More and more luxury sports car makers are beginning to break with convention and release SUVs. This month we say hello to Maserati’s beautiful, and blisteringly fast, Levante S.
By Ghaith Madadha
Highly anticipated since the Italian brand’s 2003 and 2011 Kubang concept SUVs, the Maserati Levante finally debuted in Jordan last month. It was worth the wait. Dramatically designed, sensationally swift, sporty on-road and capable off-road, Maserati’s gambit into the ever-expanding premium SUV segment is expected to drastically expand the brand’s sales and client demographic.
The Levante, which was anticipated by some pundits to be based on its’ FCA group Jeep Grand Cherokee cousin, is however distinctly sporting, sharing its sophisticated architecture and rear-biased Q4 four-wheel-drive system with its’ sports luxury saloon Ghibli and Quattroporte sisters.
The Levante’s fascia is strongly influenced by the 2014 Maserati Alfieri coupe concept. But it’s taller and more aggressively dominant. Its evocative aesthetic includes heavily browed slim headlights with inwardly tilted LED running lights, and a luxuriously long sculpted bonnet. Clearly visible behind the grille, automatically closing radiator slats help achieve best in class CD0.31 aerodynamics. Meanwhile, a rising waistline, descending roofline with big tailgate spoiler, and quad rear tailpipes lend a sense of road-hugging urgency.
Powered by a Ferrari-built 3-liter direct injection twin-turbo V6 engine and offered in two states of tune, the range-topping Levante S develops 424 BHP at 5,750 rpm. While a muscular avalanche of 369 lb/ft is available over a broad and flexible 1,750-5,000 rpm mid-range, underwriting power accumulation. Swift off-the-line with quick-spooling turbos, the 2,109 kg Levante S is startlingly swift, with a 5.2-second 0-100 km/h acceleration and a 264 km/h top speed. The additional 79 BHP on tap lends it a more urgent character than the entry-level model, with a punchier gushingly powerful top-end.
Riding on adaptive air suspension with sophisticated double wishbone front and five-link rear design, the Levante S absorbs road imperfections well and feels planted at high speed, where its suspension automatically lowers to a 175 mm ride height. The top-end Levante S version features firmer damper and front anti-roll bar rates and feels sharper, stiffer, and more controlled through corners. It firmly keeps lateral weight shift in check and corners with unexpected and flat poise for a vehicle of its height and weight.
The Levante S is eager into corners and reassuringly grippy throughout, with quick and precise steering, vast 265/45R20 front and 295/40R20 rear tires and automatic brake-based torque vectoring driver assistance. Its Q4 four-wheel-drive apportions 100 percent power rearwards in default mode for agility and balance. On low traction surfaces or hard-driven corners, it sends up to 50 percent power frontwards wheels to pull out of a corner while a mechanical limited-slip rear-differential redistributes power where it’s needed along the rear axle.
Capable off-road, the Levante S made short work of difficult dirt and gravel trails on test drive in Italy, and easily overcame steep low traction inclines. With two off-road modes, ground clearance incrementally rises from default 210 mm to 247 mm to easily cross deep ruts and rocks. Its pre-set off-road modes recalibrate electronic stability and drive-line systems for off-road driving, while a low-set front-facing camera provides much enhanced visibility.
Hunkered down but ergonomic inside, the Levante S offers generous rear head and legroom. Driving position is well-adjustable, supportive, and comfortable, while cabin design and layouts are classy and sporty, featuring quality materials. It has a myriad of customization and equipment possibilities, including heated/ventilated seats, panoramic sunroof, user-friendly high resolution 8.4-inch touchscreen, and Harmon Kardon and Bowers & Wilkins sound systems. Assistance systems include stop/go adaptive cruise control, hill descent control, parking assistance, rear and surround view cameras and blind spot, lane departure and forward collision warnings.