First Drive: Maserati Levante S

Big, heavy and thirsty. Three reasons to love the Levante…

Who’d have thought that you’d be able to buy a Maserati SUV? Such is the pervasiveness of the modern SUV, nobody can choose to ignore the seismic shift in the market. When Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce are joining the fun, you know there’s a new normal.

Maserati didn’t necessarily get off to the best start with the Levante, launching it in 2016 with a diesel engine. For a manufacturer built around emotion and performance, that didn’t sit well. Now the Italian marque has righted the wrongs, added an S to the end of the Levante name, and fitted a Ferrari-developed 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol engine. That means there’s more power, less weight, stronger performance and frightening fuel economy.

The Levante S is quick under normal circumstances, but the performance of that 430hp engine is really unleashed with a press of the Sport button. This opens up the exhausts, making it sound quicker even when at a standstill, and improves responses. However, hit the button again and the car squats down 20mm and prepares the ‘Skyhook’ adaptive air suspension for some fun.

The front end digs in with pleasing amounts of eagerness, and the rest of the Levante follows along. It’s taut and accurate, especially in Sport mode, without being so firm that it skips over bumps in the road. Occasionally the body doesn’t quite react as quickly as the suspension, especially on some rougher country roads, but there’s little roll and plenty of grip, so it’s easy to keep things planted and drive through an infrequent wobble.

Moving off from stationary reveals some turbo lag, and that the generally excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox needs a bit of time to work things out, but once rolling it gathers speed alarmingly quickly. Trees pass by in a blur, and that’s when the colossal 2.1 tonnes of Maserati makes itself felt. The bulk is really apparent when braking; slowing the behemoth from those speeds for a tight corner takes a heftier prod of the brake pedal than might be optimum, but it sheds speed quickly. The steering is direct and accurate too, although a switch to electrically powered steering this model year has resulted in a loss of delicate feel.

The weigth and performance also leads to rather alarming economy. Maserati promise 25.9mpg from the S, although that’s always going to be optimistic. However, during my time with the car I averaged just 11.7mpg. Yes, the overall figure was impacted by some ‘performance testing’ but a lot of the driving was 50-60mph country roads, with 30mph villages interrupting the flow regularly. Even when cruising along, the instant mpg readout on the dashboard was still showing numbers in the teens. Perhaps the diesel might be a better bet after all, with its lower cost and near-40mpg promises.

Both models come with a sumptuous interior, accessed via frameless doors now fitted with a soft-close motor. Every inch of the cabin is covered in leather, wood or, as an option on this model, carbon fibre. The seats, clad in thick red leather, are comfortable and supportive, with enough room to get comfortable. Well, mostly; a huge transmission tunnel and offset driving position means your feet are pushed well to the right, your left foot almost central underneath the steering wheel. In the back there’s enough head and shoulder room, although legroom is a tad tighter than you might want for. It all looks wonderful, but delve deeper and the quality lacks the millimetre perfect finish you would expect to find in an Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90.

There’s a BIK rate of 37% and therefore big tax bills to pay for company car drivers, while both business and private buyers will be faced with steep depreciation that will hurt leasing costs or PCPs, especially when compared against rivals from Porsche, Land Rover or even Audi. But then the Porsche, Audi and Range Rover drivers won’t have a Maserati.

And that’s the important thing about the Levante. As long as it’s close enough to the best in class to appeal to the head, the Maserati badge alone can make the heart push the decision the Italian way.

The Porsche Cayenne is a more engaging vehicle to drive, and there’s no doubt that the Range Rover Sport offers a more luxurious package that appeals to British buyers. The Levante is close enough in all areas to be a consideration, but it’s the history of the marque, the very Italianness of the brand, the trident that adorns the grille, that really makes the difference.

Model Tested: Maserati Levante S GranSport
Price: £79,125
Range: £58,315 – £79,125
Top speed: 164mph
0-62 mph: 5.2 seconds
Power: 430 PS (424 bhp)
Torque: 580 Nm (428 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £1,080
Official fuel economy: 25.9 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 253 g/km
Car Tax: £450
Insurance group:
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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