A few years ago, the idea of a Maserati SUV would have been unthinkable. Now, the all-new 2017 Levante is here, and it almost seems like it’s late to the party. But Maserati has always been a company that marches to its own drummer, so why should we expect otherwise?
The current Maserati lineup is made up of the Ghibli midsize sedan, the Quattroporte full-size sedan, the GranTurismo 2+2 coupe and convertible, and now the Levante. A true niche player in the U.S. market, Maserati has the cachet of an exotic brand despite a price range that is surprisingly competitive with popular luxury marques. The Ghibli starts at $72,300 while the GranTurismo Convertible starts at $145,000, bookending the Maserati price structure. Interestingly, Maserati’s sales currently run exactly in line with its pricing ladder: Ghibli is the best-selling vehicle, followed closely by Levante, then Quattroporte and GranTurismo.
The Levante starts at $73,300, just a grand more than the Ghibli. There’s also a Levante S (starting at $84,600), packing a supplemental 79-horsepower punch for a total of 424 hp. My test vehicle was a 2017 Maserati Levante with an as-tested price of $84,600 including options.
Outside, the Levante leads with its nose. A big trident emblem dominates the grille. In case you don’t know what the trident stands for, there’s a small oval cloisonné badge on the hood that says “Maserati.” Behind the thin, widely spaced chrome tines of the grille, you can see a horizontal shutter system, which opens up to flow air across the radiator when needed and closes to improve aerodynamic performance at other times. It’s generally closed when the vehicle is at rest during shutdown. This feature – along with general aerodynamic body design and other touches – helps Levante achieve a coefficient of drag of 0.31, which Maserati says is the best in its class. The overall shape is closer to the fastback BMW X6 than the more squared-off BMW X5, bringing with it a slight compromise in utility and cargo capacity. The Levante also doesn’t offer the X5’s optional third-row seat.
Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and fog lamps are standard. The headlights live in horizontal housings on the intersection between the hood and front fenders, while standard round LED foglamps poke out of the front fascia below the headlights.
Inside, it’s easy to fall in love with the comfortable, luxurious cabin. My test vehicle had a host of optional material upgrades, including Alcantara headliner and pillar linings, a leather three-spoke steering wheel, high-gloss maple wood trim and illuminated steel door sills. Maserati has a long list of personalization options for the interior, including the Luxury Zegna Package, with fabrics and leathers designed by Italy’s famous Ermenegildo Zegna fashion house. Even without this costly package, the Levante interior rewards exploration with both eyes and hands. It looks great, and everything you touch feels rich and luxurious. Second-row passengers are cocooned in comfort, too, with enough space and features to make Levante a good candidate for executive conveyance.
The heart of every Maserati lurks beneath its hood. Maserati is eager to point out that the V6 engine was “developed by the Maserati Powertrain in conjunction with the Ferrari Powertrain development team.” The twin-turbo unit uses gasoline direct injection, and gets connected to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Four drive modes are available: Normal; I.C.E. (Increased Control and Efficiency); Sport; and Off-Road. Each mode calibrates engine, transmission, suspension and electronics behavior to match environmental conditions.
An 8.4-inch color touchscreen display anchors the infotainment features in the Levante. Navigation, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Siri personal assistant are standard. Premium audio from Harmon/Kardon and Bowers & Wilkins is an available upgrade. A Driver Assistance Package Plus ($3,000) adds adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and lane-departure warning, along with a surround-view camera system. A Premium Package ($1,200 on the base car, standard on the S) includes Blind Spot Assist, front and rear parking sensors, and a key fob with remote starting.
None of this would matter if the Levante didn’t drive like a Maserati. Not to lean too heavily on the Italian heritage aspect, but if the Quattroporte is Marcello Mastroianni (“La Dolce Vita,” “8 1/2,” “Divorce Italian Style”), then the Levante is James Gandolfini of “The Sopranos.” Mastroianni is smooth, suave and handsome. Meanwhile, at first glance, Gandolfini is an outsized presence – but he turns out to be powerful, complex and surprisingly agile for his size. Both men are compelling, attractive and undeniably Italian – but very, very different from each other. So it is with Quattroporte and Levante. Similar, from the same roots, yet very different.
Levante has a much higher center of gravity than a Quattroporte, but still manages to handle with athletic grace. You may want to open the windows to get a good earful of the great exhaust note, a genuine distinguishing feature that turns heads in traffic. It’s loud, but not obnoxious – and it’s unmistakably Italian. In Normal drive mode, Levante displays a bit too much turbo lag for my taste. Push down the accelerator, and there’s a beat-and-a-half wait before the engine responds to your request for speed. It’s livable, but just barely. The lag diminishes significantly in Sport mode, but it’s still there. Once up to speed, Levante generates significant forward momentum. You can hustle the Levante through curves with ease, and straight-line performance is rock solid.
I really wanted to fall in love with the Levante, and I almost did. But you have to compare this new SUV with some very stiff competition. The BMW X6, Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 all have a head start on Levante, both with the public and in terms of evolution and engineering. These vehicles are very well-sorted, and well-established with their customer bases.
Even so, for some buyers, the 2017 Maserati Levante will be a perfect match.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 Maserati Levante page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Maserati