Italian manufacturer Maserati is following a trend set by Porsche and is building a luxury performance crossover to compete with the likes of the Cayenne and F Pace. Maserati has dubbed their first ever SUV the Levante, which is (keeping with their tradition of exotic sounding wind-themed names) a wind that blows in from the Mediterranean. Maserati will tell you that the name was chosen because that wind is known for being able to go from a gentle breeze to a powerful gust in an instant, reflecting the crossover’s personality.
The Levante is built off the same platform the Quattroporte and Ghibli are based on, with a larger body and taller ride height giving it crossover status. The 3.0L twin-turbo V6 is also shared, and in the Levante it will produce either 350 or 430 horsepower depending on how it’s spec’d. A 3.0L diesel option will also be available, producing 275hp. All those engines are backed by an 8 speed automatic from ZF, the same one used in Maserati’s cars.
Maserati claims the 424 horsepower Levante will do 0-62 MPH in 5.2 seconds and has a top speed of 164 MPH. The 345 horsepower model will see 0-62 in in 6 seconds on to 156 MPH, and the diesel gets 62 MPH done in 6.9 seconds and tops out at 143 MPH. We live in a world where a crossover has the same top speed as a 2016 Mustang GT, just let that sink in for a moment. High top speeds are due in part to the slippery body, with a 0.31 drag coefficient. The aerodynamic design also results in fairly reasonable fuel economy, with the two gas engines achieving somewhere in the ballpark of 20 MPG and the diesel getting up around 30 MPG. The diesel V6 is not expected to come to North America.
Maserati also notes perfect 50/50 weight distribution and what they claim to be the lowest center of gravity in the class. The suspension is multi-link in the rear and double wishbone in the front, electronically controlled damping and airbags provide the Levante with 5 driving modes and a parking mode. They say the Levante excels at off-roading, and while I’m not sure that it would be my vehicle of choice for an overland expedition, it is nice to have the option of a higher ride height in certain driving situations. Power is sent to all four wheels with Maserati’s Q4 AWD system, a mechanically locking rear differential and torque vectoring to help with handling.
The interior seems to be typical for higher end European crossovers. Leather everywhere with wood trim, or carbon fiber trim, if you’re into that sort of thing. One worrisome item of note is the fact that many of the buttons, levers, and controls are pulled directly from FCA’s parts bin, which is something Maserati has been criticised for in the past. Having controls from a Dodge Dart in a luxury European SUV at this price point seems at least a little questionable. Another Chrysler-derived part is the 8.4 inch touchscreen display, possibly running some Maserati-skinned spawn of uConnect. The adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, and other safety features we’ve come to expect from high end luxury vehicles are present, and with the exception of a few cheap looking components the interior looks well appointed and comfortable.
The Levante looks to have a fairly low-slung and sweeping body, at least compared to other crossovers, almost giving it a large wagon look instead of a small SUV look, which is refreshing. It definitely looks like the sort of car that will only ever have people saying it’s gorgeous or hideous, I don’t think anyone will be able to look at this car with pure indifference. The front and rear are both unmistakably Maserati, with maybe the slightest twinge of BMW in the headlight design. In profile, if it wasn’t for the portholes and the badge behind the rear window I doubt I’d ever guess it were a Maserati. After showing the Levante to a few of our team members, our editor, Juan, pointed out a strong resemblance to Mazda’s CX-3 and Mazda3 hatchback from the side. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Mazda makes great looking cars, it just strikes me as funny that a Japanese compact economy car can bear even a passing resemblance to an expensive Italian SUV.
Oh, did I mention it was expensive? The Levante will be priced somewhere around $72K USD in it’s most basic trim, don’t expect this crossover to be a common sight in most suburbs. That said, he Levante is a part of Maserati’s plan to grow total sales numbers, and looking at how successful Porsche’s Macan and Cayenne has been, all I can do is wonder why it took Maserati so long to enter the crossover and SUV segment.