I Know you Got Soul
If you’re looking for an SUV that stands out from the crowd, writes James Fossdyke, then look no further than the Maserati Levante...
Jack of all trades, master of none. That’s the criticism usually levelled at anything trying to be all things to all men, women, children and pets. It’s particularly true in the automotive world - a place where the envious slam supercars for being too cramped and petrol-heads mock people-carriers for being too sensible. You just can’t win.
Unless, of course, you buy a luxury SUV. They’re the black Levi’s of the automotive world; the Swiss army knives of the road. They’ll ferry you across Europe at speed and in comfort, then look right at home outside when you arrive outside the Austrian ambassador’s castle. Better still, they won’t get stuck in the snow when you attempt to leave the following morning. And they do it all so effortlessly.
If you’re in the market for one of these multi-faceted metal mountains, though, the news is mixed. On the upside, you’ve got a plethora of brilliant cars to choose from, but the catch is that everyone else has had the same idea. It’s tough to stand out at the school gates when all the other parents have turned up in a variation on the same theme.
But you can solve that by simply buying one of these. Yes, it’s a big, posh 4x4 with massive wheel arches and lots of chrome, but it’s also a Maserati. And that makes a huge difference. For one, it looks like a Maserati, so you get these soft, flowing lines that culminate in an angry, angular front end. The vertical slats in the grille make it look like it’s snarling, even when the rip-roaring, Ferrari-derived V6 behind is silent, but it still has the elegance of an Italian luxury saloon. It looks as though it was designed to eat miles, not small children.
And the news gets even better inside. Pretty much everything is wrapped in lovely soft leather, and the bits that aren’t are shrouded in a glossy veneer. My test car mixed Cuoio brown hide with Ebano wood trim and Zegna silk inserts, which has to be one of the best combinations out there. For the most part, It feels good, too. There’s the odd naff bit of plastic, and the knobs that control the infotainment system feel a bit cheap, but that’s only in comparison with the heavy quality you find in most places. The slender door catches feel as precise as the trigger on a well-maintained shotgun, and the ignition button down by your right knee has a pleasant resistance that makes you feel like you’re starting up some serious heavy machinery. Although that might be because you’re doing exactly that.
I tested the Levante in high-end S guise, complete with the 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine that comes complete with not one but two turbochargers. The result is 424bhp and a noise that usually precedes earthquakes. The whole thing shudders into life with a bark and settles into a bubbly, rich idle, but if you press the button marked ‘Sport’ then the four tailpipes emit a savage, threatening growl. And it’s loud. So loud, in fact, that one of my neighbours came over to complain.
But at least it’s quick enough for an expeditious escape. Getting from a standstill to 60 mph takes about five seconds, and flat out you’re doing 164 mph. Yet this still isn’t the fastest model. If speed is what you’re after, then opt for the new Trofeo version, complete with a massive Ferrari V8 engine that produces nigh on 600bhp.
At the opposite end of the range, however, is the ‘entry-level’ 3.0-litre diesel engine. It may only have 271bhp, but it can hardly be called a slouch. It will still romp to motorway speeds in about seven seconds, and once you’re in the cruise it’s both quieter and more fuel-efficient than the petrol-powered Levante S. So if you’re wearing your sensible hat, that’s the one to go for.
In fact, sensible is something the Maserati does uncannily well. It’s enormous, which doesn’t always make life comfortable on narrow country lanes, but it certainly makes it more enjoyable inside. There’s a big boot and acres of space in the back, not to mention plenty of tech. There’s all the usual stuff like satellite navigation and heated seats, and you can have goodies such as four-zone climate control that allows everyone to set their own temperature, or a sensor that opens the boot when you dangle a foot under the bumper.
The only thing it doesn’t have is a third row of seats that would bring the total up to seven. That might put some people off, but to me it’s a win-win situation. You get a bigger boot and nobody has to suffer being crammed into rear seats that aren’t really fit for human habitation.
All this common sense doesn’t mean Maserati has gone all grown-up on us though. The company’s engineers say this car still drives like a proper Italian grand tourer, as well as a farmer’s 4x4. And they’ve got a point. The Levante is a big, comfy cruiser with four-wheel drive and the ability to tackle some surprisingly challenging off-roading, but it’s still quite enjoyable on the road, where it will spend most of its time. Naturally, given its 2.1-tonne kerb weight, it’s more rugby player than gymnast, but there’s something charming about its chunky brand of agility.
Perhaps it isn’t quite as comfortable as you might like at low speed, and the dimensions can be problematic at times, but that’s true of many big 4x4s. Ignore those minor issues, and you’re left with a fast, luxurious grand tourer that’ll still tow a horsebox or ford a river. And although the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport can claim similar credentials, they can’t bring those qualities together with quite the same panache.
For some intangible, indescribable reason, the Maserati just feels that little bit more special than any of its competitors. For me, that’s the clincher.
Maserati Levante S GranLusso
Price: From £79,190
Price as tested: £92,105
Engine: 3.0-litre petrol V6
0-62mph: 5.2 seconds
Top speed: 164mph
H.R. Owen Maserati Manchester
St Marys Way, Manchester, SK1 4AQ
t: 0333 014 4449 w: maserati.com
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