You have to hand it to the Italian premium car builders. They stayed away from the burgeoning SUV trend longer than all their rivals, remaining true to their traditional role purveying sports cars, luxury GTs, and sports sedans to discriminating connoisseurs. Even Porsche, a pure sports-cars-only company for more than half a century, had been making SUVs for a decade or so before Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, and Maserati succumbed to the lure of realizing handsome profits from following a popular trend. So far Ferrari remains true to its traditions, but industry rumors say even that last holdout will be in the SUV game soon enough. In a small way Ferrari is already in the crossover business, as the highly-esteemed four-cam V-8 engine now available in Maserati’s Levante SUV is built by Ferrari—as are all the DOHC V-6s used in the Levante up to now.
Introduced to the world at the New York auto show (Trofeo) and the Goodwood Festival of Speed (GTS) earlier this year, the two V-8 Levante variants were available for some real world road testing for the first time during last August’s Monterey Car Week, far from the most propitious place to extract the prodigious performance of the 590 hp Trofeo and 550 hp GTS versions of the Levante. Maserati’s Italy-based public relations team declared an “International Media Driving Experience,” bringing in journalists from all over the world. They wanted us to do a 200-plus mile loop down boring four-lane highway U.S. 101 and back up California 1, a lovely coastal road that is one of the world’s great drives in the winter, but during August just a slow-moving parade of motor homes clogging the route, with only extremely limited passing opportunities. Having done the boring part of the route no fewer than 200 times since childhood, as a passenger asking “are we there yet,” a novice, and then as an experienced driver (the exciting part at least 50 times), we begged off and were generously granted an entire day with the GTS prior to joining the main group near Big Sur.
A striking ultra-modern house along the coastal route was chosen as the site of a comprehensive discussion of the Levante design program. The point was that the superb vacation dwelling encompassed multiple textures and materials, as do the SUVs. They were dispersed over multiple levels joined by stone stairways without a trace of handrails. All very modern, but also a bit daunting. The design colloquy was led by Klaus Busse, head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles European design operations, and Pablo German D’Agostino, Argentine-born exterior design leader for Maserati. They had what was in effect a working conceptual design studio set up on an intermediate level in the architectural masterpiece, complete with a Wacom Cintiq electronic sketch pad, on which D’Agostino (who draws beautifully as witness the accompanying sketches) showed us how various aspects of the cars were imagined and final solutions derived.
In the congested traffic around all the Car Week events—as many as nine in a single day—the Maserati was as agreeable a conveyance as anyone could desire, quiet, cosseting, and it even smelled good in the leather-lined cabin. Performance? Who cares in such circumstances? The 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system counted for more than the abundance of power. What we learned driving them, using first the GTS in Monterey traffic before heading down to Big Sur, then the Trofeo on the way back to Carmel, is that you may be sitting up high, you may have a lot of doors and an all-wheel driveline, but you’re still driving a thoroughbred with all the inimitable brio of Italy’s motoring heritage, and you have more extraordinary performance at your command than any sane person would ever require—or desire—for use on public roads mingling with average drivers and ordinary cars.
Frankly, we couldn’t perceive any difference between 550 and 590 horses, and don’t believe anyone but a professional drag-racer could without the aid of digital instrumentation. These are both seriously quick crossovers, easily capable of doubling any speed limit we know about, anywhere in the world. Top speed for the Trofeo, which really should remain theoretical rather than be achieved on public roads, is above 187 mph, surely fast enough for a utility vehicle. Getting the Levante Trofeo to 60 mph is claimed to take 3.7 seconds (4 seconds flat for the GTS), which we have no reason to question. It’s very fast.
Fit and finish of the Levante bodywork is very good, and the interior trim is truly well crafted and elegant so there is no mistaking the luxury intent or any question that the purpose was attained by the design and manufacturing teams. The very soft leather, the tastefully restrained use of carbon fiber parts like the shift paddles, and the comfort of the well-shaped seats and details like the handsome clock with its two dials all combine to emphasize the attention that has been given to making this truck-like vehicle more a car-like object of desire. Which is what a Maserati has always been, and always should be. We think the designers and engineers have done a great job of carrying the company’s traditions into the ever-evolving crossover SUV world.
2019 Maserati Levante Trofeo and GTS Specifications
|PRICE||121,475/$171,475 (GTS/Trofeo, base)|
|ENGINE||3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/550 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 538 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm (GTS); 3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/590 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 538 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm (Trofeo)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||13/18 mpg (city/hwy) (est)|
|L x W x H||197.6 x 78.0 x 66.9 in|
|WEIGHT||4,784 lb (est)|
|0-60 MPH||4.0/3.7 sec (GTS/Trofeo)|
|TOP SPEED||181/187 mph (GTS/Trofeo)|