THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: The engine and driving dynamics
- What’s Worst: Somewhat tight rear seat headroom
- What’s Interesting: The engine is built in Maranello on the same assembly line as Ferrari engines
I can’t say I was surprised when I heard Maserati was bringing out a mid-size crossover SUV.
After the success Porsche has had with its Cayenne and Macan models, it was only a matter of time.
For Porsche, these two vehicles account for more than half of all sales and help fund the R&D to make better and faster sports cars.
With Jaguar already out with its successful F-Pace crossover and Italian automaker Lamborghini coming on board with an SUV in 2018, Maserati beat its Italian counterpart to the market and introduced the Levante as a 2017 model.
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And this is not just any SUV, it’s an SUV with a pedigree, powered by a 3.0-litre twin turbo V6 engine, making 424 hp in the S model (with 428 lb/ft of torque), which we tested. The base Levante has 345 hp and starts at a reasonable $88,900. Both are mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel mounted paddles.
Many people will know the Maserati name, but not realize that they have been building performance-oriented luxury automobiles for more than a century.
In fact, Maserati made a name for itself on the European racing circuits, particularly in the 1950s before they began to concentrate on grand touring cars later in that decade.
Externally it has a long-ish snout and great lines. Maserati says the Levante emphasizes sport over utility and off-road prowess, yet all-wheel drive is standard fare for those who head to cottage country with perhaps a boat or some other watercraft in tow.
I got some seat-time in the Levante during testing for the 2017 Canadian Car and Utility Vehicle of the Year, held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park north of Toronto by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
The Levante was entered in the Best New Premium Utility Vehicle category and finished fifth.
Price was undoubtedly a huge issue as the Levante S checked in at $109,219 compared with $57,450 for the winning entry.
From a beauty standpoint, the Levante was a hit, taking top marks in both interior and exterior styling.
It was also at or near the lead in most performance categories including throttle response, engine smoothness/refinement and transmission/drivetrain. In vehicle dynamics, it led the way in ride comfort, steering, handling and braking feel and effectiveness.
And even though the emphasis is on sport over ruggedness, the Levante S was the off-road leader. Where the Levante trailed the pack was in subjective value and noise/vibration/harshness.
But overall, on my scorecard and those of my colleagues it seems the Levante deserved a much better fate if not for the price tag.
During my drive with the Levante I was mesmerized by the sweet sounds of the twin turbo V6 engine as it gurgled and roared its way up the rev scale.
And on the road, the perfect 50/50 weight distribution is evident as you put the vehicle through its paces. This is an SUV that feels much lighter than its 2,113 kilograms, about the same as a Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The steering is precise with great feel and the power is available as needed with certainly less turbo lag than I expected.
On the road, track and off-road trail, the Levante is a standout performer with little body lean on tight corners. The standard air suspension helps smooth out the rough bits and adds ride height if needed when you venture onto an unimproved cottage roadway, for example.
If you go fast, you have to stop fast and the Levante S has that capability, with a 39.4 metre braking distance from 100 km/h in AJAC testing.
On the acceleration front, the vehicle went 0-100 km/h in 5.7 seconds and 80-120 in 4.2 during AJAC testing. Pretty quick for a hefty SUV.
The interior is a work of art, certainly worthy of an Italian luxury brand with beautiful leather and a great looking dash, highlighted by beautiful analog clock.
With the FCA connection, some of the switchgear will be familiar to anyone who has driven a Chrysler lately. In particular, the infotainment touchscreen is sourced from FCA as will be immediately evident.
Cargo room is ample with one of the few drawbacks being the sloping roofline at the rear that cuts into headroom for second-row passengers. Legroom is also somewhat tight here.
Maserati has put together a beautiful package in its first crack at the burgeoning SUV market. With huge competition from mid-size luxury SUVs like the Lexus RX-350, Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC, the Porsche Cayenne and Macan and the aforementioned Jaguar F-Pace, the Levante will have its work cut out breaking into the market.
On price, it’s a difficult proposition with the Levante as tested here, hitting $109,219 — nearly double that of many competitors.
But after a few minutes behind the wheel, the premium price for an SUV where the sporty side takes top billing, makes it all seem worth it.
Also Read: Jaguar’s F-Pace SUV worth the wait
Maserati Levante S 2017
BODY STYLE: Four-door, five-passenger mid-size luxury SUV.
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 3.0-litre twin turbo direct injection V6 (424 hp, 428 lb/ft of torque.
FUEL ECONOMY: 16.8/12.4/14.8 L/100 km city/highway/combined.
CARGO CAPACITY: 580 litres with second-row seats upright.
TOWING CAPACITY: 2,700 kg.
PRICE: Levante, $88,900; Levante S, $98,600, as tested $109,219