If you haven’t yet, you will start seeing a swanky, new Italian SUV on the road, parked prominently by valets at fancy restaurants, and vying for attention at ritzy country clubs. But Maserati is determined for its new Levante not just to get noticed.
It also seeks to challenge the luxury sport utility leaders with its performance and polish. Sure, in profile it may borrow the styling palette of others (say, Infiniti’s trend-setting FX). But that large grille (it would look better with chrome strakes) with its telltale trident and the Saetta logo on its C-pillars are unmistakable cues to a storied history few others can claim. Criticize if you must, and it has some easily corrected missteps, but the 2017 Maserati Levante is a serious entry into the segment and will take attention and sales from the current luxury sport utility dahlings.
Somewhere in its long marination, everything changed, including the name. As is the Maserati tradition, the Kubang, a Javanese wind, withered and became the Levante technically a region on the Iberian Peninsula in eastern Spain. Maserati says the name was “inspired by a warm, Mediterranean wind that can change from mild to gale force in an instant.” You know, like a Mistral, or Ghibli. Far more important than the name change Maserati deemed the production Levante would be derived from the Ghibli/Quattroporte sedan platform and be assembled entirely in its own plant near Turin, Italy. Like the sedans, it would have frameless windows, and its power comes via Maserati’s new 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 with two initial states of tune. Perhaps a third version with 500-plus hp will come later.
Riding on Air; Steering with Fluid
Aside from how quick it is, how does it drive? Depending on drive mode and road surface, our staff was divided on the Maserati’s ride comfort versus handling balance. With the Levante’s all-aluminum A-arms front and multilink rear suspension and riding on six-way height-adjustable air springs (five while driving, one while parked), plus electronically controlled dampers, most reviews of ride comfort were generally positive. Almost always controlled and composed, even riding on optional staggered-width 21-inch Pirelli P Zeros with short sidewalls, the distinction among the modes was detectable and appreciated on L.A.’s choppy concrete freeways—no more or less acceptable than any similar sport-oriented utility vehicles.
But true to its mission, the Levante SQ4 does feel like a rear-driver, especially because it’s one of the last vehicles to still use hydraulic- and not electric-assist power steering. We were very impressed with the SQ4’s grip and poise when the road twisted and turned. One would never guess the Levante weighed as much as it does. There’s definitely a fluid, unfettered quality and genuine feel in the steering that many young drivers today will likely never experience.
Due to that long wheelbase, Levante seating accommodations are generous (at the expense of ultimate cargo capacity), and leather seats (heated up front) are standard. Our Levante was further equipped with the optional front sport seats, which offered exceptionally good side bolstering without sacrificing comfort. Within luxury and sport packages, color choices and trims are initially offered in a dizzying 28 combinations. We think our somber black leather with red stitching and carbon fiber didn’t do the Levante any favors. Sure, the quality of the genuine articles is evident, but we’ve seen the tasteful two-tone leather treatments, and any of the four wood trims would have been more in character with a sexy Italian.