New Maserati Levante SUV 2016 review
Big verdict as Maserati’s first SUV – the Levante - hits British tarmac
As a rival to the Porsche Cayenne or even the Audi Q7, the Levante falls short. But as a standalone product, you can’t help but feel drawn to the Maserati’s Italian charm, sweet chassis and generous kit list. It’s not as practical, economical or as well finished as its German competitors, nor is it quite as complete to drive, but it has an undeniable charm that other SUVs in this market simply can’t match.
Italian sports car makers aren’t famed for their SUVs. However, while Ferrari has committed to never building a jacked-up 488 GTB, there’s an Alfa Romeo around the corner and a Lamborghini in the pipeline.Maserati is the first to bring one to market, with the new Levante finally reaching UK showrooms this month. Yet while European customers will be treated to a Ferrari-fettled V6, British buyers have to make do with a more rational diesel for now.• Best 4x4s and SUVs on saleThe Levante is a little longer and wider than a Porsche Cayenne. There’s only one specification to choose from, but all cars come equipped with 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery and keyless entry.
Buyers can add items like the Luxury Pack for £5,950; this is, in effect, a spec in its own right, but acts more like an optional package, adding plusher materials, a Harman/Kardon stereo and electric rear sun blinds. Fit and finish are fine, although it’s some way off the carefully crafted cabin of an Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90. Plus, the media system feels like it’s been lifted from a Fiat 500X costing a third of the price. Material quality is questionable in places, and the vulgar wood here was a £1,000 option.On start-up, the clattery engine instantly bursts the suave Italian dream, reminiscent more of a Berlin taxi than a silky Milanese maestro. It’s a problem not found in the car’s German rivals, which suppress all but the worst rattles from the cabin. Around town, the ride is fidgety, too. Even on the modest 19-inch wheels of our test car, it shakes over rough surfaces, while the bulky body isn’t exactly easy to manoeuvre.
But things soften on the open road where the Levante makes its case as a capable motorway cruiser. At 70mph, it’s surprisingly refined. The engine pulls at impressively low revs, and fades into the background at a steady speed. The ride irons itself out, too, and smooths all but the very worst bumps. Maserati’s adaptive cruise control is a bit erratic, but if you’re happy to keep control, it’s a satisfying car to drive long distances.Turn off the motorway and on to a stretch of twisting tarmac and the Maserati shows its colours. Despite its bulky body, this is a car that has Italian DNA in its veins, and is pleasingly agile given its size. It isn’t as tight as a Cayenne, but resists body roll well.The limited-slip differential and standard-fit four-wheel-drive system allow power to be effectively distributed front and rear. The hydraulic steering offers decent feel, too, although again, the Porsche’s set-up is more direct and feeds back more through the wheel when you push on.
Sending power to the wheels is an eight-speed ZF box. It’s not as fast as the dual-clutch transmission in a Q7, and won’t snatch gears as reliably when using the steering wheel paddles, but leave it in auto and it’ll slur changes without you noticing.Being a diesel, this Levante shouldn’t cost you too much to run. Claimed fuel economy of 39.2mpg is slightly down on the Cayenne Diesel’s 41.5mpg, while emissions of 189g/km over 179g/km in the Porsche mean a very small two per cent Benefit in Kind penalty for business users. The Ferrari V6 will emit 253g/km when it arrives.Practicality is a strong point. Space in the back is generous, while the 580-litre boot is a good size, and the room is usable despite the slightly sloping roofline.