The Levante is a luxury SUV from a brand you possibly wouldn't expect to be making such a thing. It's a luxury crossover with rather exotic genes. And the car that in recent years has almost completely sustained its maker, Maserati.
It's mark of the rise and rise of the SUV that every single luxury brand now knows it has to have such a thing within its model portfolio. Maserati has been dabbling with the idea for years, showing its Kubang concept at motorshows as long ago as 2003. The brand finally got around to updating this Giugiaro prototype in 2011, but it took until 2016 to get it into production, badged as the Levante. Was the wait worthwhile? Let's find out.
The key news here is that you can no longer have a diesel engine in this car - which is significant because that's what most UK Levante customers have so far chosen. In place of the previous 271hp 3.0-litre VM Motori V6 diesel is a petrol Hybrid unit. The electrification offered with the 'GT Hybrid' variant in question is of the 'mild' 48-volt form, so this core Levante derivative can't ever run without the aid of its 2.0-litre 330hp four cylinder engine. But said powerplant is decently rapid,particularly if you slot the drivetrain into its 'Sport' mode. The engine drives through the rear wheels only via an 8-speed ZF auto gearbox. Next up are two versions of the brand's Ferrari-derived 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6; a 350hp variant in the 'Modena' model, which makes 62mph in 6.0s en route to 156mph. And a 430hp version of the same powerplant in the Modena S, which improves those figures to 5.2s and 164mph. At the top of the range is the 580hp 3.8-litre V8 used by the most desirable Trofeo model, which reduces the rest to 62mph time to just 4.1s en route to 187mph. Whatever your engine choice, on the move, what's unusual about this car is the way that it's constantly able to monitor the location of its centre of gravity. Every time you turn the wheel, the Levante is able to determine the load it's carrying and work out what that'll do to its centre of gravity. It'll then continuously adjust its air springs and electronic dampers to suit. As a result, Maserati claims that this car understeers less than any of its rivals, this helped by a 51:49 front-rear weight distribution and a 4x4 driveline that sends 90% of the engine's torque to the back axle by default. If a lack of traction demands it, this proportion can be adjusted in just 150 milliseconds, these continuous shiftings visible on an attractive instrument cluster graphic. Can you go off-road in a Levante? Actually yes. This Maserati comes with adjustable ride height, hill-descent control and lots of torque. Plus there's plenty of wheel travel and a couple of off-road modes. But if you seriously take to the undergrowth in this Italian SUV, you'd be a brave buyer.
This car is based on Maserati's Kubang concept. That prototype was originally supposed to run on Jeep hardware and be built in the US. In the event, the Levante is actually put together from Maserati bits and is screwed together in Italy at Fiat's huge Mirafiori plant in Turin. Aluminium is extensively used around the structure and the bodywork - you'll find it in the doors, the tailgate and the bonnet for example. Despite that, the Levante is still a pretty heavy thing, tipping the scales at over 2.2-tonnes - which makes it significantly heavier than rivals like the Range Rover Sport or the Porsche Cayenne. Open the frameless doors then step inside and you'll find the Levante's cabin furnishings as sumptuous as you'd expect those in a Maserati to be. Owners should love the leather-upholstered dashboard and the high-set driving position, while the infotainment system is more convincing than that found in Maserati's saloons. There's a Mercedes-like single stalk controlling indicators, wipers and main beam, while behind the smart steering wheel, there's a pair of alloy gearchange paddles. There's comfortable room for two in the back, as you'd expect. And the powered tailgate rises to reveal a 580-litre boot,extendable to 1,625-litres with the rear bench folded.
You'll pay around £70,000 for the base 330hp GT Hybrid version and around £80,000 for the 350hp Modena model. We can see those figures tempting some buyers in the large luxury SUV sector. That pitches the Levante right into the heart of the BMW X5 / Mercedes GLE / Range Rover Sport / Volvo XC90 segment - and it's certainly a more exclusive choice than any of those SUVs. The V6 Modena S with 430hp will demand over £91,000 from you. And the top V8-engined 580hp Levante Trofeo will need a cool £127,000 budget. Equipment levels include as standard leather trim and all of the usual executive niceties. Plus from a dynamic perspective, there's self-levelling suspension, height-adjustable air springs and electronic dampers, torque vectoring and a limited-slip rear differential. And of course, there's plenty of scope for buyer personalisation with a wide range of optional equipment including a Zegna Mulberry Silk interior.
You don't think about buying a Maserati luxury SUV, then worry too much about the cost of running it. Still, if you're interested, the Italian brand reckons that the Levante Hybrid can cut emissions by 18% over the non-electrified 3.0-litre V6 offered further up the range. The GT Hybrid's quoted CO2 range is still nothing to write home about though, rated at between 231-252g/km. The combined fuel figure is 27.4mpg. You won't do as well as that with a 3.0-litre V6 model of course. the Modena manages up to 295g/km of CO2 and a mere 21.6mpg. For the Modena S V6, it's curiously slightly better - 281g/km and 22.7mpg. For the V8 Trofeo, it's a smoky 327g/km and 19.4mpg. Now that Maserati has established its SUV credentials, the used market should be quite comfortable when the time comes to sell this Levante. As a result, residual values should be strong thanks to the car's relative rarity. And the engines are proven Fiat Group units, so are unlikely to cause any issues.
We can see the Levante continuing to introduce a whole new raft of buyers to the Maserati brand. Yes, a car like this will enrage the brand's purists, but they won't keep the company afloat. As Porsche proved with the Cayenne, a successful luxury SUV can do exactly that - and provide the funds for future Maserati models more in keeping with what we expect from the marque. In the meantime, if you're in the market for a large petrol luxury SUV and want something deliciously different, put one of these on your wishlist. You'll enjoy it.