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Maserati creates luxuriously plush sports cars and sports sedans that deliver stunning performance with plenty of elan.
Although the company takes heed of motor industry trends, it does so with distinct Italian individuality.
It broadened its range of premium-end luxury sports models with the Levante SUV, which until recently has been powered by diesel engines only.
Now the Italian marque is offering the Levante as a practical luxury SUV powered by a Ferrari-built V6 petrol engine.
The result is the new Maserati Levante S GranSport, which looks identical to other Levante models, until you turn it on. Then it screams into life with a throaty roar that is appropriate for a brand with Maserati’s sporting heritage.
There is no question the Levante has been a success in this country — Maserati sold 80 of them here last year. That is far more than the combined total of all of Maserati’s other models.
The new 3-litre twin turbo engine brings a new dimension to the Levante, although the changes are not apparent until the start button is pressed inside the sumptuous cockpit.
The engine puts out 321kW of power and 580Nm of torque, and is paired with an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission that shifts seamlessly through the gears.
From the outside, the new car looks identical to the diesel-powered models, although the entire range has undergone subtle exterior improvements since its introduction almost three years ago.
Auckland | Wairau Valley
$154.48 p/w $617.92 p/m
The Levante styling has always been polarising — some critics claim it is ugly with its huge front gaping grille and unashamedly bold rounded and aggressive looks.
Although it has become more familiar with age, it remains distinctive and stands out in the increasingly crowded premium SUV marketplace.
The Levante is a big vehicle, weighing around 2 tonnes and stretching around 5m in length. Even so, this model goes from zero to 100km/h in just 5.2 seconds.
And it does so with the assurance you would expect from a sophisticated all-wheel drive Maserati that sits on an equally sophisticated air suspension system that helps ensures the ride is exceptionally comfortable.
When the Levante is in motion, most of the all-wheel drive system sends the power to the rear wheels, but it diverts the power to the front wheels when it believes it is needed.
So pushing the Levante hard means the split is 50/50 front and rear, and it feels solidly planted to the road.
Rest assured not all SUVs are as sure on the road as the Levante.
Maserati has also developed and improved the connectivity in the Levante, ensuring more driver assistance and safety features are more readily accessible via the centre dashboard touch screen.
Most of the features were available on earlier models but it is now much easier to work through the various menus and set the vehicle up to suit your individual preferences.
The electric power steering on the new model enables features such as Highway Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition and a 360-degree camera. These previously optional extras are now standard.
The dashboard and the central console are designed to accommodate the 8.4-inch Maserati Touch Control Plus (MTC+) display, the driving modes button cluster, the user-friendly, aluminium rotary knob and the air suspension height set-up switch.
Although the Levante has more kit included as standard than previous models, each model can be personalised with the choice of seven different alloy wheels, five different interior trim choices, two steering wheels and four different colours for the brake calipers.
The advanced Q4 all-wheel drive system, chassis and suspension means the Levante can be driven across a wider range of road and off-road conditions, than any previous Maserati sports car or sports sedan.
The engine was designed by Maserati Power-train, in conjunction with the Ferrari power-train development team, and is made in Ferrari’s factory in Maranello, just for Maserati.
With 321kW of power at 5750rpm and 580Nm of torque in Sport mode between 1750 and 5000rpm, Levante S delivers a classic Maserati driving experience.
In Normal driving mode, the torque rises to 500Nm in the lower rev range, reaching the 580Nm maximum at 5000rpm.
In the Sport driving mode, the exhaust by-pass system provides a unique Maserati sound experience.
Maserati says the Levante S has a top speed of 264km/h.
The V6 petrol engine features low-inertia parallel twin turbos, double continuous cam phasers for each cylinder head and high-pressure (200 bar) fuel injection.
All versions of the Levante are fitted with the same eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, Q4 Intelligent all-wheel drive and standard mechanical limited-slip differential (LSD).
The AWD system is developed to deliver a typical Maserati rear-wheel drive experience, even in low-grip road conditions.
It acts on demand by transferring traction to the front wheels with an immediate response. In 150 milliseconds, it can alter the front/rear torque split from 0:100 to 50:50.
Maserati says the Levante is the only car in its class equipped with a mechanical limited slip differential at the rear axle.
It is fitted as standard and the company says it provides optimal traction in all driving situations.
Torque-vectoring has been further developed for the Levante to increase the SUV’s sportiness. When cornering, the system distributes more torque to the outer wheels by applying a slight braking force to the inner wheels.
Based on an evolution of the Ghibli/Quattroporte platform, the chassis has been developed to offer great on-road driving dynamics and competitive off-road capabilities, combined with excellent ride comfort and day-to-day practicality.
The aluminium double-wishbone, five-link suspension layout comprises standard Air Springs and electronically controlled Skyhook shock absorbers.
Apart from the obvious benefits, such as the improvement of comfort and active safety, the air suspension contributes to the reduction of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, thanks to the lowering of the car and the reduced aerodynamic drag at medium to high speeds.
Levante was the first Maserati model to feature Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Forward Collision Warning Plus (FCW Plus), Advanced Brake Assist system (ABA), Lane Departure Warning system and Surround View Camera. In New Zealand this ADAS package is a no-cost option in the 2018 Levante.
The recommended retail price of the Levante S GranSport is $174,990.
Maserati Levante S Gransport
Price: $174,990 plus orc. (As tested $189,792 plus orc).
Pros: Luxurious, practical and tough premium SUV
Cons: Appearance is polarising