Maserati has forged its identity on its designs, sculpting many coupes and sedans that stand the test of time beautifully. The challenge of sculpting an SUV body from this lineage is therefore particularly difficult. It cannot be said that it has been fully relieved here. Possibly out of excess of caution, the Levante lacks panache. It remains elegant, but it fails to establish itself as a stylistic reference, as it had to do. However, the exercise is interesting in some ways. The front end with a concave grille and various carbon fiber accents is arguably the most interesting element of the work, which gives it presence. On the side, the side gills and the distance between the front axle and the dashboard (the dashboard-axle ratio or dash-to-axle, in English) allows a nice balance in rendering.
You enter the interior of the Levante through frameless glass doors, one more detail that sets it apart. The scent of leathers draping the seats and the dashboard immediately fills the nostrils. It is very pleasant and it is refined, with the variations in colors and the multiple topstitching that complete the decor. A few carbon fiber moldings show off the sportier temperament of the Trofeo livery. However, there are elements that stand out: the use of buttons and controls directly drawn from the parts bank of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) products. This is hardly acceptable for a product with such a status. Some plastics are also of average quality, especially on the central control pod and on the clock mounted on the dashboard. The Levante also offers plenty of headroom and legroom no matter where you sit. The rear trunk is however fair with a small 422 L of volume.
Under the hood
This variation of the Levante is powered by a relatively modest-displacement twin-turbo V8 (3.8 L) assembled by Ferrari in its capital of Maranello. Its 590 hp and 538 lb-ft already express the prodigious power of this hot and greedy machine, but it is impossible to ignore the symphony emanating from the four exhaust pipes, downright gripping. Melodious, it is expressed with a beautiful range whose depth increases a notch when the electronic valves open. This engine also never seems short of resources, pressing at the slightest request with grip and gentleness. The eight-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF is a companion of choice for the exercise. Operated by means of a large carbon paddle attached to the steering column, it does a sublime job. In short, this Levante Trofeo is a real mechanical feast as only Italians know how to prepare.
Behind the wheel
To convince, this Levante relies on a weight perfectly distributed between the front and the rear (50:50). Its most amazing weapon, however, remains its adaptive pneumatic shocks, making the ride really silky on all surfaces, a tour de force with the thin sidewalls of its tires. It can also be lowered or raised depending on the driving modes, offering a total amplitude varying from 75 mm, which changes the behavior in a tangible way. The double wishbone suspension up front provides real ease when entering corners. That said, slightly more precise steering – especially in the middle – would increase the confidence of this Levante. Its handling is more akin to a grand tourer, which is far from a bad thing in everyday use. The absence of a carbon-ceramic brake option confirms this observation, but it is difficult to take to task the combination used, which is extremely efficient.
Despite a starting price of just under $ 170,000, this Levante Trofeo suffers when compared to its technological rivals. No head-up display or telematics smartphone app is offered. The instrument cluster is also not fully digital and there is no induction cell phone charging. Several of these elements will be revised from 2021, but Maserati has been passive for too long on this aspect which is now essential. The infotainment system is a layer of the FCA Uconnect system, which takes some exoticism away from the rendering, but promotes intuitiveness. A wheel facilitates navigation, which can also be done by touch. The Bowers & Wilkins 1280W system produces sound of extraordinary clarity without sparing its power, high art.
The Levante exists primarily to make Maserati profitable, at the risk of alienating certain purists. It does spark curiosity, however, in a good way. In Trofeo livery, it excels in its way of behaving, you can feel it sparkling thanks to its sublime mechanics, while taking care of an immense refinement compared to its temperament on the road. That said, the SUV also suffers from certain shortcomings: the materials used remain of uneven quality and the technological offer does not live up to its status. There's also its price tag ($ 168,560) which puts it in an uncompetitive position, significantly more expensive than a BMW X5 M or a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, while still showing comparable performance. The Levante Trofeo, however, remains a more exotic product than the latter, but which still requires a little polishing to fully shine in its register.
Why Levante? Like many Maserati models that use wind names, "Levante" is the name of a warm Mediterranean wind that changes abruptly from a light breeze to a gust.
An extremely efficient gun start mode: Thanks to an excellent all-wheel drive employing a rear limited-slip differential, the gun start mode is incredibly efficient, lowering 0-100 km / h to 3.9 seconds, according to the manufacturer.
A V8 for the whole range: Maserati recently announced its intention to offer this 3.8L twin-turbo V8 in the Ghibli and Quattroporte. A final goodbye, because Ferrari will stop supplying engines to the manufacturer after 2022.
Mechanical beauty: In an era where automakers cover virtually all mechanical components with plastic trims, Maserati has chosen to exhibit in all its glory this block capped with bright red cylinder head covers and intake manifolds.
Model on test: Maserati Levante Trofeo
Engine: 3.8L DOHC V8 biturbo
Horsepower: 590 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 538 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic with manual mode
Drive architecture: front longitudinal engine, all-wheel drive
Consumption (EnerGuide): 15.3 L / 100 km (super)
Price (with options): $ 170,210
Direct competitors: BMW X5 M, Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR, Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 S, Porsche Cayenne Turbo
New in 2020? no major changes