Review cars long enough and a pattern emerges. Car is dropped off, people find out what you’re driving, ask a couple of cursory questions, and that’s it. That’s because while most of the crossovers and SUVs I review are compelling in their own way, they are still yet-another SUV.
Not so with the Maserati Levante S GranSport.
No car that I’ve driven has garnered as many looks and questions as Maserati’s $80,000+ SUV, and for good reason. It’s a stunner.
Maserati has a long and storied history. Founded in 1914, the company is probably best known these days for making fast, expensive, and luxurious cars that are easy on the eyes. The Levante is no exception. It’s all sleek, gentle curves on the outside with the hood in perfect proportion to the cabin. Although it’s a two-row SUV, it’s only 2 inches (5cm) shorter than three-row SUVs like the Audi Q7 and Mazda CX-9 and about 5 inches (12.5cm) longer than a Q5 or BMW X5. From the side, the exterior is adorned only with the iconic trident on the C pillar and three vents right as the hood slopes into the windshield. From the front, the trident sits dead center in the large grille with a large air intake below.
I spent a week behind the wheel of a Maserati Levante S GranSport with a sticker price of $91,660. The base model is priced at $74,750, but if you want to get into the Levante S model, you can add $11,000 right off the bat to the MSRP. The Levante S offers an upgraded powertrain and brakes, a panoramic sunroof, parking sensors, remote start, 19-inch wheels, and better brakes. The GranSport trim adds 20-inch aluminum wheels, massive red calipers, premium speaker system, a rear spoiler, black roof rails, and a leather sport steering wheel. The GranLusso trim goes in a more luxurious direction, with ventilated front seats, wood trim, and black calipers.
The Levante has the hardware befitting the badge. It’s powered by a 3.0L, twin-turbo, Ferrari-made V6 engine that offers up 424hp (316kW) and 428ft-lb (580Nm) of torque. That translates to a top speed of 164mph (264km/h) and a zero-to-60 time of 5.0 seconds. There’s an eight-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel drive with rear limited slip differential, double-wishbone front suspension, and a multilink suspension with adjustable air springs in the rear.
A lot of Maserati with a pinch of Chrysler
Maserati manages to pull off the luxurious-but-tasteful combination with the Levante. The bolstered, 12-way-adjustable sport seats are black leather trimmed with red stitching, and the head rests are embossed with the Maserati trident. I’ve found some SUV sport seats to be too rigid or not very comfortable for long drives, most notably with BMW and the Levante’s cheaper, four-cylinder cousin, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. By contrast, the Levante seats manage to be inviting, comfortable, and supportive all at the same time.
The dashboard is black with red stitching, and there’s an analog clock with a Maserati logo sitting dead center. The red stitching continues on to the doors, and the inevitable carbon fiber accents are confined to the center console. The back seat seats three—two comfortably, plus one in the middle—and there’s plenty of room in the rear for adults to sit comfortably. If the middle seat is unoccupied, a combination armrest and cupholder folds down from the seat back. There’s a 12v outlet in back along with a pair of air vents that are controlled from the front.
If you’re wondering about the dose of Chrysler, it shows up in two places. First is the steering wheel. Maserati has smartly gone along with the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep convention of putting the radio and volume controls behind the steering wheel. There’s enough room between the aluminum paddle shifters and the back of the steering wheel for the driver to easily change stations or crank up the volume. That design choice results in an uncluttered, leather-wrapped steering wheel with driver-assist controls on the left and instrument panel/voice controls on the right.
Sticks and infotainment
The other place you’ll notice a bit of Chrysler is with the infotainment system, which appears to be standard uConnect with a Maserati skin. As a reviewer, it was a bit odd to see the same infotainment system on the same 8.4-inch touchscreen that was in the Chrysler Pacifica minivan I had driven a few months previously. I quizzed my neighbors and passengers throughout the week on whether the display looked out of place in a Maserati, and the verdict was split.
Regardless, uConnect is an excellent infotainment system—better in some ways than that used in Alfas—so I can’t really fault Maserati for using it. The only downside is that the glossy display makes for an excellent fingerprint-smudge collector. The Levante does have a dial on the central console that can be used to change stations and the like, à la BMW and Audi. But it feels like it was slapped on at the end of the design process. My only complaint about uConnect is the same one I had with the Pacifica: I had to use it in order to turn on the seat heat or ventilation. There’s also a full suite of climate controls under the display.
