SUVs from luxury sports car makers are gold mines for the companies. Porsche was rolling in riches when it started offering the Cayenne SUV, a vehicle that quickly became the brand’s best seller, and Jaguar is looking to capture that success with its F-Pace crossover.
Exotic Italian automaker Maserati is next to cash in on the SUV boom. The Maserati Levante S crossover is taking aim at the Porsche Cayenne with a high-end design and interior. More importantly, it also comes with a punchy powerplant and performance-oriented driving manners that make it a family-friendly vehicle that doesn’t sacrifice sport.
We were able to put the new Maserati through its paces on road and off long enough to get some quick initial impressions. Here are five things we learned after driving the Maserati Levante S.
1. It’s Unique
It’s hard to confuse the Levante for anything else in the mall parking lot. With a long hood and squat proportions, this SUV exudes true sports car vibes. Then there’s the way the front headlights and grille come together to give the Maserati an unmistakable scowl. Behind that grille is a unique powerplant that should give Maserati owners something to brag about. The engine, a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6, is made by Ferrari. Maserati tunes the engine two ways: base models make 345 horsepower, while S models like the one tested make 424 hp.
Helping this car stand out even more is its unique soundtrack. You’ll never forget the way a Maserati sounds. It’s raw and unmistakably Italian. It’s definitely something to throw into the faces of its boring-sounding rivals.
2. But It’s Also Familiar
But for all those unique bits and pieces that make the Levante S so interesting, the car packs a few familiar pieces, too. Switches, the gear stick, column stalks and even the infotainment system are a familiar mix of things we’ve seen in recent FCA products. I’m not sure a Maserati owner would appreciate seeing the same touch points in their $80,000 SUV that other drivers get in a Dodge or Jeep that’s a fraction of the price. It’s not all bad, though, as many would consider the UConnect infotainment system to be one of the best in the industry. But there was a small snag with the system: all the corresponding physical buttons to control the system stopped working during my test drive, meaning I had to operate all the controls through the touchscreen.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Levante uses an eight-speed automatic that’s similar to what you’d find in the Jaguar F-Pace. However, the actual electronic shifter suffers by being confusing to use. It’s easy to overshoot reverse and park and put the car in the wrong gear. Other Jeep, Chrysler, and Dodge products with this shifter have been recalled to fix this issue, so it’s interesting to see it still here in the Levante.
3. On the Road, It’s Fantastic
Underway, you’ll forget that the Levante S is a crossover. That Ferrari power really moves this big car with alarming speed, letting this 4,600-pound beast hit 62 mph in just 5.7 seconds. That means in terms of acceleration, it’ll keep up with a similarly priced Porsche Cayenne S. Another great part about the drive is the balanced weight distribution and delivery of power. Weight is balanced at 50:50 front to rear and the all-wheel drive system normally sends all the power to the rear wheels, but can send up to 50 percent of it to the front wheels if more traction is needed.
The Levante S also gives you solid control of the car by using an old-school hydraulic power-assisted steering setup, which provides solid feedback through the wheel. Without a doubt, the Levante S is an SUV that’s capable of taking the fun, long way home, and that’s a rarity with cars this big.
There are also a few driver assistance features available like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic braking.
4. Off-road, Not So Much
Off-roading is certainly possible in this Italian beauty, if you’re OK with getting it dirty, thanks to an air spring suspension setup that features five settings. The all-wheel drive system is also pretty quick at routing power rear to front, but the one big issue about taking this thing off road were the road-focused Pirelli tires, which just couldn’t grab anything that wasn’t asphalt. Furthermore, in order to place your vehicle nicely in off-road courses, you need a really solid understanding of where the front wheels are, and with the Levante’s long hood, it’s hard to know exactly where those front tires are landing.
5. How About That Interior?
Besides the familiar switches and infotainment system, the Maserati definitely shows off how the interior of a vehicle that starts at $83,000 ($98,600 CAD) should look like. The leather seats are upholstered in a wonderfully tasteful shade of red with nice black stitching and Maserati logos etched into the headrest.
Accenting the interior are nice carbon fiber bits that remind you that Maserati has a motorsports heritage of its own.
While some might find the analog clock tacky or old-fashioned, I found it to be attractive and classy. However, besides the soft headliner, the Levante is lacking the certain special texture that you might come to expect in cars priced like this. Even high-end BMW X5s and Mercedes GLEs use extremely high-end leather and materials that feel special to the touch. I can’t say the same about the Maserati.
Like the X5, the rear seats are a bit cramped, but at least the Levante has a decent amount of cargo room.
The Verdict: 2017 Maserati Levante S First Drive
For Maserati, this is a solid entry into a market with deep pockets. Customers will love the ways the Levante S stands out and may not even care about the minor complaints I had. Parking one of these Italian SUVs on your driveway will set you back $83,000 before destination and adding a few packages like the upgraded Zegna interior, driver assistance features, or upping the size of the wheels can see that price creep into seriously expensive territory. For some buyers, they want the best in the class at any cost necessary. For those folks, the Porsche Cayenne fits the (tall) bill. Other buyers might just want the most interesting and unique car in the class, and the Levante S is exactly that.