If he were alive to see the state of the luxury crossover, psychologist Abraham Maslow would be apoplectic. Beyond the baseline absurdity of buyers considering soft-roaders as a perceived necessity, there are people who seek stiffened-up, high-priced, and power-packed versions of the all-wheel-drive cocoons to serve as their daily runabouts. Porsche, BMW, Audi, Bentley, and most recently Lamborghini have profited mightily from filling this demand, and the craze shows no sign of slowing down. Just last summer, Maserati revealed a GTS variant of its Levante SUV, packing a Ferrari-derived V-8 under the condo-sized front end. Ridiculous! (Wait—a Ferrari V-8? In a Levante? Dang, that actually does sound fun. More on this in a moment.)
Cynicism is easy to conjure when discussing hi-po SUVs. They’re objectively interesting, but universally compromised. Contrary to what you might read online or hear at a dealer, none are as “good” as they could be, if you allow yourself to consider the possibility of lower ride height, less weight, and less complicated drivetrains. Put those wagon-ish fantasies aside and view them exactly as they are, and you’re still not getting a manufacturer’s best in terms of comfort, daily usability, cost, and efficiency. And there’s always room for even more capability. Porsche could build a GT3-style variant of its Cayenne or Macan, but it doesn’t. So rather than full-fat performance machines, such SUVs are loud, hard-launching blobs that are good at what they do, but not unconditionally so.
But I have to admit the Levante GTS feels different, even if it is compromised and, yes, nonsensical. Created as an Italianate foil to the indomitable Cayenne Turbo, Maserati likely knew the Levante variant couldn’t match the Porsche in terms of ultimate dynamics, performance, or finish. Instead, the GTS makes up the difference with character—and lots of it.
Step up to the GTS from the regular Levante or Levante S and the twin-turbocharged V-6 is replaced by a 3.8-liter V-8, also with two turbochargers and also developed in part by Ferrari. Maranello isn’t yet cranking out lifted hatchbacks—just low-slung ones—but this isn’t too far off the mark, especially considering the GTS’s 542 horsepower and 538 lb-ft of torque. The same ZF-sourced eight-speed auto manages this power, and it herds the rampaging Italian stallions to all four wheels. In regular driving, 100 percent of torque is sent to the rear, but 50 percent can be sent to the front wheels as dictated by traction demands.
As a result, it’s quite a bit faster than the Levante S, cracking the 60-mph mark in just four seconds flat. Top speed is a stonkin’ 181 mph, if you have enough pavement and gumption. But the numbers pale in comparison to the sound. The GTS sounds nearly as good as its GranTurismo coupe and convertible lineup mates, themselves among the better-sounding cars on the market.
It doesn’t have the manic wail of an actual Ferrari V-8—think less howl, more growl—but it sounds off with the requisite staccato overrun crackle that’s sure to bend necks. If you keep your foot out of it, though, no one will be the wiser the GTS is more than a “regular” Levante. Aside from larger (and functional) front bumper inlets, a quad exhaust, exclusive wheels, and subtle GTS badging on the rear hatch, it’s not easy to pick this eight-cylinder model out from its Levante peers.
Compared to the V-6 iterations, the GTS rides on a reworked air suspension and the aforementioned 21-inch wheels that moderately improve roadholding. Though it’s stiffer and more hunkered down, it isn’t noticeably harsher, remaining perfectly composed around town and even short stretches of rotten tarmac. The steering is excellent, being both feelsome and accurate at all speeds, as well as very quick for an SUV.
Inside you find the same mixture of bespoke, hand-tailored Maserati finery and corporate FCA switchgear as in the lesser Levantes. It’s a shapely, luxurious, and carbon-fiber-trimmed cockpit, but the fiddly, cheap-feeling buttons and cubby doors are a bit of a letdown in a vehicle that costs just north of $120,000. (For 582 horsepower and an even racier look inside and out, Maserati also offers the Levante Trofeo, but it costs $50K more to start.)
Yet you shouldn’t balk too hard at that six-figure invoice. This end of the market is rife with vehicles in this range, including the $125,000 Cayenne Turbo, the $110,000 Mercedes-AMG GLE63 S, and the $114,000 Range Rover Sport SVR. Even faced with that roster, the Levante GTS is likely some of the most fun you can have if you’re set on buying a performance SUV. If that’s the case, maybe you can make a deal with Maslow—there’s probably some room somewhere on the spectrum of love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization to fit pretty much anything with a Ferrari engine.
2019 Maserati Levante GTS Specifications
|ENGINE||3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/542 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 538 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm (GTS)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD hatchback|
|EPA MILEAGE||12/18 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||197.6 x 77.4 x 66.8 in|
|WEIGHT||4,800 lb (mfr)|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec (mfr)|
|TOP SPEED||181 mph (mfr)|