It’s amazing what a difference three years and two cylinders can make. When Maserati launched its Levante S performance SUV in 2016, it ran with an eager, if not terribly refined 3.0L turbo V6 making 345 horsepower. For 2019, the Levante jumps into the big leagues with the GTS model. It sports a terrific Ferrari-built 3.8L twin-turbo V8 that makes 550 hp, 538 lb-ft, and all the right noises. The Levante now storms the gates with effortless, sonorous urge, finally feeling like the SUV it was meant to be.
Rip the big Maserati trident logo off the Levante’s grill and you’d be hard pressed to know what it was. But to be fair, that’s the case with just about any SUV, save for maybe the radical Lamborghini Urus. That said, the Levante GTS is an elegant creature with fines lines, a long hood, and uniquely sculpted C-pillars that project a sense of occasion and litheness. Compared with the V6 S, the V8 GTS gets larger front air intakes below the concave grill along with body-coloured front splitter and rear bumper trim. Dressing up this tester is striking Blue Emozione paint, black window trim ($490), yellow brake calipers ($360), and 21-inch Helios alloys ($2,650). There was no lack of appreciative stares during my week in the Levante.
Standard safety fare for the 2019 Levante GTS includes blind spot monitoring, but you’ll want the $1,890 Driver Assistance Package that adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, forward collision warning and auto-braking, surround-view camera, traffic sign recognition, highway assist, and pedestrian recognition. Add another $1,190 for full LED headlamps.
If you’re into moving fridges, the five-seat Levante suffers a bit in the utility department due to its raked rear roofline, but overall it’s a roomy rig. The 580 L load space behind the rear seat is deep (if not particularly wide), and said second row splits 60/40 and folds flat. There’s also a ski pass-through.
User Friendliness: 8/10
The Maserati Levante is an easy vehicle to get accustomed to, largely because it uses FCA’s well-proven, if somewhat dated Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen interface and switchgear. Don’t say that too loud. Yes, Uconnect gets its own Maserati look and graphics, but it’s still the old friend we like, showing a clear and logical layout. Shame there’s no knobs for audio volume or tuning, and ditto for HVAC, although the big toggles work quite well for the latter.
My neighbour was thrilled to see that this $156,000 (as-tested) Italian SUV sports exactly the same engine start/stop button as his ratty Dodge Journey, which optimistically has a market value of the Levante’s floor mats. Fortunately for Maserati, most buyers of their vehicles will not have spent a lot of time in lesser FCA products.
Maserati is not trying try to out-gizmo the Germans; so if you’re into heated armrests, fragrance dispensers, acres of digital dash, or spectacular ambient lighting, look elsewhere. However, for the things that matter, the Levante GTS pretty much ticks all the boxes. Ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, although you’ll pay extra for soft-close doors ($700), kick sensor for the rear hatch ($130), Bowers and Wilkins audio ($2,390), Pieno Fiore natural leather ($1,490), and carbon-fibre interior trim ($2,990).
I wouldn’t hesitate to go for the $550 carbon shift paddles simply because they are so cool. And in the Italian tradition, they are long and column-mounted (as opposed to steering-wheel-mounted) and work with delicious precision.
This is indeed a potent SUV, thanks to the 3.8L twin-turbo V8 from Ferrari that propels it to 100 km/h in 4.2 s. Turbo lag is a non-issue, and while some might wish for a more lusty soundtrack, I think Maserati has judged it perfectly. In Normal mode, the exhaust is quite subdued, but hammer the throttle in Sport mode and a rich, baritone song erupts, escalating to a Pavarotti high-C as the revs climb. And climb they do. But the sound is never brash, ugly, or over-the-top. The Maranello DNA is quite evident in the way this turbo V8 revs and in its creamy power delivery. A class act.
For a vehicle that handles so well while also rolling on 21-inch stock, the Maserati suspension tuning engineers did a masterful job of giving the Levante GTS a compliant, quiet, and overall composed ride – even when the standard adaptive air suspension has the big Maser’s double-wishbone setup snugged down for performance duty.
There are no rough or ragged edges anywhere in the Levante’s vocabulary. The excellent eight-speed ZF auto shifts smoothly and responds instantly to paddle-shifter prompts.
The front seats are comfortable, if not as plush or adjustable as some competitors, but I didn’t experience any sore bits after a day in the saddle.
Driving Feel: 9/10
This is where the Maserati Levante GTS delivers. The old saw about a vehicle driving “smaller” than it looks rings true here. The steering is direct, well-weighted, and feelsome. It cuts a clean path, propelled through the corners via rear-biased all-wheel drive and a standard limited-slip rear differential. The GTS displays a satisfying dynamic harmony, underscored by that fab V8. Sure, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo with its active roll stabilization might be more of a formidable weapon, but I would argue the Levante GTS feels more intimate.
Bringing this charging rhino under control is a Brembo braking system featuring huge 15-inch front rotors clamped by six-piston calipers.
Fuel Economy: 5/10
Well, nobody buys a hi-performance V8-powered SUV for fuel economy, but if you have to ask, Natural Resources Canada rates the Maserati Levante GTS at 17.9 L/100km city, 12.9 L/100 km highway, and 15.3 L/100 km combined. Premium-grade fuel of course.
The Maserati Levante GTS starts at $138,500, a significant jump compared to the $93,000 entry model, and this tester was optioned up to $154,520, putting it right in the ballpark of premium competitors like the Range Rover Sport SVR and Porsche Cayenne Turbo. It’s more pricey than the 567-hp BMW X5M at $112,400; and we can expect the upcoming 600-hp Audi Q8 RS and the inevitable V8-powered AMG version of the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class to be close to BMW’s pricing. Thing is, just about everyone I encountered assumed this Maserati was at least a $250,000 vehicle.
In this wacky SUV-crazed world, there is no shortage of high-horsepower luxury behemoths vying for your money. The Turin-built Maserati Levante GTS is certainly an outlier, but stands on its own as a very desirable and capable offering. If you count exclusivity as an integral part of the luxury equation, then this Italian has it in spades.
The Maserati trident and Ferrari engine count for a lot here, as does the Levante’s fine blend of blistering speed, excellent dynamics, and general level of comfort. Granted, the interior design and tech level is a step behind most competitors (real analogue tach and speedo), but for some, the craftsmanship and look – especially in contrasting leather hues like tan or red – will more than make up for a dearth of digital trickery. Italian reliability? A chance you might be taking in exchange for living on the exotic edge.
In the case of the Levante GTS and its silky eight-cylinder, I’d posit the rewards are greater than the risk.
|Peak Horsepower||550 hp @ 6,250 rpm|
|Peak Torque||538 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||17.9/12.9/15.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||580 L|
|Model Tested||2019 Maserati Levante GTS|
|Price as Tested||$156,820|
$16,020 – Driver Assistance Package $1,890; Pieno Fiore leather $1,490; Highgloss Carbon Trim $2,990; stitched trident on headrest $290; kick sensor $130; soft door close $700; Bowers and Wilkins $2,390; carbon shift paddles $550; full LED headlamps $1,990; Black DLO trim $590; 21-inch staggered Helios alloys $2,650; yellow brake calipers $360