- Published: Thursday, 21 September 2017 08:24
Does Maserati's first SUV have enough poke to live up to its trident badge? Yes and no
The idea of a Maserati on stilts has actually been around for quite a while, even though the finished product was only launched in 2016. Giugiaro, which penned Maserati’s sports cars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, actually came up with an SUV concept called the Kubang in 2003, and Maserati itself created a second, unrelated Kubang in 2011. This later car morphed into the Levante we see today.
The Levante is based on the Ghibli’s platform but swaps out conventional springs and dampers for air suspension, and also shares its 3.0-litre V6 turbo engines in gasoline and diesel forms.
The catch though, is that only one of those V6s is present here, and it’s the one that thrums rather than sings. Yup, visit a petrol station in the Levante and you’ll be reaching for the black-coloured handle at the pumps. With their stout, torquey nature, diesels make sense in large, heavy vehicles; but in an Italian thoroughbred like a Maserati, is it a credible piece of luxury engineering?
As we saw with the Porsche Cayenne though, that question is already partially answered, though the future of diesel - as mentioned in our launch story on the third-gen Cayenne - is now in jeopardy. Back in Singapore, VES means the oil-burners have no clearer future here either.
To its credit, this Maserati oil-burner does display some very undiesel-like characteristics. For one, it’s extremely refined, with no clatter discernable at all from inside the car, and for another, it doesn’t sound half bad. Maseratis are known for their operatic exhaust notes, and although the Levante diesel is no Pavarotti (that accolade goes to the V8-engined GranTurismo), actuators in the exhaust give it a guttural snarl in the mid-range that make it the best sounding diesel we’ve ever tested.
But while it might have an impressive bark (for a diesel), it’s definitely lacking in the bite department. The drivetrain is certainly very smooth, the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox offering pleasantly snappy gearshifts, but the car isn’t exactly exhilarating in a straight line. With 271hp and 600Nm of torque, 100km/h flashes up in a respectable 6.9 seconds, but it ambles rather than sprints, a consequence of diesel powertrain characteristics and the Levante’s weight.
At almost exactly five-metres long and weighing 2.2 tonnes, the Levante is not a small car - you get a hint of that with how weedy the standard 18-inch rims look. In fact it’s longer and heavier than all its rivals, the BMW X6, Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne. Yet somehow the designers have managed to make it look somehow lithe and smaller than it actually is, and even the way it goes round corners belies its heft.
There’s a real fluidity to the way the Levante carves through a series of corners - it has a very neutral cornering stance. It really is very satisfying when you’re on a charge, the way you can bring the car’s rear end into play so fluidly. This is definitely a car that puts the “sport” in Sport Utility.
The all-wheel drive system in the Levante is usually 100 percent rear-biased by default, but can apportion up to 50 percent of power to the front wheels if required; meanwhile the air suspension has a full 75mm range of adjustability in its five different settings, from the tallest off-road mode to the lowest aero/handling mode. It even has an Easy Entry function, which drops the car a further 10mm when parked, a boon when loading cargo or ferrying passengers.
The Maserati-ness shines through inside, too. Nobody does style and flair quite like the Italians do, and the same applies here, thanks to the swoopy dashboard design and acres of contrasting tan leather. Pleasant details like the analogue clock on the dashboard, frameless door windows and aluminium shift paddles that are cool to the touch just add to the premium ambience.
But an Italian car wouldn’t be quite complete without some idiosyncrasies, and in the Levante they’re present as well. The 8.4-inch touchscreen for example, while bright and clear, is fiddly to operate; the cubby lids in the centre console feel cheap and rattly, and the gear selector requires surgeon-levels of dexterity to successfully operate.
The price for all this Italian flair and luxury is $359,800 without COE, or you can fork over an extra $40,000 for the Sports pack, which adds painted body cladding, painted brake calipers, sports seats , and (most importantly) wheelarch-filling 20-inch rims. Therein though, lies the biggest issue.
The Levante Diesel is stuck between a rock and a hard place - on the one hand to an enthusiast owner it's certainly the most enjoyable diesel SUV to drive; but on the other hand at its price point there's no shortage of petrol-powered rivals that can easily offer more thrills, something that the 340hp petrol Levante and 424hp Levante S (not yet available in Singapore, but coming soon) could easily hedge against.
It’s a competent and rather likeable car, but ultimately just about falls short of providing an authentic Maserati experience. If you absolutely can't resist the allure of the Maserati badge then you won't be disappointed in the diesel Levante, but deep down you'll just know that the petrol versions, when they do get here, will be the real maestros of the range.
Maserati Levante Diesel
Engine 2,987cc, 24V, V6, turbodiesel
Power 271hp at 4,000rpm
Torque 600Nm at 2,000-2,600rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 230km/h
0-100km/h 6.9 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.2L/100km
Price $359,800 without COE, options
Agent Tridente Automobili
Availability : Now
Verdict A decent effort but not quite as sharp as its Trident badge implies - petrol V6 may be a better choice
Also Consider : BMW X6, Porsche Cayenne