First Drive: Maserati Levante
Maserati adds an SUV for broader appeal, but it’ll always be a bit-part player, says Kyle Fortune.
SECTOR: SUV PRICE: £54,335 FUEL: 39mpg CO2: 189g/km
At the launch of the Quattroporte back in 2012, Maserati’s people said its 6,000 annual sales would increase nearly ten-fold in the coming years. Since then, we’ve seen the Ghibli saloon enter the E-Class and 5 Series marketplace to help that, but those ambitious figures are pinned on the Levante, Maserati’s first ever SUV.
Such is the dominance of SUVs in some market segments that Maserati’s general manager Northern Europe, Peter Denton, says that, without it, Maserati: “only has presence in 12% of the luxury marketplace, with the Levante that increases to 50%.”
We’re still talking tiny numbers in comparison to the big German players, but, as Maserati itself admits, the Levante offers a unique alternative. It’s the only all-Italian offering in the marketplace (at least until Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio arrives), one of its key strengths being that it’s not one of the Germanic or British default options.
It’s a shame then that, grille and three vented wings aside, there’s a touch of the Mazda CX-5 to its looks, the rear view in particular reminding us of the Japanese car. Bigger wheel options and colour choices help, of course, and the options list is as expansive as it is expensive. Pricing starts at £54,335 for the base diesel model, but the likelihood is that most will be up and around the £60,000 mark, pitching it into a varied and competitive marketplace.
Maserati is quick to point out that this is, excuse the marketing-speak, ‘the Maserati of SUVs’, with an emphasis on the driving experience. Elsewhere it’ll be offered with turbocharged Ferrari-built V6 petrol engines, but the UK gets a single 275hp V6 turbodiesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The four-wheel drive system sends most of its drive to the rear, though it can, when required, send as much as 50% of the engine torque to the front axle. It’ll get you off-road if you want it too, though just don’t expect to be chasing Range Rover Sports into the furthest reaches of the wilderness.
Hardly a complaint; and it’ll get you as far into the mire as you’ll ever need to. Our chief criticism of the Levante is that it doesn’t feel as quick as its numbers suggest it will. The V6 turbodiesel’s 272bhp and 443lb/ft of torque has to shift a not insubstantial 2,205kg, which blunts its performance, so 6.9 seconds to 62mph is not that alarming in an Audi SQ5, Jaguar F-Pace or Porsche Macan Diesel S world. Emissions of 189g/km are high against such rivals, too. Sure, the Levante’s a bit bigger, but those driver-focused alternatives are on the money price-wise.
Space is decent rather than generous, while that sloping rear window and lengthy bonnet make manoeuvring a touch tricky. You need to work that diesel too, the weight denying it the urgency that marks out the best of its performance competitors.
Dynamically, the Maserati’s not quite up with the most adept of its rivals. Admirably agile, it doesn’t offer the sort of driver focus some might hope for, the standard air suspension doing its best to deliver a focused drive, but doing so sometimes at the expense of ride comfort. There’s some noise from that diesel engine too, and the interior, where it’s not covered in expensive optional leather, feels cheap to the touch. That’s an issue when even mainstream offerings offer more tactile feeling plastics, and a problem at this premium price point.
That’s true across the range, though, and it’s not stopped Maserati increasing its sales as it has introduced new models. Thanks to the Levante that trend is only likely to grow, even if it’s only a middling offering in a very competitive market.
What we think
Buyers will love the fact that Levant is different, for those who dare it’s not without appeal on difference alone, but otherwise it’s difficult to make a logical case for it.