The verdict: The 2019 Maserati Levante combines stout performance with mass-market attributes thanks to Maserati’s ties to parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. More often than not, those family ties work in its favor.
Versus the competition: Much like other six-figure SUVs, the Levante is athletic and luxurious. But it also makes passing grades on utility and practicality, which sets the Maserati apart from many of its ilk.
The Levante hit the market two model years ago as Maserati’s first SUV, built on a platform shared with the Ghibli and Quattroporte sedans. For 2019, the Levante adds a turbocharged V-8 engine that slots above the carryover turbo V-6. Between the two engines, the Levante offers four output levels across eight trims, all with standard all-wheel drive. Compare the variants here, or stack up the 2018 and 2019 Levante here. We evaluated both the V-6 and V-8 variants, including the performance-topping Levante Trofeo on Wisconsin’s venerated Road America racetrack.
Power came in a burst of high-revving thrust from the V-6 example we tested in 2018, a 424-hp Levante S. (The base Levante, which we haven’t evaluated, makes 345 hp with the V-6.) From a stop, power builds readily enough to scoot the Levante S to 60 mph in a manufacturer-estimated 5 seconds flat, but it’s a peaky experience you sometimes have to wait out in the midst of normal driving and passing. It might help if the standard eight-speed automatic transmission downshifted more swiftly, but it’s merely adequate in this regard.
Opt for the V-8, and the sprint takes just 4 seconds in the GTS (550 hp) or 3.7 seconds in the Trofeo (590 hp). I noted some accelerator lag off the line in a GTS in Normal driving mode, but a selectable Sport mode improves on that. Trofeo models add a harder-core mode called Corsa. Lag aside, power comes early enough that both the GTS and Trofeo can pile on speed regardless of gear or rpm.
The V-8, which displaces just 3.8 liters, remains on the peakier side: It can flex some low-end torque if you keep modest pressure on the gas, but it shows its best stuff if you don’t hold back. Go hard on the gas, and revs build quickly as the Levante’s V-8 storms toward redline, wailing exhaust and all. I came nowhere close to the Trofeo’s top speed, a Joe Walsh-approved 189 mph, but flying down Road America’s straightaways at something north of 100 mph, the Levante’s stability felt unflappable. Brake hard from such speeds and the SUV feels reasonably planted, with confident stopping power and linear pedal feel. Most trim levels share the Trofeo’s brakes, which feature monster 15-inch front discs and Brembo six-piston calipers.
The Levante’s standard all-wheel drive defaults more power to the rear wheels, and it’s enough to slide the tail a little sideways if you pile on the gas around a tight bend. The chassis doesn’t beg to be rotated — the rear kicks around in halting, tentative motions before the stability system reins it back in — but it’s evidence enough of the SUV’s rear-drive bias. Sustained curves exhibit minimal understeer, and both the steering ratio and overall feedback are engaging enough, if less visceral than in the Stelvio SUV from fellow FCA brand Alfa Romeo. A mechanical limited-slip rear differential is standard in the Levante, but active torque vectoring — the sort that overdrives the outside wheel to aid cornering — is unavailable.
Indeed, outside its high-rpm power and sound, very little about the Levante shrieks “performance.” The steering wheel turns with a lighter touch than you’d expect from a performance SUV, and ride quality during a 530-mile road trip in the GTS was firm but livable. (Air springs and adaptive shock absorbers are standard across all grades, but V-8 models have unique tuning.) That trip returned 19.7 mpg in mostly highway driving and warm temperatures, with normal driving modes and about 20 minutes’ idling at a rest stop — significantly better than the GTS’ EPA-estimated highway rating of 18 mpg. Maserati’s Highway Assist System, an option on the Levante, faithfully centered our test car in its lane all the way down to a stop, though only on GPS-tracked highways. To our frustration, it doesn’t help steer on “unapproved” roads as some vehicles do.
We’ve chided FCA before for throwing the same interior controls into some Maseratis as it does into numerous Jeep and Dodge products, and the Levante is no different. The window switches are chrome-flecked versions of what’s in a Cherokee or Charger; the seat-heater buttons for the backseat are straight out of Chrysler’s 2000s-era parts bin. Still, if you consider the alternative from sibling brand Alfa Romeo, which has layouts that are unique but defy logic, I welcome Maserati’s approach.
Though it’s marketed as a Maserati Touch Control Plus display, the Levante’s touchscreen is FCA’s familiar Uconnect dashboard. It sports Maserati-specific graphics but the same intuitive menus and functionality, complete with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. An armrest-level controller offers two concentric knobs for volume and tuning duty, and a medium cubby ahead of it accommodates cellphones and parking passes. The setup isn’t perfect, but it’s logical. That’s a quality missing in too many luxury cars these days.
Leather upholstery is standard. Various upgraded hides and wood or carbon-fiber trim — the latter offered in a three-dimensional, textured weave — are optional, as is extended leather for much of the dashboard and doors (a vinyl dash is standard). The extra cowhide looks handsome, though cheaper plastics on lower portions of the B-pillars expose some cost-cutting amid the finery. In this price range, you get to nitpick.
Overall space is unremarkable given the Levante’s mid-size footprint. Some drivers may find knee clearance pinched up front, but the chairs are comfortable over long trips. The backseat is a bit low to the floor and suffers an overstuffed lower backrest, but legroom is acceptable. The fixed head restraints block visibility out a rear window that’s small to begin with, but the Levante’s large side mirrors redeem some of that.
The $164,000 Question
If you think a six-figure SUV should be different — in its controls, interior layout or styling — there’s a Tesla or Porsche or Land Rover for you. The Levante’s mass-market familiarity will turn off some shoppers, and perhaps some of its most outdated aspects should. But it’s extraordinary in many other ways, and the fact that it’s also reasonably practical is icing on the cake. Is it prosaic to fixate on such aspects in a car that runs from just south of $80,000 to well over double that? Sure, but that’s what sets the Levante apart.
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