NZ exclusive: we drive the new Maserati Levante V8 in Italy
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Maserati has finally added V8 power to its Levante SUV. In the process, it has created the most powerful Maserati road car, and one of the dearest.
There are two versions of the V8 available to order now, with the first New Zealand customers likely to receive theirs in early 2020. The flagship, known as Trofeo (Italian for trophy) develops a formidable 441kW from its 3.8-litre twin turbo engine that is built by stablemate Ferrari. The price tag of $297,000, plus on road costs, makes it the dearest model in the current range with the exception of the Stradale version of the soon-to-be-discontinued GranCabrio two-door sports car.
A slightly less powerful V8 Levante, known as GTS, is also available.
It does without a few cabin inclusions and exterior trimmings, and misses out on the Launch Control and Corsa (racing) driving mode fitted to Trofeo. The GTS develops 405kW and is priced at $242,000.
Levante is especially important for Maserati in New Zealand, where it accounts for two-thirds of all sales. So far it has been available only in turbodiesel and V6 versions; the V8 was originally intended solely for the US. However the importer responsible for New Zealand, Australia and South Africa put forward a joint proposal with Japan and the UK for a right-hand drive model to be developed.
So what is it like on the road? In short, impressive. The Levante has always been equipped with sophisticated adaptive air suspension and all-wheel drive systems. These make it far more agile than its considerable size (5020mm) and weight (2170kg) might suggest.
We tested the newcomers on a wide variety of roads around the corporate headquarters in Modena, northern Italy. The V8s proved remarkably composed over uneven surfaces, rode flat even through the tightest of hairpins and almost completely supressed any understeer. They also did a good job of disguising the high centre of gravity; performance SUVs have come a huge way in recent years.
However, even when pushing extremely hard, it was difficult to detect much difference between the two new models on public roads. Both have vastly more power than most will use in such conditions. The maximum torque figure (730Nm for both, maintained all the way from 2500 to 5000rpm) ensures the big SUV punches out of corner with a near supercar verve.
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Where the difference was detectable was on airstrip, where we were given the chance to try the Trofeo’s launch control. With the push of a button and a double click of a gear paddle, it was then a matter of standing on the brake and accelerator together, then lifting the left foot suddenly. At that point the car blasted forward at maximum revs, using its full power while its electronic smarts maximised the grip.
This can be done in automatic mode (an eight-speed auto is fitted to both V8s), or the gears can be changed manually via the steering column-mounted paddles to achieve an even quicker result. Get everything right and the sprint to 100 km/h can be achieved in 3.9 seconds.
There are probably only four SUVs in regular production that are quicker on the 0-100 km/h run, and in each case only by the tiniest of margins. They are the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, Lamborghini Urus, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63S and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
The GTS takes 4.2s; the Trofeo’s Corsa mode would also make it quicker than GTS on a race track, though we didn’t have the chance to verify it. Corsa maximises settings for the engine, gearbox and all-wheel drive (giving more rearward bias). It also reduces intervention from the stability control system and drops the ride height to 175 mm. The bigger road wheels (22in versus 21) would also reduce slip angles for better turn in at the very limit.
When driven gently, the GTS and Trofeo are smooth, comfortable and refined tourers, though the mongrel appears almost instantly with a shove of the right foot. For anyone planning to take such a car off the tarmac, there are two different off-road driving modes and hill descent; however, the chances of damaging the low bodywork or large wheels would be high.
When Levante was launched in 2016, it had a hydraulic steering system and the company insisted it would not move to electric assistance because it was impossible to achieve the same precision and driver feedback. Car makers such as Ferrari and Porsche have proven otherwise. Maserati joins them with an excellent electric system.
The interior of the Trofeo, particularly, is sumptuous, with the seats, doors and dash covered by the company’s top grade Pieno Fiore leather.