As many of you are probably aware (after all you’re a bright bunch), the translation of the Italian word Levante means ‘to rise’ as in ‘the sun rising in the east’, thus making it the ideal moniker for Maserati’s SUV. Call it fate or sublime forethought, but the Levante has risen to the top of their model range and has provided a new touch of Italian style to the SUV segment. Maserati launched with a diesel powertrain and followed this up with a V6 petrol engine built in Maranello, both of which I travelled to Australia to drive, however, there’s a lot to be said about experiencing vehicles on your home turf. With that in mind, Maserati kindly handed me the keys to their Levante S—time to hit terra firma Aotearoa, Italiana style.
At a shade over 5m in length (arguably the longest in the segment), 2m wide and 1.7m tall, this is not a compact SUV, but even dressed in Pearlescent Biance Alpi (which I believe is Alpine White), the Levante carries its size well. Born in Turin, it has charismatic Italian style, sweet lines and broad rear shoulders that cut through the wind tunnel with an aerodynamic drag co-efficiency figure of 0.31—that’s remarkably slick.
I had been given the GranSport model which offered more gloss black accents to the exterior (and in particular the polarising, Tipo 60 birdcage inspired grille), front and rear skid plates, 21-inch alloy wheels and bright red brake callipers. It’s unmistakably a Maserati and wears the Trident logo and Saetta badging (on the rear quarter panel) with pride.
Open the frameless doors (complete with acoustic glass) and the Italian refinement continues. The furniture and majority of the dashboard are lavished with fine leather, which in my case was Rosso red, the headlining is Alcantara and stunning carbon fibre highlights throughout. My Levante S came with carbon fibre steering wheel inserts, paddles and a full-length panoramic sunroof that let the spacious cabin simply bathe in light. The SUV’s coupe styling still allows for plenty of leg and headroom for five people and offers 580 litres of rear luggage space. The seats are comfortable and cradling but one small thing, I’m reliably informed that the seatbelts are a little tricky to engage at the rear.
When it comes to infotainment and driver’s aids, the Levante S is fully loaded. With an analogue and digital instrument cluster and an 8.4-inch touchscreen, it offers up sounds by Harman Kardon and access to electronic wizardry such as 360-degree cameras (with multi-views), apps, Bluetooth connectivity, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
Then there’s the engine. A Maranello-built twin-turbo V6, with 321kW and 580Nm it will take the Levante S from 0-100km/h in 5.2seconds and up to a top speed of 264km/h. The combined fuel-efficiency is 10.9l/100km and CO2 emissions sit at 253g/km—but it’s that sound under revs that’s truly captivating. There are a variety of driving mode options on the centre console. The Levante is a highly capable off-tarmac vehicle with an adaptive suspension that can be raised and lowered. It has an ICE mode (increased control and efficiency) and a Manual mode (for using those large aluminium paddles), but it also has Sport and Sport II. Among other (possibly more important things), engaging Sport opens the exhaust baffles, letting the true Italian sportscar out and Sports II makes the Levante S hunker down ready for action—Of course Sports II was my prefered mode—bellissimo.
With V6 guns ablazing and frequent use of paddles, the Levante S turns from mild to wild. It’s thrilling and fun, noisy and yet obedient, it’s easy to forget that it’s still a large SUV. Sounds on full, all windows and roof open, the Rodney district roads became the Italian Alps, at least for a little while. Revving up and down the eight-speed box and listening to that throaty V6 roar—ahhh.
The Maserati Levante S GranSport hits that sweet spot of Italian style and sporting finesse. It’s head-turningly different, offering the deeply familiar scent of fine leather with the high revving sound of a race car (when pushed). By adding the V6 powertrain to the range, Maserati has raised the game, but I’ve also just heard that they’ve raised it again, so stay tuned for more.
Words: Dave McLeod