The center console is trimmed with lots of carbon fiber. Cupholders are concealed under a touch-sensitive opening, and a small space under the climate controls holds an honest-to-goodness cigarette lighter. Thirty years ago, I guess that little compartment would’ve been an ashtray, but now it’s a handy place to put your phone, and it has both auxiliary and USB ports for connecting to the infotainment system. Go for the USB option, and you can use CarPlay or Android Auto, which are both supported by Maserati. The console also contains a climate-controlled compartment with still more cupholders (but not the 19 in the Subaru Ascent).
I’m not a fan of the Maserati gear shift lever. No matter whether you’re in park, reverse, neutral, or drive, the shifter sits in the same place. When shifting gears, you need to count or feel the number of “ticks” the shifter makes. I found myself going from drive to park or park to neutral when I wanted to go to reverse or drive. Next to the shifter is a row of buttons for sport, economy, and off-road mode, along with traction control and manual shifting. There’s also a control for raising and lowering the suspension.
Can you hear me now?
Climb into the Levante and the doors close with a very quiet “thunk.” Think the Levante looks great? It sounds even better. Hit the start button, and you’re rewarded with a deep, satisfying rumble. It’s , too—no piped-in engine noise like some German automakers that will remain nameless. It’s also about all you’ll hear from outside the cabin. The Levante is a very quiet ride.
In addition to quiet, the Levante is smooth and comfortable. The air-spring suspension insulates you from potholes and other bits of rough road, unless you put the car into off-road mode, and then you’ll feel them all perfectly. That suspension is adjustable, too, based on driving mode. Putting the Levante in off-road mode will raise the car about an inch (25mm, to be exact) to provide more clearance. Sport mode does the opposite, lowering the car’s center of gravity for better handling. The suspension also drops the car down when you turn off the ignition to make it easier to get out of the car.
Sport mode is fun. Hitting the button opens up the exhaust valves and activates overboost. The accelerator is now more responsive, and if you leave it in automatic, the shift points are delayed. If you want to use the aluminum paddle shifters, the Manual button is your gateway to higher, louder RPMs. If you forget to downshift, and the RPMs drop too low, the car will gladly take over for you.
Oh, and part of the fun of sport mode is the sound. With the opened exhaust valves, the engine sound acquires a deeper timbre, one that practically begs you to put the pedal to the metal. Lastly is ICE (Increased Control & Efficiency) mode, which not only gives you better fuel economy but is suggested for snowy, icy conditions.
The Levante is rated at 20mpg on the highway and 14mpg in the city. During a week of driving that was a good mixture of urban, suburban, and highway, I got 16.9mpg. But I imagine fuel economy is a… lesser concern for those thinking about buying a Levante.
On the highway, the Levante is a pleasure to drive. With the five-second 0-to-60 team, there’s plenty of acceleration on hand when you need it. On narrow, winding country roads, though, the Levante was telling me to take it easy. It’s not exactly top-heavy, but the vehicle does have that this-is-definitely-an-SUV feeling when cornering. At 66 inches (168cm) high and over 4,600lb (about 2,100kg), that feeling should come as no surprise. No matter what kind of driving you’re doing, however, the Levante is up to the task—and that included driving through a muddy vacant lot, in my case.
Maserati offers most of the driver-assist tech you would want from a luxury SUV, with the exception of a heads-up display. Via uConnect, you can choose between lane-departure warning or full-out lane-keep assist, both of which can be accompanied by your choice of beeps and/or vibrations. Lane-keep assist works as expected, although it struggled to detect faded lane markers at times. The Levante includes stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, making bumper-to-bumper traffic much less infuriating. Pulling into tight parking spaces is made easier by the included 360° camera view.
At the end of my week with the Levante, I was sorry to see it go, and not just because I would no longer be driving a Maserati. I was sad because it is an excellently designed, well-thought-out car. The interior and exterior design choices are impeccable, the ride is quiet and luxurious, and the SUV is genuinely enjoyable to drive. There’s plenty of speed whenever you need it, and if you care about being noticed, this is the kind of car that will turn heads and start conversations. Your passengers will enjoy the ride, and there’s enough cargo room for a long road trip or a trip to Home Depot (although I have a hard time visualizing someone loading the back of a Maserati Levante with a couple hundred pounds of brick pavers or mulch).
If you feel the need to spend upwards of $90,000 on an SUV—and that is a very real market segment for SUVs at this point in history—I have no qualms about recommending the Levante. You won’t be disappointed.