2018 Maserati Levante S review: First drive

Does slapping a 424bhp V6 Ferrari-developed petrol engine into the Maserati Levante SUV make much difference? Recombu Cars headed to Millbrook Proving Ground to find out.

Despite a lukewarm reception and pitchfork-wielding levels of uproar at the idea of a Maserati SUV (but not quite Lamborghini Urus levels), the Levante went on to sell in the tens of thousands and now represents a hefty portion of the Italian manufacturer’s total sales.

Maserati’s choice to hold back the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 – developed with the help of Ferrari – for the right-hand drive market was never going to help it receive a glowing reception, of course. But that is no longer an issue for the 2018 model, which has undergone a few revisions.

You can buy the Levante S in two flavours, with the only differences being aesthetic. GranSport is for those who want a sportier interior and exterior, while GranLusso prefers a more luxurious approach to your enjoyment.

We had a drive in both models (as well as the Granturismo MC) around Millbrook Proving Ground and on nearby public roads to see whether the Levante S is £76,995 well spent.

Maserati Levante S review: What’s new?

In GranLusso trim, the Levante S gets a touch of chrome as well as a different steering wheel, interior trim and 19-inch ‘Zefiro’ alloys. For the GranSport, expect red brake calipers, 20-inch ‘Nereo’ rims and piano black instead of chrome provide a stealthier look.

UK buyers have a choice of two engines, the aforementioned 3.0-litre V6 twin turbo, which outputs 352bhp in the standard Levante or 424bhp in the Levante S, and a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 271bhp. Just 20Nm separates the torque figures of the S and diesel, at 580 and 600Nm, respectively, although the latter gets all of it from 2,000rpm.

The 2018 Maserati Levante S also gets soft-close doors, which let you partially close them before a motor pulls them shut in near-silence, as well as Q4 all-wheel drive, torque vectoring, a limited-slip differential and new safety systems, including lane-keep assist and traffic sign recognition. Maserati has also changed the steering from hydraulic to electro-mechanical.

Maserati Levante S review: How does it drive?

For such a heavy car and one that is 5,003mm in length, Maserati has done a decent job of hiding its proportions to the point where it sits only slightly behind that of its rivals, such as the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5M, in terms of dynamic ability.

Unlike some sporty SUVs, which feel like they need to be driven hard to enjoy, the Levante S provides appealing contentment at low speeds, with the sizable V6 providing reassurance you have oodles of power on tap when you need it. You end up plodding along happy in the knowledge you could leave that VW Golf GTi for dust if you wanted to.

Though the suspension can feel jittery on smaller bumps, the standard air suspension system tends to smooth out the road in a way you expect from a luxury car. Effortless, smooth progress that elegantly reminds you how much you just spent on a four-wheeler.

On that note (pun intended), Maseratis are meant to sound good and the Levante S delivers with a gruff bark slightly reminiscient of an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Engaging sport mode makes the hum noticeably louder ─ and without the help of any artificial speaker trickery, unlike in the diesel – yet the ZF auto can keep the revs low for when you want quiet motoring.

We were concerned about the new steering system, but it is just about capable of letting you know if the front wheels are misbehaving. Maybe back to back drives of the old and Levante would highlight a substantial difference, but the new system certainly inspires confidence.

Though a far cry from what the Levante S was designed for, we managed to reach 130mph before gentle braking at Millbrook’s mile-long straight. The V6’s linear power delivery means it feels only moderately fast at best, but the 5.2-seconds 0-62mph is nothing to be sniffed at for a car that weighs around 2,100kg.

When bothering to use the flappy paddles, we were able rev the engine out much further, but the experience was only marginally more exciting than when we let the eight-speed AF automatic do all the work and about as quick. Whichever you prefer, expect to top out at 164mph, having been eased through every gear almost impercetibly.

Initiating sport mode and the Levante S feels more immediate, while a second press hardens the ‘Skyhook’ adaptive dampers, increases the weight of the steering and lowers the car by 20mm. The ride becomes tauter at the expense of comfort yet without being too harsh.

On the subject of suspension height, you can adjust how high up or down low the Levante S sits by some margin, reminding you of its SUV provenance. It also has a mode for creeping down a steep slope at glacial speeds, which let us smoothly creep down a steep gravel slope at Millbrook’s off-road section. Being able to control the speed using the cruise control buttons on the steering wheel is another useful, if niche feature seen on ‘proper’ SUVs.

Maserati Levante S review: Practicality and boot space

With a boot space of 580 litres, the Levante S is decent but by no means class-leading. Still, it does have 60:40 split-folding rear seats, a powered tailgate as standard (operable in numerous ways without needing to touch a button, we should add), ISOFIX fittings for the outer rear seats, 12-way electrically adjustable front seats and front seat heating.

Not only that, Maserati’s improved infotainment system is easier to use and features a easy to read 8.4-inch display, and there is keyless entry so you can get in and out of the Levante S without having to make any effort.

As for overall cabin space, the Levante’s 3.003mm wheelbase helps provide ample leg room in the back if you happen to be around six-foot (but less than you would expect from its grand proportions), while the head room is similarly plentiful although that maybe a different story with the optional panoramic roof.

Though ergonomically sound, the luxurious cabin is let down by a multitude of chea plastic buttons that would be acceptable in a Stelvio, but never a car at this price point. Still, at least the sensible layout means you never really have to look at them for long.

Maserati Levante S review: UK price, specs and running costs

Prices start from £76,995 for both the GranLusso and GranSport and orders are open now, with examples arriving in showrooms in December, 2017. Go diesel and you can expect to pay from £62,490.

The press fleet GranSport we drove came in at £89,827.31, thanks to the added silk of the Zegna interior (£1,035), front seat ventilation (£800), cold weather pack (£1,200) and driver assistance package (£2,523.50).

In fairness, the standard spec is strong enough to avoid needing too much on top, but even if you do go a bit crazy you can still keep it below ─ or at least competitive ─ with that of its pricier competitors. Highlights include the 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system.

Having a low drag coefficient of 0.31 means the Levante S can cut through the air nicely, although 253g/km of CO2 means it will be pricey to tax in the first year (the lower output V6 comes in at 249g/km) and rather thirsty, even with the help of stop and start technology. Then again, will someone spending £77,000 on an SUV really notice?

Maserati Levante S review: Should I buy one, then?

If you crave an SUV that is all about performance, you are probably better off in a dynamically superior Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5 M or potentially the more powerful but less luxurious Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. That is despite the Levante S being one of the closest things to a Ferrari SUV.

For those who prefer to cruise, however, the Levante S is marvellously unflustered. Cheap buttons and plastics spoil the experience somewhat, but you are still getting a lot of luxury SUV for your money. Not just in terms of refinement, but also exclusivity, enjoyment, and desirability.

You could do a lot worse if the idea of going German is too predictable or uninspiring, especially when that trident badge still manages to be held in such high regard.

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