might be expected from an Italian, the interior is not immaculate or sleek, but rather an explosion of classic materials, trim pieces and anything else the designers could find to impress. The test car has ivory-white leather upholstery with wood inlays on the dashboard. The roof and window pillars are covered in dark alcantara. Maserati does not go along with the trend of replacing buttons with screens and instead goes for an arsenal of levers and buttons. From the door panel via the steering wheel to the centre console and of course on the dashboard, controls can be found everywhere. Fortunately, their layout is logical and the symbols are well chosen, making their operation clear. Even the dials have not been replaced by a screen. Instead, this SUV has two large, deep, round clocks like in a classic sports car.
All this is not to say that the Levante is behind in terms of technology. It's just packaged differently. The Levante has a neatly groomed infotainment system, including support for Apple Carplay and Android Auto. The graphics are relatively simple for a brand that places so much emphasis on appearance, but everything functions as it should.
The reason to drive the Levante just now is the latest generation of semi-self-driving features. These have been developed in collaboration with Bosch, which is special because this supplier usually limits itself to that function: supply only. In the case of Maserati, the two companies have entered into a partnership. This provides Maserati with access to advanced electronics, while Bosch gains new knowledge about motorsport.
When it comes to driving assistance systems, there is little evidence of this yet. The Levante can keep its own distance from the car in front and can stay within the lines on the road itself. The latter function is not limited to steering back when hitting the lines; the computer actively keeps the car in the middle of the lane. The Levante also does traffic jam driving exemplarily.
When it comes to active safety, Maserati proves to be a purebred sports car manufacturer. The anti-slip regulation offers much more freedom than in similar cars from other brands. At the lightest provocation, this big SUV dances and sings! It could all be much more subtle, of course, but this playful character makes the Levante a true Maserati.
Thanks to variable damping, the Levante is optionally big and powerful, but equally dynamic and challenging. In the latter case, the car still feels noticeably large, but by no means obese. Maserati claims that the Levante also holds its own off-road, but during the brief press presentation on which this report is based there was no opportunity to try that out.
The Levante is available with two power sources: a six-cylinder diesel and a six-cylinder petrol engine. The latter produces 350 or 430 hp depending on the chosen version. For this test, the most powerful variant was driven. It produces such a monstrous sound when starting, that many would swear it is an eight-cylinder. Maserati is all about the experience and so the electronics take every opportunity to roar, gurgle and bang; even when driven calmly. At the same time, the Levante retains a certain dignity, keeping it from being vulgar like a loud American.
The "Levante S" responds smoothly to the throttle and even when driven calmly, it is palpable that in the background a huge amount of power is on standby. When that power is unleashed, it is noticeable that this is a big, heavy and tall SUV. While the V6 is mighty, it does not have any supremacy. Performance is undoubtedly good (0 - 100 km/h in 5.2 seconds, top speed 264 km/h), but competitors from less exotic brands get even better performance out of similar power. However, those cars are so perfected and polished that the thrill is much less. On paper, this Maserati is weaker than its mainly German competitors, but when it comes to experience, this flamboyant Italian always wins.
Those who opt for a diesel engine are treated by Maserati to the deepest, fullest and most spectacular sound ever from such an engine. That is, as long as sport mode is activated. When sport mode is not engaged, the Levante diesel has a relatively civilised exhaust sound.
The 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesel engine produces 275 hp / 600 Nm and thus, like the petrol engine, has to fight the heavy bodywork. However, the diesel engine does not rev as easily and simply has less power at its disposal, making the battle even harder to win. Again, the Levante is fast for a diesel SUV, but not distinctly sporty. Moreover, it lacks the spectacle that the petrol engine does deliver. The diesel, on the other hand, is distinctly quiet. On the motorway, noises from the tyres and driving wind are almost inaudible and all that remains is a deep, contented purring keynote from the power unit.
Does the Maserati Levante offer more than image? Yes and no. The Levante is roughly as spacious, practical and modern as any of its counterparts. Judging by its functionality, this Maserati is no less sensible than an SUV from a conventional brand.
The image is bolstered by distinctly sporty handling. On paper, the Levante is no faster than fast SUVs from other brands. On the contrary, in practice the difference is huge, as the Levante has an unprecedented sense of drama and makes a show of everything. It is not only the driver who enjoys this, as wherever the Levante goes the car scores admiring glances. Those who like to be the centre of attention will therefore feel right at home in the Levante.
- Distinctive power
- Plenty of driving pleasure
- (almost) as functional as more conventional SUVs
- Legroom in rear reduced by hard back front seats