2018 Maserati Levante Test Drive Review: Your Family Deserves To Have Fun

Test Drive

In a sea of boring SUVs, the Maserati Levante jumps right out of the water.

A young man pulls out of work having just closed the biggest deal of his young career. To celebrate, he drives over to a local Maserati dealership to surprise his wife with a brand-new GranTurismo, a sexy sports car they can take on an exotic road trip. As he pulls into the garage, with the rumble of the 4.7-liter V8 quieting down, he soon discovers the business deal and the Maserati will not be the only surprises he would be getting today. His wife has her own important news - she is pregnant.

"Well, the Maserati has to go back," thinks the man. "With a child on the way, it may be time to end such fantasies." Or at least, that is what he would have thought a few years ago before Maserati's renaissance. Maserati now builds an SUV, called the Levante, which offers an exhilarating experience in a package the whole family can enjoy.

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A Design That Will Get The Neighbors Talking

Maserati launched the Levante back in 2016 as a 2017 model, with the goal of taking down the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne. Whereas the Range Rover and Cayenne are fairly common, the Maserati draws plenty of stares. Making an SUV "sexy" isn't easy, but Maserati has worked its magic with the Levante.

The front end is particularly aggressive, especially when optioned in the GranSport trim as my 2018 test car. The rear end, particularly the taillights, reminded me of the GranTurismo. My test car was a base Levante GranSport, which rode on a handsome set of 20-inch Nereo aluminum wheels. The base non-GranSport Levante rides on 19-inch wheels, which look a bit small on such a large car. If you really want a solid look then 22-inch wheels are available on the higher trim levels.

Exotic Interior Design Meets Everyday Practicality

Inside, the Levante is filled with expensive materials, though the execution of those materials can vary depending on where you touch. My test car came optioned with black leather paired with red stitching. I found the seats to be very comfortable but lacking in adjustability and lumbar support. The GranSport trim excludes ventilated seats as standard, though they can be optioned for modest $900.

In the past, Maserati cars were blindingly difficult to control and rather impractical for daily use. The Levante, on the other hand, feels surprisingly intuitive and usable. There is plenty of storage space in the center console, with flip-up storage areas and ventilated center armrest storage. My test car had carbon fiber trim, though open-pore and gloss wood is also available. The cup holder and storage area lids felt a bit cheap to the touch - the open-pore wood of the GranLusso trim feels a bit more premium.

Interior Features: Some Borrowed Parts

The Levante's infotainment is called Maserati Touch Control system, which must be how you say "Chrysler Uconnect" in Italian. The 8.4-inch touchscreen is lifted straight from the FCA parts bit, which immediately became a non-issue after using it. Aside from lacking physical controls for functions such as the heated seats and start-stop defeat, Uconnect is a joy to use and even includes CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. In addition to being a touchscreen, the Levante also has a rotating controller, though I rarely used it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Maserati's corporate sibling, Alfa Romeo, decided to create its own infotainment system while Maserati was "stuck" using the system found in a variety of FCA products. Amazingly, I think the cost-cutting decision actually worked in Maserati's favor, as Touch Control is far more intuitive than Alfa Romeo's infotainment.

I could easily forgive the shared infotainment, but sharing the starter button, as well as the light and window switches from the FCA parts bin felt far less impressive. To be fair, few people will actually notice the shared parts. I had to point out to my neighbor, who drives a Dodge Ram and works at a Dodge dealership, that the switches were the same ones found in his truck.

Engine, Performance and MPG

When it was first revealed, the Maserati Levante was only offered with a V6 engine in two states of tune. Maserati has since added two V8 options into the mix, though my test car packed the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 in its base state of tune with 345 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. In base trim, the V6 is able to take the 4,649-pound Levante from 0 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. All Levante models send power to all four wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Fuel economy, in case you're interested, is 15/21/17 mpg city/highway/combined according to the EPA on both V6 models, numbers that I achieved almost exactly after a week with the luxury SUV.

The base car doesn't feel particularly rapid to drive but the Levante more than makes up for it with its wonderful exhaust note. Few V6 engines on the market sound as vigorous or as vocal. Place the Levante in Sport mode and the flaps in the exhaust open up to provide even more exhilarating noise. The Levante, at least in its base form, has more bark than bite.

If you'd like a bit more speed, Maserati will gladly sell you a faster Levante. The Levante S pushes the 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 up to 424 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque. I have driven the Ghibli with this engine and I can tell you it makes a huge difference, bringing the 0-60 time down to 5.0 seconds and increasing the responsiveness tremendously.

The basic block of the V6 engine is derived from the Chrysler Pentastar. Though this engine has humble beginnings, it is then sent to Ferrari to be assembled to Maserati's specifications at which point it becomes a completely different animal.

Though Maserati sent us a 2018 Levante, 2019 models will be arriving at dealerships along with some minor changes and two new trim levels. The Levante GTS and Trofeo are each powered by a Ferrari-derived 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 producing 550 hp and 590 hp respectively. The sprint to 60 mph in those models takes a scant 4.0 seconds and 3.7 seconds respectively.

