When you imagine testing a Maserati, you typically hope for pleasant, warm weather. However, when testing the Levante GTS SUV, a little time spent experiencing different types of weather would make for a better test. Well, we got plenty of everything in our week with the Levante GTS – ice, rain, snow, and sun. The temperatures ranged from -10F to 50F. Roads that ranged from iced-over to dry. So we got a pretty good impression of how good the Levante is in nearly every condition. And how is it? It’s magnificent.
The Levante is a sharp looking SUV from every angle. It has no bad lines it’s very well proportioned, and exudes both refinement and sportiness. It looks unique and distinct from nearly everything else on the market. Photos don’t do it justice. It has a presence that just doesn’t translate well in photos. From the large slatted grill punctuated with Maserati’s Trident through the rear-wheel arches to the fastback rear roofline, the Levante has an aggressive but refined appearance. It looks well balanced on it’s large 22” wheels, which are filled with some of the largest Brembo brakes you’ll ever lay eyes on.
Inside, soft leather covers nearly everything. Carbon fiber is used heavily throughout, along with bright metal accents. Everything is well-presented, stylish, and comfortable. Both front and rear seats as well as the steering wheel are heated. The fronts are also ventilated. They are very comfortable. Everything is electrically adjustable for the perfect seating position. Behind the leather wrapped, Trident-embossed steering wheel are large column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters. Aluminum pedals dominate the footwell. The rear seats fold flat to provide plenty of cargo capacity. A large panoramic sunroof provides skylight views for the rear seat passengers. The infotainment system provides climate, seating, radio, and sat-nav controls. It’s a car you’d be happy to ride in for hours.
For a number of years the Levante was only available with Maserati’s 3.0L V6 engine, which offered decent performance, but it is now available in several trim levels with some different engine options. The GTS that we tested arrived with a Ferrari-designed and built turbocharged 3.8L V8 that makes 550hp and 538 lb-ft of torque. It’s a remarkably smooth and powerful engine that growls and snarls when properly prompted. Power is transferred through an 8-speed automatic transmission to Maserati’s Q4 AWD system that relies principally on the rear wheels to put down most of the power and using the front wheels to enhance traction whenever necessary. The powerful V8 authoritatively and aggressively moves the Levante with ease, reaching 60 mph in a startling 4 seconds and boasting a top speed in excess of 180 mph. When the roads aren’t ice anyway….
There are several different driving modes available through a column of buttons flanking the electronic shifter on the center console. Off-Road will tune the transmission for slow but torquey power delivery and will raise the body a few inches higher on the chassis for ground clearance using an air-suspension system. I.C.E, which stands for Integrated Control and Efficiency, dulls the engine and transmission’s sharp reflexes and power inputs to help maintain control and poise in inclement weather. We used it in freezing rain and it delivered excellent control after the roads became a treacherous sheet of ice. It inspires incredible confidence. Finally, there’s Sport, which quickens the reflexes of the engine, transmission, and suspension while opening up the exhaust enough to improve the incredible sounds the Ferrari-designed engine emanates.
The Maserati Skyhook suspension does a great job of keeping the Levante composed at all times. The ride is firm yet giving, never harsh. It absorbs bumps and potholes with ease to give it’s occupants an extremely comfortable ride. You never complain about potholes or bumps as the suspension simply absorbs them. The ride is incredibly smooth and gives the Levante the high-end feel it should command. Coupled with the Skyhook electronically adjustable suspension is Maserati’s air suspension that allows to you adjust the ride height of the Levante. There are two height settings above normal and two height settings below what’s normal; higher for extra ground clearance and lower for improved aerodynamics for speed. The height is automatically set by whatever ride mode you select, but there’s a switch on the center console that allows to you adjust it yourself, even it it’s just to show off. It’s quite a trick system and adjusts quickly.
