We've ascended to 8,500 feet to a beautiful setting and thinner air to conduct our annual All-Stars shoot out. Amassing more than 20 cars and SUVs, there aren't many slouches on deck. For middle of the road cars, it's incredibly difficult to stand out. Unfortunately for Maserati, the company's new Levante SUV isn't standing out.

Our first encounter with the 2017 Maserati Levante was a positive one, with editor-in-chief Mike Floyd having his way with several versions across northern Italy, including a run on the A26 Autostrada. But here, among more engaging and better-put-together cars, the Maserati may not be the prancing cavallo Floyd experienced in the Italian Alps.

Jumping out of the Levante S atop the mountain, the brisk 30-degree chill immediately hits my face. My passenger looks at me quizzically and asks, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," I reply. "It's just ... I don't know ... fine?" shrugging and pointing at the Levante. That's all I can muster, even after hurtling up the snow-lined mountain road. That lack of enthusiasm encapsulates my entire experience with this car: It doesn't swing hard enough for the fences and straight up misses the ball with its interior.

The Levante's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 is a good engine. Based on the engine from the Ghibli SQ4, the revised twin-turbo V-6 produces 424 horsepower and has a top speed of 164 mph. Acceleration is sharp, even with the force of gravity weighing it down while heading up the mountain road. Its performance isn't anything to shake your head at, but in a world where sports SUVs are the darling of the industry and consumers, it isn't anything special either-unlike, for example, the monstrous twin-turbo V-8s in a host of Mercedes-AMG products.

The engine itself has oodles of character, revving wonderfully, barking at every shift, and presenting you with an auditory experience slightly better than its Ghibli sibling. Although it doesn't have the same resonance as the company's old high-revving, Ferrari-derived V-8s, it's still a suitable experience for a car wearing a Maserati badge. Shifts, however, are sluggish. They don't occur on a geologic scale like Maseratis of old, equipped with the company's outdated automated manuals, but the experience doesn't compare to any of Germany's offerings.

It also isn't as nimble or as surefooted as its German counterparts. In Comfort mode, the Levante's Skyhook air suspension soaks up most of the bumps on the freshly salted road. However, even in its stiffest Sport setting, it lists left to right when stringing corners together. Flat doesn't seem to be in its vocabulary.

As a result, when using the Levante as intended - blasting long, sweeping canyon roads such as these - there's a sense you're on the limit of adhesion or nearing the SUV's tipping point. You won't want to push the Levante as hard as you would a Macan or GLE63, and that's only one of the problems, as the inside the cabin is just as deflating as its performance characteristics.

To say the Levante is a parts-bin special would be an understatement. Every switch, knob, button, and touch point is from Fiat Chrysler's parts shelf in Detroit. The window switches are off the Chrysler 300, which are also used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango, Chrysler Pacifica, Fiat 500X, and the outgoing Dodge Dart. The steering-wheel controls, indicator and wiper stalks, HVAC controls, and the Uconnect infotainment system are all from the FCA bins. Senior editor Kirill Ougarov described it: "The 1980s called, they want their parts sharing business plan back."

There's nothing about the interior that feels as special as a Maserati should. The seats are fairly comfortable, but those are out of the Ghibli, furthering the notion that it's a car built purely of spare parts.

And then you have the price. The Levante starts at $72,000, but the SUV we tested was $99,000. That's nearly $25,000 more than a comparable Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT, which somewhat ironically has a nicer interior than the Levante. The leather is more indulgent, swaddling you in comfortably bolstered seats, and the switchgear that's jarring in the Maserati is more cohesive in the Jeep, which doesn't purport to be an Italian thoroughbred.

2017 Maserati Levante S Specifications
  • ON SALE Now
  • PRICE $99,000 (as tested)
  • ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6, 430 hp @ 5,750 rpm, 427 lb-ft @ 4,500-5,000 rpm
  • TRANSMISSION 8-speedautomatic
  • LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
  • EPA MILEAGE 14/19 mpg city/hwy
  • L X W X H 197.0 x 85.0 x 66.1 in
  • WHEELBASE 118.3 in
  • WEIGHT 4,649 lb
  • 0-60 MPH 5.2 sec
  • TOP SPEED 164 mph

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