With the Levante SUV, Maserati’s evolution from specialist sports car maker to fully-fledged luxury car brand continues. A Maserati 4x4 is, of course, a controversial addition. But it’s a vital one, in order to drive the profits necessary for long-term sustainability. The Porsche Cayenne has set the business model everyone else must now follow.
Maserati has lessened the shock by giving us something very much on the sporting side of SUV. No rival is this aerodynamic, nor has such a low centre of gravity. The rounded style and coupe-like roofline makes it much less of a boxy old 4x4 than the norm.
It measures up inside too, with a commanding yet sporty-feel driving position and a great set of front seats. The leather-clad dashboard of the test car looked good, even if it did ultimately lack Porsche-like quality, meaning driver frustration is reserved for the fiddly eight-speed automatic gearshifter, and the over-burdened touchscreen infotainment system.
It’s less impressive in the back. For such a large SUV, it’s not that roomy in the rear. More suited to schoolchildren than adults. The boot is only average as well: a Jaguar F-Pace is bigger. Take everyone’s mind off this with an optional 1280W Bowers & Wilkins surround sound stereo, complete with Kevlar speakers.
It’s based on a platform shared with the Maserati Ghibli executive saloon, but well-equipped for its new SUV role with standard height-adjustable air suspension and full-time four-wheel drive. But in the UK, you can only have it with one engine – a 271bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel.
Against the clock, it’s not bad. 0-62mph in 6.8sec is a decent time, if not outstanding. What’s less impressive is the fact it will only achieve such pace if you have absolutely no mechanical sympathy. Be more measured and you can bank on a time at least a couple of seconds slower.
And this lethargy continues on the road. The Maserati doesn’t have the effortlessness of a luxury sporting car, gaining pace with less authority than its key rivals. It also doesn’t sound as cultured as them, lacking both the hushed cruise and clatter-free hum of the best.
At first, its weight seems to have a more positive effect on how it drives. It feels wide, but it’s also purposeful and burly. Press on, though, and you realise it feels detached and simply too heavy to be genuinely agile and capable. The ride is not amazing either, despite its fancy air suspension. Too frequently, the Levante feels like it’s toiling and struggling to keep up with itself.
Weight also has perhaps an inevitable effect on fuel economy. Our testing suggested an average of 26mpg is likely. Most owners probably won’t worry too much, but it’s still not great. Even a decent-value combination of list price and standard equipment is undone by higher PCP and contract hire rates than its rivals.
Maserati does deserve some credit here. It could simply have given us a rebadged version of an SUV from sister company Jeep – a Maserati Grand Cherokee, for example. That would have been terrible. This is much better than that. But it’s just not good enough, and certainly no match for models such as the Range Rover Sport, Volvo XC90 and Porsche Cayenne.
It’s an oddball and interesting car for a select few, for which we applaud it. Overall, though, it’s an also-ran. It will become Maserati’s best-seller, but there are no end of better alternatives out there.
Rob Adams is a writer for AutoCar.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies