Beyond the appearances of the Maserati Levante S
SUVs really characterize everything we hate about cars. They’re fat, ugly and underpowered. The worst? The more the world moves forward, the more SUV there are. A real nightmare. Crossing a western city has become a real torture for us Petrolheads.
In this regard, Maserati invited us to try out its 2019 range a few weeks ago. Who says 2019 range, says SUV, of course (since we still have no new GranTurismo). So at first we sulked and told ourselves that we would find the Maserati Ghibli we had loved and that we would discover the last Quattroporte and that’s it. In short, that’s what we did and it was great on the small roads of the Perche region.
But we still expect to get great Maserati sedans, don’t we? That’s why we chose to focus on a controversial segment, the SUV segment. We set fire to the Maserati SUV (two words that don’t really go together), the Maserati Levante… It’s frightening, right?
First, a Maserati is an attractive body
In the collective unconscious, I believe that a Maserati is first of all a beautiful car, tell me if I’m wrong. Although, when we talk about SUVs, I have the impression that the physical aspect is a little less important.
Indeed, how to design a pretty, slender and elegant car when you have to dress a cities’ 4×4? Maserati’s answer: let’s call Giorgetto Giugiaro! So Giugiaro designed a SUV for the brand in 2003, the Kubang GT Wagon, the very first Maserati SUV. Let’s be honest, even at this time he was ugly, not really ugly, just a little weird, especially when compared to its sisters the splendid 4200 GT Coupe and Quattroporte V from the same period. Only one thing to remember, the concept car benefited from the raging 3.2L twin turbo V8 of the magnificent 3200 GT. One thing to forget, Maserati had used an Audi A8 platform to design the Kubang and planned to partner with Audi to produce the car in series. Fortunately, everyone came to their senses in Modena and no Maserati was produced on a German platform.
Following this, the car lost its “GT Wagon” appellation to keep just Kubang (named after a wind blowing on the island of Java in Indonesia), and in-house designers looked at a new drawing. The result was frankly not bad, even if some details were quite unusual at Maserati, like the taillights so wide that they reminded us of the Lexus design of the time (2011, and I assure you, you prefer having forgotten it). But the Kubang’s front end was wide, imposing, majestic, as we like to see on a Maserati. The front lights were also cool, they probably inspired the new Ghibli a lot. What is much less cool? The platform that hides its pretty bodywork: a Jeep Grand Cherokee base! Huh all in all, can we have the Audi’s platform please?
Then after months of touring at car shows, it was already 2016. So Maserati redesigned a car that hadn’t yet been driven out. We find the general line with a more bestial update of the front lights and especially, a new name: Levante! You guessed it, the car has been named after a wind, here a Mediterranean one from the East. But the big news comes from the platform, Maserati has chosen to use the Ghibli one! Hallelujah! What a difficult birth.
Is it successful? Yes, it is in the ruthless world of premium family cars. Isn’t that a little bit reheated? Also, since we’ve had the Kubang in mind for 16 years now. But for that Maserati has a clever solution: a new and more aggressive grille! With big air intakes like everyone loves having them now. It’s this GranSport version that we have here.
Launched on the very sporty GTS and Trofeo versions (equipped with V8), Maserati’s marketing team had the excellent idea to adapt it to the new GranSport models. Optional of course! It’s likely that the option will be selected by a large number of customers as it rejuvenates the front of the Maserati Levante. Habile, as we say in French!
From the side you can clearly feel a Maserati line that I like very much. Indeed it contrasts with the very aggressive front end, but it’s the Maserati touch that we, Petrolheads, were waiting for: an iron hand in a velvet glove. We still have sublime rims (in 20”) as the brand has always known how to design them. Viewed from the rear nothing changes or almost nothing. It’s wide, high and even a little thick. I think we found the problem on this Levante, it’s still these rear lights that are too wide and make the whole thing less modern and less dynamic than it should be.
I mean, is it a real Maserati? At first glance yes! Of course it is! All or almost all the brand codes are present. But it’s a big Maserati like we never had before, so we regret a little finesse and subtlety of the past drawings (except DeTomaso area).
But the Maserati Levante S is first and foremost an engine
For driving enthusiasts and motor oil lovers, a Maserati is an engine. And what could be more complicated than producing super engines at a time when emission standards are as stringent as they are fanciful? Especially when you have to move a 2109 kg machine? So let’s see what Maserati has in store for its beast.
