2017 Maserati Levante First Review


There's no better evidence that the concept of a luxury vehicle has changed than to get behind the wheel of a 2017 Maserati Levante. While we've seen other upscale marques, especially German in origin, developing luxury SUVs like the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Porsche Cayenne, the Levante represents an Italian take on the genre offering sensuous design, supple leather and a melodious exhaust note to give high-end buyers another option when considering these high-riding vehicles.

As a latecomer to the game, the Maserati has the advantage of tailoring its approach to position its vehicles where its rivals are not. The styling is much more expressive?the profile of the vehicle is decidedly in the coupe-inspired 4-door genre. The Levante's silhouette is eerily reminiscent of the old Infiniti FX series, which shows that sometimes being way out ahead of the curve sometimes doesn't pay off as well as being a late follower.

Pure Maserati details
While the Levante's shape may recall the FX, the detailing is pure Maserati -- from its massive trident in the middle of a wide-toothed grille to the portholes on the front fenders. The character lines flow and swoop low to rise up and form muscular haunches in the rear quarter panels. Riding on a 118.3-inch wheelbase, the Levante has presence, measuring 197 inches overall and standing 66.1 inches tall.

For all its exterior mass, the interior is fairly closely coupled. There are comfortable bucket seats up front and a three-across second row bench that's better suited for two passengers. There's no lack of leather hides in this sensual cabin where it's used to cover the seats, dash and doors. Our Sport model was trimmed out in red, with black contrasting surfaces. It works well with the graphite gray exterior that's complemented by 20-inch satin-finish alloy wheels and huge red brake calipers.

Two states of tune
Buyers can opt for one of two variants: a standard model and the Sport. Both come with a Ferrari-developed 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission with a traditional torque converter. The regular Levante boasts 345 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, while the more muscular Sport boasts 424 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. The Levante distributes that output to all four corners through its Q4 intelligent all-wheel drive. The Sport can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds with a top speed of 164 mph, while the standard model hits 60 in 5.8 seconds and maxes out at 158 mph.

Equipped with magnetically adjustable shocks and air springs, the Levante offers 5 different ride heights over a range of three inches: two higher settings for off-road, a normal height and two lower levels that help enhance its aerodynamic profile above the respective speeds of 80 and 100 mph. There's a sixth, lowest setting for when the vehicle is parked. The Levante also offers four drive models, normal (which has fuel-saving stop/start), I.C.E. (Increased Control & Efficiency), sport and off-road. The I.C.E. setting, as the name implies, is good not only for winter weather, but by starting off in a higher gear and using a less-aggressive shifting strategy, also ups the efficiency quotient. The sport mode, on the other hand, has two levels. The first opens up a secondary exhaust flap for a louder and sharper engine note as well as remapping the throttle to increase responsiveness and providing an overboost feature from the turbochargers throughout the rev range. The second level stiffens the suspension and lowers the ride height to further enhance the vehicle's handling.

Instead of embracing electrically assisted steering, the Levante relies on tried-and-true hydraulic boost. The steering has some weight with good feedback. Tipping the scales at 4,640 pounds, the Levante feels hefty, but the sport version has enough torque to make this Maserati feel relatively light on its feet. The exhaust note is pronounced, with a uniquely Italian-flavored bark to it, though some of our staff felt that on throttle lift-off the snaps and pops sounded more like a rattle from a heat shield. Still, when you're on it, there's no mistaking the Ferrari influence under the hood.

At what price luxury?
The base price on the 2017 Maserati Levante starts at $72,000. Our Sport model, with its 20-inch wheels, more powerful engine, retails for $95,575. The Levante also benefits from a complete suite of driver assists including hill holder, hill descent control, adaptive cruise with stop and go, blind spot alert, lane-departure and forward-collision warnings as well as park assist and a rear- and all-around view camera. Buyers can also opt for a Luxury Package that includes chromed front grille, stainless steel door and trunk sills, premium leather or the Zegna Edition interior featuring materials specified by noted Italian designer Ermenegildo Zegna which includes silk on the headliner and seat and door inserts.

There is plenty of stiff competition in the luxury SUV segment, especially when you include not only traditional players like Range Rover, but also factor in more contemporary rivals like Jaguar with its F-Pace. Maserati is among the latter with the Levante. Others like Porsche and Audi may have established their own pedigrees when it comes to performance and technology, but there are few if any that can combine expressive design and performance flair. And that's what Maserati has to offer, it's not really for everyone, but its uniqueness is in a way its own reward.

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