First drive: 2017 Maserati Levante in Oman
Maserati, the brand best known for building cars that Ferrari didn’t want, has finally dipped their toes in the hugely-profitable SUV segment. While you may never see a Ferrari SUV, Maserati’s new Levante is as close to that as you may get, assuming you ignore the lack of a V8 option. We got our hands on one during a recent trip to Oman, as they seem oddly hard to come by in Dubai.
The Levante is a fairly good-looking crossover, looking more like a hatchback than an SUV, which might put some people off. From far away, it also looks a bit too much like the Infiniti FX that’s been around for the past decade, which is the last thing you want from your shiny new Italian status-symbol. It also looks small, but you’d be surprised to know that it’s 5 metres long, falling somewhere between midsize and large 4x4s, and definitely not a rival to the compact Jaguar F-Pace that some thought it was. And if you pick one up, go for the optional body-coloured exterior trim and nicer 21-inch wheels, as the base model with the black bare-plastic trim and smaller 19-inch wheels looks decidedly cheap.
Inside, it’s rather conservative in terms of style, but there is good use of stitched leather on most surfaces, and what we assume is real wood on the centre-console and doors.
While the view from the front seat feels like that of a car on stilts rather than of an airy SUV, the space inside is very good, even in the back, thanks to the Levante’s outer length. Even the boot floor-space is reasonable, although upward volume is severely compromised by the sloping rear-end.
The cabin tech is straight out of any Chrysler product, with the UConnect touchscreen on the dash and the radio buttons behind the steering wheel.
The Levante is offered with two engine choices borrowed from the Ghibli, both turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 units in different states of tune (a V8 may come in the future). The base model gets 350 hp, while the S version gets 430 hp. There is no way to visually differentiate the two variants, not even with badges, as both come in base trim and both can be optioned up with metallic trim, bigger wheels and body-coloured exterior cladding. That’s why we’re not even sure which variant we drove, although as per their own manufacturer specs, there isn’t a huge difference in performance between the two.
The Levante has good power for an SUV, the acceleration accompanied by a sporty but distinctly V6-sounding growl. However, it’s not going to shove you into the seatback like, say, a Range Rover Sport Supercharged would. Power builds up more linearly than we expected from a turbo motor, after taking off at idle with a slight throttle delay. The gearbox is a typical 8-speed automatic, not any fancy dual-clutch PDK-DSG type deal.
The big 4×4 takes corners very well, with no obvious body-roll and great grip from the wide low-profile tyres. However, the lack of steering feedback kills any confidence you may have in the curves, even if the steering itself is somewhat firmly-weighted and very responsive. The brakes are strong, and emergency stops from high speeds are uneventful.
The Levante rides reasonably well too, as long as the roads aren’t too bad. Thanks to the constantly-rumbling engine, the squinty-eyed crossover isn’t quietest in its class, and it feels a bit crashy going over speed bumps, but otherwise the adaptive suspension does decently to dampen the harshness of low-profile tyres.
Interestingly enough, Maserati is keen to promote the Levante as an offroader. Luckily, we had access to a brutal offroad course, complete with a soft-sand area. For a crossover, the Levante does well offroad, as there is more than enough juice to power through soft sand, even if the tyres are of the wrong kind. With electronic height-adjustable suspension, you can even raise the car so the fragile-looking bumpers are kept out of harm’s way, but only to a certain degree. If you do end up getting stuck, there is no low-range gearing to get you out. Also, we drove it back-to-back with a Nissan Patrol, and the latter just floats over every obstacle, while the Levante feels like it’s taking a beating, even though both made it through. A typical owner may not want to take on the wear-and-tear expenses.
And that’s the low-down on the Maserati Levante. It’s yet another offering in a crowded segment filled with similarly-capable luxury crossovers.
For GCC prices and specs, visit the Maserati buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.