Maserati’s SUV has to take on some very high-quality opponents
So here it is, Maserati’s entry in the burgeoning SUV market. Everyone else has piled in, and Maserati must have licked its corporate lips when it saw the waves the Bentayga made when Bentley launched its first SUV. So how does this premium Italian SUV make its entrance into the market?
Not quite as quickly as you’d imagine, and that’s not just a comment on the time it’s taken to get to market. In mainland Europe you can have the Levante with a choice of twin-turbo V6 petrol engines, but here in Blighty we get only the 3.0-litre V6 diesel. This 271bhp unit will be familiar to those who own a Ghibli. It’s not the only similarity with the road car.
Maserati Levante Diesel
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6 turbocharged, diesel
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Top speed: 143mph
Fuel economy: 39.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 189g/km
The cabin too has Ghibli DNA, although clearly it’s been given a makeover as befits a big SUV. There’s a higher driving position, which is welcome, and leather comes as standard, as does the Maserati oval clock. Other bits of the cabin don’t really feel like they belong in a top-flight SUV.
On the move the performance doesn’t really feel like a top-flight SUV either. The diesel feeds through an eight-speed ZF gearbox, which works with an all-wheel drive system that is biased to the rear. The suspension is self-levelling with air springs, so it all sounds like really solid SUV kit. The issue is that the Levante weighs in at just over 2200kg and the 271bhp does struggle to get things going in a sprightly manner.
This is an engine which is only adequate in the Ghibli, and in the Levante it works reasonably enough, but, really, that’s not quite good enough for a Maserati. The upside is that it doesn’t put too much stress on the chassis. On a smooth road all is well, and you get that enjoyable sense of being at the helm of a big, sophisticated vehicle as it powers down the road.
But the air suspension gets caught out from time to time and the whole experience lacks that tied-down feeling that can help you relax at the wheel of such a big, heavy vehicle. It just doesn’t seem to really settle, at least on the average UK road.
It’s got a Maserati badge, it looks good and the interior is certainly luxurious – although some of that is extras fitted on our test vehicle, an exercise which bumped up the base price of £54,335 to £70,174. At that level you’re into Range Rover Sport territory and that’s dangerous territory for this Italian SUV to venture into.
This is a market where you need to back up the looks with some serious grunt. The Jaguar F-Pace and the Porsche Macan can join the Range Rover Sport in being just three examples that do this really well. Against that level of opposition the Levante falls short. It can’t compete on performance or handling with any of those. But if you really like a Maserati, then it is at least different. Although we’d really like to try one with the V6 petrol engine.