Maserati monsters: Levante GTS and Trofeo tested on track and off-road
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Maserati Levante Trofeo
There’s a special button in the Maserati Levante Trofeo that isn’t advertised or promoted and only explained to drivers who can handle it.
It unleashes a special kind of fury — and Driven was allowed to use it.
Power is nothing without control, they say. But control is also boring without power, and with that in mind, the antitheses of slow SUVs has arrived as a pair of Maserati monsters, the Levante GTS and the track-ready Trofeo.
The most powerful GTs in the company’s 105 year history, the pair up the ante over the twin-turbo V6 Levante 350, by using a new line of Maserati V8, based on a Ferrari 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 – Maserati being the pioneer of production twin-turbocharging with the 1981 Biturbo. The numbers are 434kW and 730Nm, with which the faster Trofeo rockets its 2170kg to 100km/h in 3.9s, on the way to a top speed of 304km/h.
The range-topping Trofeo also benefits from a range of extras: 22in wheels, matte carbon fibre pieces inside and out, hand-stitched leather, while GTS and Trofeo get Pieno Fiore natural leather on the seats, stitched from a single piece of leather from cows that are free of mosquito bites.
Of course there’s the practicality of a luxury SUV, with features such as a large touchscreen, radar cruise control and an optional kick-to-open sensor for the power tailgate.
Driven was invited to be the first to drive the Levante GTS and Trofeo on NZ soil, in anger, around Hampton Downs: on the racetrack, in pre-production left-hand drive models, and off-road, to sample its rough stuff credentials.
Greeted by Winger Maserati Dealer Principal Justin Purkiss, with our hand raised highest, we were first on track, starting with the slightly less powerful but hardly lacking 405kW GTS, good for 0-100km/h in 4.2s and 292km/h.
In normal mode the turbochargers muffle the roar of the V8; it is, after all, a luxury four-seat SUV designed to be the ultimate all-rounder, burbling around the suburbs, tacking some muddy puddles or belting around a track.
There’s no time today to absorb the opulence, or much else beyond turn-in points and top speeds. From standstill, the GTS lifts its nose and mimics being fired from a ground bungy: the eight-speed gearbox slices through gears relentlessly, and within a few seconds, thoughts immediately turn to slowing it down enough for the first tight right-hander, handled by the forged six-piston brake calipers and aluminium paddle shifters. Onto the main straight, the digital speed display spins and peaks at an impressive, easy 210km/h.
A tap of the Sport button on lap two opens valves in the exhaust and unleashes the sound of the Italian V8, and it’s an immediately more involving, with faster gear shifts. There’s a little less bodyroll, and the steering is sharp and accurate for its bulk.
A cool-down lap, and it’s time to upgrade to First Class: the Levante Trofeo. With almost 10 per cent more power, the extra G-forces are immediately obvious as a floored throttle pushes us into the soft leather seats. A few corners in, we’re allowed to press ‘the button’: a double-tap of the Sport button unleashes Corsa mode: the engine, gearbox suspension, steering, exhaust, launch, traction and stability controls all activate/deactivate and sharpen, underlining that it’s time to get serious – but it will suffer no fools.
As we approach a hairpin, we turn in a little more aggressively and jump on the throttle to provoke the beast: the Trofeo’s all-wheel drive uses torque vectoring and starts to slide like a V8 Supercar, before the front wheels pull it all back into line: there’s the freedom to play for those daring enough, and the Trofeo starts drifting from corners like an agile WRC car, allowing an eager and confident throttle to launch from corners laying down lines of rubber. It’s part insane, part exhilarating as the confidence in the chassis builds, immediately shrinking it around the driver and totally at odds with what an SUV traditionally should be capable of.
We aim it at the main straight and fire: the speedo ticks over 200, 215, then 220km/h, ultimately peaking at an impressive 221km/h — faster than many racecars.
After four laps of joy in the GTS and Trofeo, we transfer to a different challenge: pressing Off-Road mode, the ride height increases, hill descent control activates, the throttle is numbed, the the gearbox is keen to maintain lower gears despite a little wheelspin, along with a loosening of the ABS.
We hit the trails through some ruts, ripples and hills, and the Levante GranSport handles it all with ease, and a particularly imposing steep grassy climb is equally scoffed at, pausing at the peak to activate the cameras, which provide views over crests and around obstacles. Through a series of dips, the front wheels lift almost half-a-metre in the air, and the wheels spin a little before computers work out which has the most grip, pulling it through the challenge with ease.
In the spirit of competition, Trofeo is trophy in Italian, and while the $50,000 premium over the $242k GTS will suit the most discerning Levante buyer, both Trofeo and the GTS V8 prove supremely impressive, whatever the terrain.
Pros: Drives smaller and better than it should
Cons: Mild styling; Levante 350 is already good