As I press “Start”, it’s the revelation! This is how all cars should start and especially all SUVs. Indeed, at Maserati, having a nice and comfortable car has never been synonymous with a ridiculously small, discreet and insipid engine (except for diesels but soon it will be over).
On board I quickly find a pleasant driving position and this is rare in an SUV. So yes we are still a little too high but Maserati has made a big effort to boost its SUV both in terms of driving position and peripheral vision.
After a few turns of the wheel, the Levante seems agile and light. The ZF automatic transmission is smooth and pleasant in town, everything a SUV customer wants… so I put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t buy an SUV but a Maserati. That’s why I switched the driving mode from Normal to Sport.
At that moment, everything changes radically. The steering becomes firmer (just what it takes), the pedal much more sensitive (just what it was missing), the suspensions healthier and the sound… it’s an open-air concert on a summer night on the Amalfi Coast: a real pleasure! The higher I go up in RPM, the higher the 3.0L block sings, I take a lot of pleasure going up to the red zone to change gears so much the sound is exhilarating. Between each shift, we hear the exhaust vibrating, a real enchantment (I think I fell in love with this engine). And it also works the other way around, when you downshift it may be even better! We can hear the exhaust vibrating too and then blowing a sudden blast so the engine goes up in RPM in a thumping sound. And all this in a few micro-seconds, because the ZF dual-clutch gearbox is perfect in manual mode, it delivers the right amount of sportiness by avoiding unnecessary hits in this type of GT car. We often forget that at Maserati we are with family cars and even an SUV that comes from half a century of knowledge about grand touring cars, but not in a supercar (and that’s good).
A Maserati that is good in all types of terrain?
The Maserati series cars are generally cruisers, they are designed to travel as far as possible in the shortest possible time and in the greatest comfort. It defines a very post war Italian way of life. And since most of the owners or future owners drive mainly in town and on motorways, two areas where Maserati Levante excels, it obviously has no difficulty. But the real difference between a Maserati and another car is its ability to deliver driving pleasure. So what could be better than trying it on small roads? I have some sweat when I think about it.
My sweat is quickly dissipated. The Maserati Levante turns flat, no matter how hard I try to make it, the body movements are contained and the grip is optimal with its four-wheel drive. All I can do is take even more pleasure from an extremely good chassis and play with the mass transfer due to the car’s high centre of gravity. So it will never be a coupe or sedan in terms of driving sensation, but it’s by far the most rational and accomplished SUV I’ve been able to drive so far. To celebrate, I shift gears on the fly and I hear these delightful metallic clicks from the paddles that remind me of the characteristic sound of metal manual shifters (I almost faint so much it’s pleasant). And, yes, they are real aluminium paddles and that’s priceless. Fixed to the steering column, I can shift into any steering wheel position, it’s really magical (sorry I hate small wheel fixed paddles). The only downside is that the direction is a little imprecise.
In its category, the Maserati Levante is really amazing. Despite its heavy weight, its 430 HP do the job very well. They propel the machine from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.2 seconds, in a unique blend of elegance and sportiness. You can pick up the children at school, do the shopping, carry sweddish furnitures or even go on holiday with an inflatable crocodile (inflated, of course) with the same car, it’s quite fantastic. On top of that, the engine features the 430 HP near 5,750 RPM which still leaves a lot of fun to reach the 8,000 RPM of the rev limiter (even if with turbochargers are turbocharging very fast and the limiter is limiting very fast too).
Moreover, for a turbo engine, you don’t hear much whistling of the air flows and it’s just as remarkable! We know that Maserati works a lot on the exhaust sound, which can be heard on the first turn of the key, but the sound from the engine compartment is also preserved. With an effective internal sound insulation but leaving the engine block to express itself, we probably have the best compromise. In terms of handling, the car has a driving pleasure very close to an atmospheric version, except that it has a completely crazy torque at low RPM (580 Nm since 2000 RPM, which is useful when you have such a weight). In short, the engine is adapted from the Quattroporte S and Ghibli S with all the necessary settings to fill all the spaces we have always dreamed of for an SUV.