Trunk and Cargo Space: Sports Car Sound, SUV Space

When I first hopped in the Levante, I expected it to be saddled with the usual gaggle of Italian strangeness - but the Levante is remarkably normal. Front storage space is fairly generous, though the cup holders lack any sort of grips to hold in your beverage. Rear seat occupants receive a generous amount of head and leg room as well as two USB outlets to charge their devices.

The trunk provides 19.4 cubic feet of storage, which is more than a Porsche Macan but less than a Cayenne. I suspect the Levante loses a decent amount of trunk volume due to its sloped back roof design, though I found it to be perfectly adequate for my needs. I did wish Maserati made it easier to fold the rear seats down. To lower both portions of the rear seats, you have to pull a lever located on each side of the car, which is a major hassle. An SUV at this price point should have power-folding rear seats.

A Lasting Driving Impression

There are more practical SUVs in this price category but few are as enjoyable to drive as the Levante. The soundtrack alone makes the Levante more stimulating than almost any other SUV. The steering is very direct but can be a bit twitchy on the highway. Anyone who is used to driving a sporty car will likely be comfortable, though someone coming out of a more dull SUV will certainly notice the difference.

My GranSport test car featured Maserati's Skyhook active air suspension, which completely soaks up bumps on the highway. Couple the smooth ride with double-paned windows and the Levante provides a bank-vault-like experience. Throw the Levante into Sport mode and the suspension instantly tightens up to massively reduce body roll. The ride does feel busier but it is worth the compromise on a fun road.

The exhaust tends to drone a bit in Sport mode but this is easily corrected by throwing the Levante into its Increased Control and Efficiency (ICE) mode - which is basically an ECO mode - it immediately quietens the animal living under the hood.

Part of me wishes Maserati had sent me one of the more powerful variants of the Levante. Even though the base V6 sounds mighty, it never threw me back in my seat the way its exhaust growl insinuated. Nearly six seconds to 60 mph isn't all that fast in this day and age, with far less expensive (and less powerful) SUVs easily able to match the Levante's pace. I am extremely interested to test a Levante with the Ferrari-derived V8 under the hood because as it sits, the insane exhaust is writing checks the 345 hp version of this V6 just can't cash.

Any Reliability Issues?

Reliability can be a huge factor when buying a luxury car, especially knowing Italy's reputation for building dependable cars. FCA brands have struggled recently in reliability surveys and the Maserati brand is no exception. The Levante was hit with an early recall for its electronic shifter, which would reportedly shift into neutral by accident.

I found the Levante's shifter to be infuriating to use - it was difficult to reliably shift into reverse without looking. Luckily, Maserati has rectified the issue with a new shifter design for all 2019 models. The only other issue I had on my test car was squealing from the brakes, which was more of an intermittent issue and may not occur on every Levante.

Pricing And Trim Levels

Even though Maserati sent me a 2018 Levante to test, 2019 models are already appearing in showrooms so I will be referring to the '19 pricing. A base Levante with the 345 hp V6 starts at $75,980. Stepping up to a GranLusso or a GranSport brings the price up to $81,980, with each bringing its own unique options and styling.

All Levante models include 19-inch wheels, adaptive air suspension, heated front seats, Touch Control Plus with navigation, Sirius satellite radio, backup camera with front and rear parking sensors, and blind spot alert. Stepping up to the GranSport adds 20-inch wheels, red brake calipers, 12-way power sports seats, a black leather sports steering wheel, and 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio.

Alternatively, the GranLusso trim adds silk and leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seats, open pore wood trim, 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio, and black brake calipers. If you'd like a more aggressively styled Levante, go for the GranSport. If you'd like an SUV with a more old-school luxury vibe, go for the GranLusso.

My GranSport test car had a light option sheet, including soft close doors, a surround-view camera, and a kick sensor for the power tailgate, which brought the as-test price up to $89,870. After driving a 2018 Ghibli S with the more powerful 424 hp engine, I would recommend stepping up to the Levante S for $86,980 - and after seeing the lovely silk and leather interior found in the GranLusso trim level, I'd recommend stepping up even further to a Levante S GranLusso for $91,980.

For 2019, Maserati is offering a very affordable driving assistance package which includes adaptive cruise control, active blind spot and lane keep assist, a 360-degree camera, forward collision warning, and traffic sign recognition, all for just $1,590. This is a bargain price for all of these features and I'd highly recommend it.

Although the V6 sounds amazing as-is, speed freaks will want to opt for either of the V8 Levante models. The 550-hp GTS trim starts at $119,980 and the 590-hp Trofeo trim starts at $169,980, which is more than double the price of a base Levante - just know speed doesn't come cheap from Maserati.

Verdict

After driving the Levante, I found myself smitten with its Italian charm. There were a few minor annoyances including a few less-than-premium bits, but it didn't distract from the overall essence of the Levante. The base V6 feels like all show and no go, so I would highly recommend stepping up to the more powerful Levante S or one of the V8 models to get a more rapid SUV. As it sits, the Maserati Levante GranSport earns a ranking of Great Buy, though I have a feeling the injection of a V8 could push it up to a Must Buy.

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