Maseratiâ€™s SUV could unlock a new, high-volume age for the supercar maker.Â Is this petrol-engined version the key?
Since it went on sale in 2016, the Levante SUV has doubled Maseratiâ€™s output. That makes it a massively important vehicle for the company, especially bearing in mind the fact that nine out of 10 Levante buyers will be coming to the Maserati brand for the first time.
This new Levante S marks the debut of a right-hand drive petrol version of the SUV in the UK.Â Initially, you could only get a V6 diesel-powered LevanteÂ here, and even Maserati has been forced to acknowledge the main failing of that model â€“ its absence of a rousing Maser-style exhaust note.
Maserati Levante S GranSport
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, twin-turbo,Â petrol
Torque: 428lb ft
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 2109kg
Top speed: 164mph
Fuel economy: 25.9mpg
CO2, tax band: 253g/km, 37%
Now, marque fans are no longer restricted to the dull rumble of diesel. The Sâ€™s Ferrari-built 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine produces 424bhp and 428lb ft of torque at 4500rpm. Its 0-62mph time is given as 5.2 seconds and the top speed is a useful 164mph. The economy figures are, predictably, less pleasing: 25.9mpg and 253g/km of CO2 compared to the dieselâ€™s 39.2mpg claimed average.
On either fuel derivative, thereâ€™s an option to upgrade to either GranSport (sportier looking with black body trim pieces and shaped sports seats) or GranLusso (more luxurious, with exterior chrome and body-coloured trim pieces and cabin wood instead of carbonfibre). 2018 cars also feature new electric power steering and some â€˜level-twoâ€™ advanced driver assist systems such as lane keep assist and road sign recognition.
The Levante S aims to walk a line between performance and luxury: smooth and sophisticated or quick and sporty, according to your needs. It pulls off that balancing act pretty well, without being gob-smackingly excellent at either. Maseratiâ€™s engineers have done a good job.
Air suspension is standard on all Levantes. The first cars were a bit spiky in their ride, butÂ this new Levante S is more efficient at absorbing road imperfections. Step into a Cayenne and youâ€™ll notice the Porsche is one step above it in terms of ride compliance, but the Maserati fights back with good wind noise exclusion courtesy of its frameless, double-glazed windows.
Although thereâ€™s little mechanical noise from the V6 engine, it does conjure up a distant rasp through its exhaust. The eight-speed automatic gearbox isnâ€™t a twin-clutcher but works well at pottering speeds. Manual mode gives fast and precise cog-swapping via stylish aluminium paddles.
In its first stage, Sport mode enlivens the gearshifts, the throttle mapping and the exhaust noise, and although you wouldn’t characterise it as neck-snappingly quick in the same way that a Cayenne Turbo is, you do really start to sense the enhanced freedom of the petrol engine versus the diesel. Itâ€™s much more appealing from a driving pleasure point of view.
Click Sport mode up into stage two to lower the ride height by 20mm and tighten up the suspension damping. The smaller, similarly-priced Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is more exciting, but the Levante S manages surprisingly well through fast bends, retaining composure and flatness even on winter tyres. Thereâ€™s no shortage of front-end bite or mid-corner adjustability. The handling balance is good.
We never really rated the old hydraulic steering rack, so the arrival of this new electric system is no heartbreak. Itâ€™s sharp, accurate and nicely weighted.
Few Levante owners are likely to go charging around in deep mud, but if they do they will be pleasantly surprised by their carsâ€™ ability. It will scramble up loose, squelchy tracks and ford a couple of feetâ€™s worth of water. The four-wheel drive systemâ€™s default setting is to send all power to the back axle, diverting up to half of it to the front wheels if slip is noticed, or if the off-road button is pressed to hoist the ride height.
Some bits of cabin trim come across as less than bespoke, but essentially the Levante is rather nice inside, with good-quality leatherÂ and a genuine sense of integrity. A Range Rover Sport tops it for poshness, but non-RR-owning Levante drivers will be perfectly happy with what theyâ€™ve got.
The Levante S delivers a handy package of abilities allied a certain style. At Â£70,755 for the entry-level models and Â£76,995 for the GranSport or GranLusso versions, it will cost you a little more thanÂ the equally powerful Porsche Cayenne S, but a little less than a far less powerful 334bhp Range Rover Sport. With the arrival of this new petrol engine, the Levante is finally powered by something that matches the brandâ€™s aspirations.