Competes with: Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLS 63, BMW X5 M
Looks like: A slightly less opulent Levante Trofeo
Drivetrains: 550-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8; eight-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive
Hits dealers: Likely late 2018
Maserati is gunning for Porsche directly with the latest model to join the Levante SUV lineup: the 2019 Levante GTS. Slotting in just below the Trofeo, it uses the same twin-turbocharged engine but in slightly less powerful form, giving Maserati a price-competitive luxury SUV meant to go head-to-head with the Porsche Cayenne Turbo (whereas the Turbo S will likely stack up against the Trofeo more directly). We recently got an up-close look and brief spin in the Levante GTS at the M1 Concourse private racetrack in Pontiac, Mich., a fun introduction to this latest entry into an increasingly competitive segment.
On the outside, the new GTS looks like the rest of the Levante lineup — curvy, angular, sleek and rakish, with obvious ties to the rest of the Maserati family. The changes to make a GTS are subtle and focused mainly on the lower front and rear bumpers. The front is redone with a new lower design that features two aerodynamic wings, and the rear has added a new horizontal element meant to emphasize the SUV's width.
Full matrix LED headlights are optional. Quad exhaust tips are present out back, as well. On the GTS, specifically, a chrome front grille with chrome surround, body-colored door handles, spoiler, front splitter and rear extractor, and piano-black inserts in the bumpers distinguish the GTS. A subtle GTS badge on the rear hatch confirms what you're looking at.
The cabin is an opulent place, full of leather, wood and aluminum detailing. A full single-stitched leather interior is standard on the GTS in either black, red, tan or beige, or opt for the Pieno Fiore double-stitched premium leather in black, red or tan. The steering wheel and all of the seats are heated, with the front seats ventilated, as well. There are some large aluminum paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and the GTS includes sport pedals, unique gauges, illuminated door sills, and velour floormats. A 900-watt, 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system is standard, as is the Maserati Touch Control Plus multimedia system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen (which you might recognize as a slightly redone Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Uconnect system).
Under the Hood
Powering the Levante GTS is a slightly detuned version of the twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V-8 found in the Levante Trofeo that was unveiled at the New York Auto Show earlier this year. It makes 590 horsepower in the Trofeo, but has been retuned to make 550 hp in the GTS. It's mated to an excellent ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, after which power is routed to all four wheels.
A standard mechanical limited-slip differential is fitted, as is Maserati's unique Skyhook electronic adjustable suspension. The transmission lever is new for 2019, and now allows for selecting a manual or automatic mode by sliding the lever left and right. This has eliminated the "M" button on the transmission and now allows for selecting Sport mode and Skyhook modes independent of the transmission mode, says Maserati.
The suspension is largely the same as other Levante models but features tuning unique to the GTS in order to impart a more sporting character. The Skyhook adjustable dampers also adjust ride height, optimizing the vehicle's height for various conditions (not that you're ever likely to take this off-road). At its most aggressive, it can lower the GTS by 3 inches from its highest point, suitable for track duty (not that you're ever likely to take this on a track).
The GTS features 20-inch wheels as standard, with new 21-inch or 22-inch forged wheels as an option. The brakes have been upgraded to painted six-piston calipers up front on 15-inch discs, with 13-inch discs in the rear.
How It Drives
I was able to get a few laps on a soaking-wet M1 Concourse track in the new GTS between rain squalls, but this is perhaps really the best way to test a new Maserati SUV. The V-8 in the Levante isn't a big one at just 3.8 liters, but you'd never know it when you punch up that starter button. It makes big engine noises, and when you've put all the settings into sport modes, it roars down the track like the true Italian motor it is. It's a glorious noise, accompanied by a seamless rush of power and a throttle response that's astonishingly dialed in given that this is a heavy SUV.
FCA seems to be getting quite good at making its big SUVs go really fast around a track, having successfully done so with the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The Maserati Levante GTS is no different; while nobody likely will ever drive one of these luxurious, expensive machines in anger around a road circuit, it can be used for such duty if needed — enjoyably at that. Maserati says that the GTS can get from zero-to-60 mph in just 4.0 seconds, which is exceptional for an SUV that weighs more than 4,700 pounds.
Both the new Levante GTS and Levante Trofeo are expected to be available late this year.
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