Maserati Levante S twin-turbo: Snap, crackle and pop
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The turbo-diesel Levante SUV has helped Maserati push ahead with sales, just like it was designed to. But now, in a surprise move, New Zealand is getting an even better Maserati SUV.
All hail the twin-turbo V6 petrol Levante S.
Ah, that's better. And more Maserati-like, too. We're in Dubai, having a wee go in the Maserati Levante S -- the range-topping twin-turbo V6 petrol that, until now, has been off limits to Maser fans in our neck of the woods.
Until now? That's right; rejoice before the trident badge --the finely tuned V6 petrol version of Maserati's new SUV is coming to New Zealand after all.
I'm not suggesting for a moment the 46 Kiwis who've bought the Levante 3.0-litre V6 diesel over the last three or so months have leapt too early or anything. But perhaps they should cover their ears.
Once I heard the Maranello-built twin-turbo V6 petrol in full flight -- flaring on the downshift with a crackle and snort as you turn into a corner and then sonorously bellowing its way out again -- I was immediately reminded of what makes a Maserati a Maserati.
As much as premium quality stitching and a heritage Italian badge are important, it all comes back to noise.
Up and down the road on the Jebel Jais Mountain, about 190km north of Dubai towards the Omani border, we had the opportunity to make the Levante S really shout.
Yes, utterly hoon-ish, but oh-so addictive, too.
The Levante features an Active Exhaust system with baffles that open up under acceleration, or close again on the motorway to give you a quieter thrum.
A series of switchbacks climbing up Jebel Jais announced the opportunity to swap into "Sport 2" mode and use the Levante S' manual paddles to hold on to gears, which produced a suitably snarling soundscape.
Don't worry though, only the nearby mountain goats would have been bothered in this remote corner of the UAE.
Suffice to say, with the Levante's sport mode deployed, the lines between spacious SUV and performance GT are blurred impressively.
The cars we were driving featured hydraulic steering rather than the electronic power steering set-up that will feature in the 2018 model year cars New Zealand is destined to receive.
Other updates will include a refreshed infotainment system and a host of new safety technology, too, including Active Lane Departure Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition software, Adaptive Cruise Control with semi-autonomous stop-and-go feature and a 360-degree surround view camera.
Mountain roads are one thing, but Maserati couldn't let us try out the Levante S in Dubai without getting some serious sand -- as in Arabian Desert sand -- under the tyres, too.
And while our Levante S was utterly cloaked in the stuff by the end of our day in the dunes (pity the poor car groomers), the SUV dispensed with the soft stuff impressively well, thanks to a feature of this vehicle that precisely 0.01 per cent of owners will actually use: its intelligent Q4 all-wheel drive system, borrowed from (whisper it) Jeep. But hey, if you're going to borrow off-road technology ...
Driving in soft sand isn't for the faint-hearted. Aside from the 47C heat, an accelerator-stomping approach will be rewarded only with a bogged vehicle.
Remarkably deft momentum is actually required; steady pace on the up-hills (and never, ever come to a complete stop with your nose pointing up), resisting the urge to touch the throttle on the down-hills and a sprightly exit from the incline will have you surging up and over big dunes without too much worry.
With a guide in front seeking out the correct mix of firmness and donut-friendly granularity as we drove into the desert for around an hour, the Levante S acquitted itself well. Plenty of power, plenty of torque and -- thanks to its multi-stage suspension -- the ride height to suit (with "offroad 2" mode selected the Levante S sits a full 40mm above its default ride height).
Remember that heat? The turbo should have been gasping immediately, but only after some serious sand-blasting (with an off-road expert Emirati at the wheel) did the temperature needle rise from its halfway point.
That is extreme stuff and I can't imagine any amount of gravel goading here in New Zealand would trouble the Levante in the same manner.
Like its turbo-diesel sibling, the Levante S will be available in three grades here. And they all feature a generous spread of comfort and convenience technology, sports seats, premium leather and cloth detailing and a boot that is genuinely useful in its dimensions.
Add that Maserati sound to the menu and it's no surprise which version I'd opt for.
The price for such exhaust extremism? Sorry, no idea yet. Negotiations are under way with the factory as I type,but the Porsche Cayenne S has been cited as a potential competitor for the Levante S.
More than its singular suffix, the two cars share similar horsepower figures, as well as 0-100km/h sprint times and top speeds.
The Cayenne S retails for $175,000. Maserati needs to play reasonably well north of its entry turbo diesel model ($136,990), but will obviously want to stay as low as it can go.
I'm picking somewhere in the $160k bracket will net you a Levante S in a decent state of dress.
Regardless of the cost of entry, if it's the snap-crackle-pop histrionics of a proper Maserati exhaust you crave, then this is the most practical way of attaining it.
Maserati Levante S
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo petrol (316kW, 580Nm)
Price: Still being negotiated
Pro: Equipment level, exhaust note, point-of-difference in premium SUV segment
Con: Neighbours will tire of your exhaust antics quickly if you're an early-riser