We demand more from Maserati.
"Undoubtedly SUV, unmistakably Maserati. The Levante is born from our grand touring tradition to take you anywhere," says Maserati on its website. Presumably, that means the Maserati Levante Trofeo was born to take you anywhere really fast, as it uses a Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V8 for power. The Trofeo is Maserati's performance trim, and its 580 horsepower puts it firmly in the super SUV class with heavy-hitters like the Lamborghini Urus, Audi RS Q8, and Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT.
We were surprised when a 2022 Masarati Levante Trofeo showed up at our office wearing a suit of Fuoriserie Urban Green metallic paint and dripping with style and swagger. We only had a weekend with the vehicle, so we logged as many miles as we could to see if it had the comfort and performance chops to back up its demeanor. We were surprised to see the 2022 model, knowing the Ferrari-derived V8 would be dropped shortly for the 2023 model. The next generation will use Maserati's in-house designed Nettuno V6, currently only available with the Maserati MC20 supercar.
The standard Levante's shape and lines have already done most of the work to elevate the SUV over the competition in the style category. With few exterior additions to the Trofeo model, like upgraded wheels, a tailgate spoiler, quad exhaust pipes, and three small vents on each fender with the new Trofeo badge above, it manages to be subtle compared to most other super SUVs. Still, it retains a commanding presence on the road. Part of that is down to the blacked-out grille, mirror surrounds, window surrounds, and side badging, but most is down to Maserati's designers nailing the design of the SUV in the first place.
Inside the Levante, it feels more like a full-size SUV than a mid-size crossover, which extends to the view out of the windscreen and the space available. The seats are wide, the seatbacks are firm, and there's plenty of adjustability, including excellent lumbar support. However, these are not sports seats and there is little bolstering, and that's a head-scratcher in a vehicle that encourages you to go fast around corners. It suggests that the Trofeo trim is an afterthought, at least inside, as the only clues we were in something that goes like hell were red stitching and an Alcantara headliner. The steering wheel - the same one used in the Quattroporte Trofeo we reviewed recently - is a throwback in its large size to eras gone by, but it feels great. Overall, the interior has a feel of class with its leather, large non-digital gauges, and feeling of space. The Stellantis infotainment screen lets that down a little, but it's easy to use. That said, in both the Levante Trofeo and the Quattroporte Trofeo reviewed recently, the wireless Apple CarPlay dropped the connection regularly on two different phones. Overall, not bad but not great either.
Even without the flat plane crank in the original Ferrari engine, the 3.8-liter twin-turbo engine is a beast. Zero to 60 mph in the 5,070-pound people hauler comes in 3.8 seconds despite the all-wheel-drive system. The engine's beauty isn't apparent off the line. That shows itself when you come to accelerate from, seemingly, any speed in any gear above first. Thank the 580 hp and 538 lb-ft of torque when it comes to overtaking, as the Levante Trofeo doesn't need a big gap with normal speed traffic coming the other way to pass other cars. The ZF-supplied eight-speed automatic transmission is solid and perfectly adequate for its purpose. It's smooth, fast, and knows what gear to be in, but we're still debating if something sharper on the upshift would suit the Trofeo models better.
Like the Quattroporte Trofeo, the Levante's suspension isn't right. At the same time as driving the Levante Trofeo, we have a half-the-price Chevy Corvette with the non-adaptable sport suspension on test. This smooths out roads much better than the Italian luxury SUV when cruising. That shouldn't be the case with an SUV "born from our grand touring tradition." Confusingly, the Levante Trofeo's suspension is too stiff in Normal mode and not stiff enough in Sport mode. By suspension, we don't just mean shocks and springs. Push the Levante Trofeo through a corner, and it has plenty for grip but doesn't manage its weight well when shifting from side to side. Go through a left-right-left combination of corners, and the lack of side bolstering on the seats becomes a real issue.
The steering is excellent and has an abundance of feel. You can feel exactly what's under the tires all the time, which is great. Unfortunately, in Normal mode, you can also feel everything through the seat. Every imperfection, lump, and bump, gets transmitted through the chassis. That's acceptable in a hardcore supercar, but in an SUV promoted as being in the tradition of Grand Touring, it's not. Our tester arrived with the optional 22-inch wheels, and not ticking that box might help, but we suspect the impact on ride quality would be minimal.
When it comes to putting the power down in a straight line, the Levante Trofeo does excel and makes overtaking a joy. Around town, it's fine, but the suspension lets the car down. It's genuinely disappointing.
We were excited for the Levante Trofeo to test drive. It has all the ingredients on paper to be a car you savor the experience of every time you get in and drive. It's got style and swagger inside and out, a Ferrari-based twin-turbo V8, adaptable suspension, and the utility and people-moving ability of an SUV. However, it doesn't supply the overall experience other super SUVs deliver with a wicked grin. The Audi RS Q8 squats at the back to roar off the line like a drag car, attacks corners with panache, then settles down as a rapid freeway mile-eater. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo GT accelerates in a starling fashion, and the exhaust gets angry when you slow it down, then carves corners like a supercar. Yet, it's a tremendous around-town vehicle and a comfortable grand tourer.
The Levante Trofeo has power to spare and a great exhaust note, but that makes it practically a one-trick pony as the suspension puts you off putting down the miles, and attacking corners becomes arduous.
Suppose you're the type of person that can buy a pair of expensive boutique shoes because they look amazing but become uncomfortable over long periods. In that case, you're a candidate for the Levante Trofeo. The Levante Trofeo does look fantastic, and its engine is intoxicating. However, we would take a longer, harder look at the Levante Modena S, which also packs a twin-turbo V8 but is down 30 hp on the Trofeo. Although slightly less powerful, it's worth a look for the promise of a more comfortable ride and a substantially cheaper price point. On balance, we can live without the extra trim and appalling ride quality.