There’s big money in SUVs right now. That’s never been a secret here in the U.S., where our love affair with utilities was sparked in the mid to late ’80s and the flames have been fanned ever since. But abroad, old world European countries with tight, winding municipalities have been a tougher sell. Until recently, at least.
The market for SUVs — and the margins they generate — have been so alluring that even Lamborghini is getting in on the game. Bentley is as well, Rolls-Royce is putting its name in the hat, Porsche has been at it for over a decade, and BMW utes are staples at nearly every Whole Foods across the country. So naturally, Maserati wants in, and after a couple of years of teasing, the Levante has landed.
Drawing cues from the Alfieri concept car, the Levante looks like Maserati took its Ghibli sedan and … made an SUV out of it. That’s by no means a shot at Maserati; the Ghibli is a very handsome car, and considering how easy it is to mess up a good thing, Maserati did an admirable job supplanting the car’s sporty DNA into the lumbering frame of an SUV.
After getting hands on with the floor model in New York, we walked away generally impressed overall. The Levante is handsome, quietly masculine, and as elegant in its appearance as a Maserati should be. Inside, the cabin (the floor model was a richly appointed Ermenegildo Zegna model) is inviting and warm, not the modern cacophony of carbon fiber and aluminum being adopted by so many high-end marques. High points included the robust caramel leather, silk accenting, tasteful use of wood and aluminum, and the paddle shifters mounted to the wheel have a wonderful premium heft to them.
However, there were some drawbacks. Dials, window switches, headlight switch, start/stop system, HVAC, and UConnect system were immediately recognizable from the Chrysler 300C we reviewed. Though the materials in the seats, dash, and the other components all felt top-notch — especially in Zegna kit — Fiat-Chrysler’s rummaging in the parts bin was disappointing to see on what is one of Italy’s most prestigious brands.
The analog clockface on the dash may not compare directly with the Bentley Bentayga’s $160,000 Breitling for Bentley Mulliner Tourbillon, but it’s a nice touch in what is overall a very classy cabin. The leather is top-shelf as you would expect for a Maserati, and overall, it feels a nice place to spend some time.
The Levante, which starts at a cool $72,000, is powered by a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V6 with 345 horsepower. The Levante S ($83,000) will see the same engine pull duty, but with 424 horsepower instead, lessening its zero-60 time to 5.0 seconds from 5.8.
Maserati has a solid challenge ahead, as it will contend in a segment that also fields vehicles like the Porsche Cayenne, Land Rover’s Range Rovers, the soon-to-be-born in the U.S. Jaguar F-Pace, and even the Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid (which starts at $68,000). Maserati seems up to the task, though; it’s said that it will look into automating various portions of the Levante driving experience.
Maserati might be taking advantage of its proximity to the Fiat-Chrysler parts bin, and business-wise, it’d be silly not to. But the measure of the Levante won’t be in the HVAC controls or the stop/start button. If the Levante can drive like a Maserati, than it shouldn’t have anything to worry about.