The Porsche Cayenne showed just how willing people are to buy a luxury SUV from a sportscar company. Now Maserati is looking to get in on that action.
Considering that Porsche has been around for just south of 70 years, the company hasn’t been in the SUV game very long. However, the introduction of the Cayenne (15 years ago) and the Macan (three years ago) has completely altered the nature of the brand. These days Porsche is as much an SUV manufacturer as it is a sportscar one, and much of this can be attributed to the Asian and US markets. Porsche sold more than 6 200 Boxster/Caymans in the US last year, 8 901 of the 911s and 4 403 Panameras. These figures are respectable, but they’re dwarfed by Porsche’s SUV sales. The company managed to sell 15 383 Cayennes and 19 332 Macans.
A slice of the pie
These figures are enough to make anyone sit up and take notice, especially if they’re used to selling uber-expensive niche cars to a relatively small number of people. So, rather predictably, more and more premium manufacturers are opting to milk the cash cow that is the luxury SUV segment. Bentley has entered the fray with the Bentayga, Rolls-Royce is betting big on the Cullinan, and the Lamborghini Urus is continuing its slow but inevitable crawl towards production. It’s hard to look at the proliferation of luxury/sporty SUVs as anything other than a cynical cash-grab – an easy and convenient way to bankroll the vehicles that company engineers really care about – but you’d be ignoring one important point: a lot of these vehicles are actually very good. Even a Porsche purist would struggle to deny the fun and practicality of a Macan or Cayenne. If you’ve got a family too big to squeeze into a 911, a Porsche SUV starts looking like a great buy.
The fact of the matter is, a lot of these sporty SUVs are amazing machines that push the envelope in terms of what can be done with a top-heavy 4×4. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S boasts 419kW of power and a top speed of 284km/h. It can charge from 0–100km/h in a mere 4.1 seconds. The BMW X6M boasts 423kW and can go from 0–100km/h in 4.2 seconds. The Range Rover Sport SVR has a 5.0-litre supercharged V8 that delivers 405kW of power and 680Nm of torque. It has a top speed of 260km/h and does 0–100km/h in 4.7 seconds. Moreover, all these vehicles are agile and fun to drive. It’s not just about straight-line power, they can take a corner.
An oilburner only
So, with its new Levante SUV, Maserati is facing a lot of competition. On the upside, though, it’s entering a proven market that can help boost the brand’s lacklustre global sales. Like the Cayenne, the Levante may turn the brand into more of a mainstream competitor. What exactly do you expect of a Maserati SUV? If it’s the sound and thunder of a roaring V8, you’ll be disappointed. Compared to some of the SUVs mentioned above, the Levante is downright docile. In South Africa, the vehicle is available only with a 3.0-litre oilburner (there’s a V6 petrol with 320kW in some markets). The diesel powerplant is a product of Fiat engine company VM Motori, and is called the A 630 DOHC HP. A version of this engine can be found in vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler 300 and Ram 1 500. However, the Levante boasts the HP (High Power) version of the engine, which delivers 202kW of power and 600Nm of torque.
It has a top speed of 230km/h and can go from 0–100km/h in 6.9 seconds. It’s certainly a shame that Maserati’s first SUV isn’t a bit wilder and crazier, but if the company is hoping to shift big numbers of the Levante – which it undoubtedly is – a sensible diesel model makes sense. Diesel versions of the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport sell well. That said, both Porsche and Range Rover sell much wilder diesel versions than the Levante. The Cayenne S Diesel delivers 283kW and 850Nm of torque, while the Range Rover Sport SDV8 offers 250kW and 740Nm of torque. Compared to these, Maserati’s SUV seems rather sedate, and indeed, it feels like it. Acceleration is good, but not what you’d expect from an Italian sportscar manufacturer. Moreover, the Levante suffers from significant turbo lag. Put your foot down hard and it feels like an eternity before the vehicle responds.
SUV meets GT
But it’s not all bad news. Maserati is not a pure sportscar maker; it’s also known for its GT cars, and the Levante is a spectacular tourer. The oilburner isn’t exceptionally powerful, but it is frugal. Maserati claims 7.2 litres per 100km, which is a bit optimistic, but you can comfortably stay below 10 litres per 100km. With an 80-litre tank, you can travel more than 800km between fill-ups. The Levante also has an excellent eight-speed ZF gearbox, and an AWD system. An air suspension provides four ride-height levels, and electronically controlled Skyhook shock absorbers smooth out uneven roads. The vehicle’s stability programme has apparently been configured to perform well on gravel, too. Few owners are likely to venture off tar, but there is no doubt that the Levante can handle a bit of the rough stuff. It’s not a trail vehicle, obviously, but it can deal with dirt when needed.
The SUV also performs well on a twisty bit of tarmac. Thanks to 50:50 weight distribution and what Maserati calls the “lowest centre of gravity in the SUV class”, the Levante feels incredibly agile. It might not overwhelm you with power in a straight line, but there’s plenty of fun to be had in the corners. And then there’s the interior, which is beautiful, comfortable and well equipped. The instrument panel follows the Ghibli/Quattroporte layout and is backlit with white light. A classic Maserati analogue clock is in the centre of the dashboard. The dashboard and the central console have been redesigned, however, to accommodate an 21cm touchscreen, a cluster of drive-mode buttons, a rotary knob and an air-suspension switch. The seats are plush and leather-clad, but if you’re looking for something really special, you can opt for the Zegna Edition pack. The pack combines premium Italian leather with bespoke silk from Ermenegildo Zegna, one of the leading fashion designers in the world. The finest leather is combined with natural Zegna mulberry silk fibre inserts on the seats, door panels, roof lining, sunshades and ceiling light fixture. The silk is embellished with a hand-stitched micro chevron.
Maserati is making a big thing of the fact that the Levante is constructed entirely in Italy. At one stage, the company was considering an SUV based on the platform of the Jeep Grand Cherokee (the concept version was called the Kubang), but massive outcry from hardcore fans saw Maserati nix that idea. The Levante is instead 100% Italian. However, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the Levante lacks a bit of drama. Maserati might build its SUV in Italy, but this hasn’t resulted in the sort of fire and theatre you’d expect.
The Levante feels too sane, too sober. Unlike an SUV with a howling V8, the Levante feels like a vehicle expressly created to capture as big a swathe of the market as possible. It’s clearly more about paying the bills than bringing some real Maserati flavour to the 4×4 segment. But looking at it purely as another SUV in the sporty diesel segment, the Levante is a solid offering. Those looking for the social cachet that comes with an Italian badge will undoubtedly love the Maserati. It’s a good alternative to a Porsche, Range Rover or Jaguar, just not a terribly interesting one.
Maserati Levante 3.0 Diesel
Engine 3.0 V6 Common Rail Turbodiesel (A 630 DOHC HP)
Displacement 2 987cc
Power 202kW @ 4 000r/min
Torque 600Nm @ 2 000r/min
Transmission 8-speed ZF Automatic
Top speed 230km/h
0–100km/h 6.9 seconds
Consumption (claimed) 7.2 litres per 100km
Luggage capacity 580 litres
Fuel capacity 80 litres
Kerb weight 2 205kg
Tyres 255/60 ZR18 (Standard)
Price Starting from R1 649 000
Text: GG van Rooyen