No one is unaware that Maserati has been working closely with its Italian cousin Ferrari to design and produce its aluminium blocks since 2002. The Levante S’s 3.0L twin-turbo V6 is no exception. From the F160 block that equips the entire Maserati V6 range and itself derived from the F154 V8 which is on all modern twin turbochargered Ferrari, the Maserati V6 is a real marvel. So yes, the authentic technicians see in the addition of turbochargers a real sacrilege, I understand them, but this engine makes sense at Maserati because the brand has produced so many and varied engine sizes in the past. From the 6-cylinder in-line to the V8, the V6 and the V8 bi-turbo in-line 4 cylinders, Maserati has always been able to adapt its engines to the requirements of the race but also to the tastes, standards and constraints of each era.
For the most passionate of you, open the hood if you have the opportunity and look at what you can see under the ugly plastic cover: here is the Maserati logo in fuller letter engraved in cast aluminium! Absolutely splendid (I’m not spoiling you, it’s right next to the yellow handle)!
Finally, we dared to put a Maserati off-road, to see if it really goes everywhere! But Maserati has chosen to preserve its Levante S versions and to entrust us with Levante Diesel for the test. On the path, we drived through bumps, climbs, hills with a wheel in the air and it was very impressive. I think the Levante could be a good franchisor if it were less precious and if it had a higher ground clearance. There it’s too bourgeois to venture further than a few stony roads, the proof is that Maserati had planned an instructor onboard the car and another on foot to open the way (I imagined my partner/ your partner in crime running in the mud, in front of the car, during our Sunday escapades, and I can’t stop laughting).
At last, Maserati added the lastest Advanced driver-assistance systems to its 2019 Levante. The car features pedestrian emergency braking, highway assistance system, forward collision warning, adaptative cruising control, active blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, 360° surround view camera, traffic sign recognition. Well, you got a car and a computer for the same price, are you happy?
Then it’s the Maserati Levante S, it’s also the expression of Italian luxury
When travelling in or driving a Maserati Levante S, you quickly notice the care taken with the materials used. Full grain leather (preferably beige), precious wood veneer or polished metal (because the piano black is so 2012, carbon fiber is reserved for track rockets) and aluminium crankset: all go well together in the purest Italian tradition. You can also choose the Ermegnildo Zegna leather and silk finish for a car of extreme refinement! We had the chance to admire and touch this saddlery: I was charmed, I really hesitate to get a bed made like this.
The design of the steering wheel is beautiful, it reminds us of the Citröen – Maserati experiments of the 1970s (with all the classicism we need). The dashboard is fluid and slightly concave on both sides. It features the central screen, the central column and this small clock that Maserati customers love. In short, between classicism, modernity and casualness, the Maserati Levante inspires a certain natural and relaxed luxury that is typically Italian.
When you put your eyes on the dashboard, in addition to the clock and useless display, you will notice hard plastic buttons that aren’t very pleasant to touch or to look. They aren’t reflecting the refined atmosphere of the rest of the car. The screen is useless (for me) but very tiny (which is a pity for the customers who are interested in it), and that’s because of the ventilation grids. Indeed, they are are positioned upside down. All ventilation nozzles are generally horizontal in shape and well here they aren’t, they are vertical. As a result, they are on either side of the screen, reducing the length of the screen from 3 to 5 cm on each side. The gearshift is easy to use and pleasant, especially since the last update of this element (although it has never been very problematic for us), even if it could look prettier by covering more leather or precious materials and less plastic. Not everything is perfect, the design may even have lost its splendour compared to what Maserati was doing in the early 2000s, but everything is forgiven for such a good gearbox/engine couple.
Finally, a remarkable detail in 2019 for which I would like to thank all the Maserati teams. Speedometers are always round and always have pointers! Seeing these two hands go up and down is so pleasant and brings so much driving pleasure that you always have a WTF feeling when brands choose to go all digital. Rejoice Maserati’s owner, it doesn’t seem like much, but it has fewer pointers in a contemporary Ferrari today than in a today’s Maserati.
#FunToDrive Score: 86/100
If you need a big car (which I advise against, but you won’t listen to me because it’s fashionable), the Maserati Levante S is the ideal daily car. Ideal because it manages, thanks to an incredible magic trick, to make me love an SUV and a turbo engine. Based on the Ghibli’s platform, Maserati Levante is the raised berline which we have always dreamed of (you have always dreamed of). Well, I must admit I’m not insensitive to the baroque Italian charms of the Maseratis in general, but who can really resist the charming singing of the sirens, uh of the Maserati’s V6?
Ps: Do me a favor, if you order one, order it in blue, blue suits so well with Maserati! My favorite actual color is the “Blu Nobile”, even if Maserati has created dozens and dozens of superb blue paintings throughout its history.