What is the world going to? Now even Maserati is building an SUV. And why not? Upper income buyers obviously want them. Just ask Porshce, Mercedes, and lots of other brands. So, an SUV is a logical next step after the well-received Ghibli sedan. For Maserati, with its long tradition of racing and building rarified performance cars, taking the SUV plunge means a lot more than just adding cargo room and all-wheel drive.
Building SUVs, or more precisely, a car-based Crossover Utility, like this 2017 Maserati Levante, is what brands must do today to reinvent themselves, and, hopefully, make tons of cash. But, to be successful, they have to be true to what the marque is best known for.
Even more is riding on this Maserati Levante. It is the first exotic Italian brand SUV to reach us in decades.
On that score, body work may look far from exotic at a distance. But, as with most of the finer things in life, closer inspection will reveal all of the details like the highly sculpted body panels of the coupe-like form. Italians still have a way with sheet metal.
Unlike Jaguar’s trim F-Pace, the Levante is big; not quite Cadillac Escalade big, but pretty close.
Being based on the Ghibli sedan, means the same Ferrari-built twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6, though retuned for utility duty, with a standard 345-horsepower and 369 lb-ft. of torque.
Our S version ups that to 424-horsepower and 428 lb-ft. And even though you know it’s going to sound awesome, it’s still a surprise at how truly great it sounds.
Rear-biased, torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive is standard, as is an 8-speed automatic transmission. The shifter itself looks “plasticy” and out of place, and is equally frustrating to use. Not so, the optional paddle shifters which are terrific, although the left one does block access to the turn signal stalk a bit.
In addition to the boost in power, Levante S get 19-inch wheels, upgraded brakes, nicer leather inside, panoramic sunroof, and additional safety features among other things.
All Levantes come with an air suspension with multiple ride heights that allows for almost 10-inches of ground clearance, helping it get legit stuff done off road. It, if properly equipped, can even tow almost 6,000-lbs.
Driving is thrillingly Italian, it handles like a sports car, thought a heavy one, with V8 levels of power. Triggering Sport mode alters engine and transmission response nicely, as well as suspension stiffness. You can throw it into corners with anger, and instantly forget you’re in a utility vehicle. Plus, the ride quality remains good enough that you can leave it in Sport all of the time.
When not in Sport mode, the ride is more Audi Q7-like; compliant and fairly soft, without feeling floaty or disconnected.
Steering is very quick however, as we found out on our handling course; there’s a good amount of feel as well, which is always nice.
Push too hard and the appropriate traction nannies will intervene; but you can get through pretty briskly before they arrive.
And it’s certainly quick off the line, launching with a healthy leap and heaps of power, hitting 60 in 5.1-seconds.
Shifts are equally impressive, firing away with precision and keeping the power pouring on. We finished the ¼-mile in 13.5-seconds at 106 miles-per-hour. Oh, and did we mention this thing sounds fantastic?
There is the usual accompaniment of Italian leather coating just about every surface inside, though seating space is only adequate throughout. Cargo space even less so, at 19.4 cubic-ft. in the rear, maxing out at 57.0; a super practical hauler this is not.
Still, it’s hard to see it not being a success, considering there’s a utility-hungry public that has yet to be satiated.
All-in-all, it’s a Maserati that is very well executed, and not a conglomeration of other vehicles.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 14-City, 19-Highway, and 16-Combined.
A starting price of $73,250 seems reasonable to us for this luxury performance ute, but most will actually transact closer to 6-figures.
We’ll predict, that, like just about every other upscale brand that has gone SUV, the 2017 Maserati Levante will quickly become their best-seller. And, its owners will indeed be getting something unique. In how it looks, how it treats them inside, and oh-how-it drives. To say it’s still an exotic Italian sums it up best. And we hope that those that can afford, and appreciate this special take on the SUV theme, will snap it up.
Engine: 3.0 liter
Torque: 428 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 5.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 13.5 seconds @ 106 mph
EPA: 14 mpg city / 19 mpg highway