Tested 19.10.17, Dubai On sale NOW Price £76,995
Revised sports-luxury 4×4 finally gains punchy petrol power in right-hand-drive guise
Is the introduction of a luxury SUV still a risk to the reputation of a European sports car maker? When it’s a risk so many are taking, I’m not so sure. The Maserati Levante has already become the biggest-selling car the firm makes, reaching 25,000 owners worldwide in its 15-month existence – and that for a company which sold only 32,000 cars in total in 2015. As ex-CEO Harald Wester used to say: “The bigger risk would have been not to make it.”
Keeping the Levante competitive with its rivals is clearly paramount, then, and that’s not achieved by sitting on your hands. Which is why Maserati is already ushering in a model-year update on the car. The revision mostly adds safety and convenience features, although there are changes to the car’s styling and trim range hierarchy as well.
The engine range is unaltered – at least in a global sense. There’s a choice between 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbocharged petrol engines of either 345bhp or 424bhp, and a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 271bhp. But whereas until now only the V6 diesel engine was available in right-hand-drive markets like ours, Maserati has finally made the V6 turbo petrols available in right-hand drive as well.
The Levante’s elegant frameless doors now have ‘soft-close’ motors on them. That’s added convenience feature number one. Once inside, you will find the cabin is wrapped in smooth, colourful leathers, and that it has very comfortable front seats – with slightly less room in the back than some rival SUVs offer. Just as before, where the Levante’s interior impresses, it looks and feels very rich and expensive; but where its quality and sophistication disappoint (on the column stalks and some of the switchgear, and in the graphical presentation of the infotainment system particularly), it lags behind the likes of the Audi Q7 by a distance.
Maserati has added several active safety features to the car, among them a highway assist system that works to keep it in its lane and to maintain the gap to the car in front. There’s also new lane keeping assist and traffic sign recognition technology.
However, delivering some of those features has meant moving the car from hydraulic to electromechanical power steering. The new steering system’s weighting is lighter than the old one at parking speeds but has the tuning potential to be made heavier when you put the car into one of its sportier driving modes.
Having done that, the Levante feels much more taut, accurate and keen-handling than the luxury SUV norm – and unmistakably like a true driver’s car. It doesn’t quite have the uncanny cornering balance of a Porsche Cayenne but it’s not far behind, and while the new steering set-up feels slightly less honest than the old one, it’s well paced, has useful weight and isn’t without feel.
All of that would mean little, of course, if UK buyers wanting a sporting luxury SUV continued to be stuck with the Levante’s plain old VM Motori diesel engine; but having the Ferrari-developed twin-turbo petrol engine in this car instead makes it so much more enticing to drive. The 424bhp 3.0-litre unit works up a head of steam through a little bit of turbo lag, but not a dismaying amount; and it really pulls keenly and revs freely once it’s on song and sounds both authentic and sweet.
As a luxury SUV, the Levante remains one of the big attractions with a few telling disappointments, although it’s better than it was. But as a driver’s car, as much as it’s relevant to UK buyers at least, this car has finally been given the engine its chassis deserves – and it feels like a much needed coming of age.
It takes two presses of the Sport button to properly prepare for a brisk run at a corner: the first makes the powertrain ready; the second lowers the air suspension by 20mm, firms up the Skyhook adaptive dampers and ramps down the steering’s assistance level. MS
Maserati Levante S GranSport
Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it has always needed
Engine V6, 2979cc, twin-turbo, petrol
Power 424bhp at 5750rpm
Torque 428lb ft at 5000rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight 2109kg
Top speed 164mph
CO2, tax band 253g/km, 37%
Rivals Audi SQ7, Range Rover Sport 5.0 V8 S/C Autobiography Dynamic