Driving the Levante GTS is a dream. Slide into the driver’s seat, adjust your mirrors, fasten your seatbelt, and push the Start/Stop button to the left of the steering wheel and the V8 roars to life – loudly – before settling into a quiet but insistent idle. Seriously – starting it is an event. I used the remote starter every morning and the thrum of the engine starting was noticeable from ANY place in my house. It causes the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up and butterflies to flit about your stomach. A Machiavellian grin will creep across your face in the anticipation of climbing behind the wheel.
The gear selector is electronic and located on the center console. It’s similar to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio’s unit in operation and works just as well. Slip it into “D” and away we go. The Levante GTS is composed and quiet in operation. Smoother than any SUV has a right to be. It does exactly what you ask of it in any situation, no questions asked. The only time it gets loud is when you stomp the throttle pedal – then the insistent growl of the engine grows into a typhoon-like roar and the Levante GTS unleashes it’s power on the unsuspecting public. Passing isn’t a problem. Give it full throttle and by the time you’re past the slower car, you’ll be doing well over 100mph. Back off, pull back into your lane and it quiets right back down, returning to it’s civil nature.
Should you decide you want to have some fun, press the Sport Mode and the Suspension buttons. The Levante exhaust opens up just enough to hear that delicious V8 rumble and the suspension lowers the body down about 1.5” into Aero Mode 1. The engine and transmission both sharpen their responses to give it an aggressive and sporting feel. Give it some throttle and the V8 rumble becomes a V8 roar, becomes a whooshing hurricane. Engage the paddle shifters and you can have full control over the transmission too, upshifting and downshifting to whatever gear YOU think you should be in. Downshift and the engine blips to match the engine’s revs. You will almost always find yourself exceeding the speed limit. It can’t be helped. Invest in a good radar detector. The Levante corners confidently, with very little lean. The drive wheels hook up positively to the asphalt and the Levante explodes up the road with the slightest adjudication of the throttle.
When the weather gets lousy though, the Levante has you covered. It does fine in it’s normal drive mode, but when the roads are covered in an inch of ice, it’s advisable to push the I.C.E. button. This dulls the reflexes of the engine and transmission, allowing for slow deliberate movements and throttle applications that keep the Levante more stable under lousy conditions. The Q4 system works invisibly behind the scenes, but it works hard to control slip and keep the car going in the direction you intend. Despite school and work closings due to ice on the roads, the Levante did a superb job of accelerating, braking, and going down the road straight under the worst of conditions. While most traffic on the freeway was working hard to maintain 40 mph speeds and stay on the road, the Levante was comfortable doing nearly 70mph with no issues.
You could feel the car wiggle once in a while as it slid on the ice but the Q4 system immediately transfered power between wheels to keep it going straight and confidently down the road. And when the snow gets deep, you can select the Off-Road button to give you additional ground clearance to keep the body from dragging through the snow and creating additional drag or damaging the underside on chunks of ice. The climate control system did a wonderful job of keeping the occupants warm on the coldest of days. We noticed a few plastic creaks behind the dash early on our drives on those coldest of days when temperatures fell to -20 F but they disappeared once the cabin warmed up and we didn’t hear them the rest of the time we had it.
The heart of the beast is that Ferrari-built V8 engine though. It provides so much character, so much power, and such a good soundtrack that you quickly fall in love with it. The Levante has always been one of the nicest looking SUV’s on the market and adding the V8 pushes it over the top and makes it one of the most desirable SUV’s, period.
It’s luxurious, it’s a serious sports machine, it’s a capable cargo hauler, it’s stunning to look at, it’s sure-footed and safe, and it’s built like a bank vault. It’s probably my favorite SUV I’ve ever reviewed.
The only thing I could find to nit-pick in the Levante GTS was that the seatbelts could be a little difficult to fasten because of the tight space between the seats and center console. Perhaps slightly longer seatbelt receivers would be nice. But that’s about it. The Levante GTS was really almost…flawless. I don’t know that I can say that about any other car I’ve tested. Maserati have done their homework with this car and have earned a solid A+. Very well done, Maserati.