If an automaker doesn’t have an SUV in its lineup, it’s giving up a license to print money. That’s how Maserati, a company made famous for its high-performance sedans, coupes and racing pedigree ended up with an SUV at its dealerships. For those who think it dilutes the brand, check on performance giants Porsche, Audi and Jaguar.
Like the rest of the Maserati lineup, the Levante looks sleek and sophisticated, but with a four-door coupelike body a la BMW’s X6 and Mercedes-Benz’s GLE. Despite being styled similarly to the other coupe-ish SUVs, you won’t lose this in the parking lot of your local high-end mall. The distinctive Maserati nose and tail adds charm and a sense of coherence with the brand.
As with the Maserati Ghibli, a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 powers the Levante. The engine was designed in conjunction with the folks at Ferrari and is built in Maranello, Italy. Despite missing half of the appropriate Ferrari cylinders, the V6 manages to throw at least 350 hp to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic.
The sport-luxury effort doesn’t stop there — Maserati went with a capable suspension setup. There is a pair of double wishbone front control arms keeping the front tires on the ground and a multilink suspension in the rear. Adjustable air springs sit at all four corners, managing bumps and lowering the vehicle for high-speed efficiency.
With 350 hp on tap for two-plus tons of SUV, the Levante isn’t exactly Ferrari 488 fast, but it does get out of its own way. An active exhaust opens when you push the Maserati’s drive control button to sport mode. In that mode, there are plenty of burbles and crackles to help the world know you’re driving an Italian-bred sport SUV. That said, the sound is more of a pleasant roar than the guttural aggression you’ll find in the Range Rover Sport SVR or even the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.
Double tapping the mode button puts the suspension into sport mode too. This slightly lowers the air shocks and firms up the ride. In sport mode, the steering is heavy and direct but lacks road feedback. On imperfect highways, switching to the sporty suspension feels harsh. You can also raise and lower the air shocks independently of the drive modes, with settings for off-road, normal driving and a super-low setting for loading the hatch.
Hopping inside, you’ll see swaths of leather covering just about everything — the dash, your touch points and the seats. You’ll also find a bright and clear media screen running the latest version of Chrysler’s UConnect. Of course, being that this is a Maserati, the system is renamed Touch Control Plus and displays the brand’s Trident logo; it’s controlled by the touchscreen or the stacked rotary dials in the center console. The lower tier ring moves the dial while the top is reserved for volume control.
Common parts like the starter button, window switches and turn signal stalk are obvious Chrysler parts bin choices. They do the job, but the juxtaposition of these budget parts against the quality of the leather-covered touch points and large metal paddle shifters can seem odd.
As with the competition, the Levante has a healthy dose of driver assistance features. You’ll find adaptive cruise with stop and go, lane departure warnings, forward collision warning with brake assist and a 360-degree camera.
The Levante is something of an outsider choice in performance SUVs. It’s not as refined as the Porsche Cayenne or as brawny as a Jeep Cherokee SRT8 or as buttoned-down as a Jaguar F-Pace, but it does set itself apart. There is something to be said for ignoring the obvious hot SUVs and going for the odd-duck Maserati.
You will have to deal with those aforementioned parts-bin decisions, but everyone you pass by will just hear the crackling exhaust and see the massive trident in the front grill. The Levante starts at about $72,000. The Jag F-Pace opens at $42,000 and the Cayenne starts at $60K and goes up from there, so there’s a broad range of prices to suit your brand preferences.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $73,850
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6, AWD, eight-speed automatic
Output: 350 hp at 5,750 rpm; 368 lb-ft at 4,500-5,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,649 lb
Fuel Economy: 14/20/16(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: Stunningly handsome on the outside
Cons: Thirsty for the performance; Chrysler interior parts
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