From £60,2307

Is this Ferrari-engined Levante the performance SUV it always should have been?

Last year was not kind to the Maserati Levante.

Worse still, that probably came as a surprise to the management at Maserati’s parent firm, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. In the 15 months following the model’s introduction in 2016, some 25,000 examples found owners; compared with Maserati’s 32,000 sales across all of its models the previous year, such volume was an encouraging bellwether for this new SUV. It seemed the high-riding Levante would do for the Bolognese brand what the Jaguar F-Pace did for Jaguar, the Porsche Cayenne has done for Porsche and the Bentley Bentayga now seems to be doing for Bentley – usher in a period of prosperity and provide the financial basis for the continued development of traditional sports cars.

Quad pipe exhaust system really trumpets the V6’s engine note when it’s bypassing the silencers in the car’s sportier driving modes

However, reports suggest Levante production at FCA’s Mirafiori plant was down more than 40% in 2018, with staff temporarily ‘idled’ to better align the number of cars rolling off the line with demand, most of which comes from China, with the US an easy second before the big European markets. The drop is dramatic, and made all the more painful because the SUV segment continues to grow with global enthusiasm. How has such a strikingly good-looking newcomer from arguably the most storied brand in the business failed to capitalise on this trend?

The answers are hinted at in the Levante’s original Autocar road test. It scored just three stars from five, and we called it out on the grounds of its tepid turbodiesel performance, ordinary handling, questionable cabin specification and perceived quality. Simply, Range Rover and the German brands did it better, even if the Maserati’s all-round ambience and aggressive pricing made it worthy of consideration.

Back to top

Now Maserati has refreshed the Levante, introducing new technology and greater aesthetic flair. This time we also have a petrol V6 engine at our disposal, something denied to UK buyers until last year. Time to find out whether this left-field contender can claim its spot in the limelight.

The Maserati Levante range at a glance

Maserati UK has yet to offer one of the V8-engined Levante GTS or Trofeo models, so for now the 424bhp V6 S is the range-topper for Britain. There are effectively three trim levels: Levante, GranSport and GranLusso. GranSport introduces a more performance-oriented aesthetic, including features such as sports seats, aluminium shift paddles and black detailing on exterior panels. GranLusso is a more luxurious take, adding silk interior and chrome brightwork.

Price £79,125 Power 424bhp Torque 478lb ft 0-60mph 5.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 6.5sec Fuel economy 16.0mpg CO2 emissions 273-282g/km 70-0mph 44.0m

What Car? new Car buyer marketplace - Maserati Levante

Maserati Levante S GranLusso 2019 road test review - hero side

In updating the Levante, Maserati has made few mechanical changes to keep its car competitive with rivals.

As a 2.1-tonne SUV, the claim that the Levante is ‘built like a classic Maserati sports car’ might have rung a little hollow, though its aluminium-rich platform is shared with the Maserati Ghibli and Maserati Quattroporte saloons rather than anything from Jeep.

Classic chrome-trimmed front grille features active blades that control the flow of air through to the engine intake tract, either improving engine performance or aerodynamic efficiency, and therefore fuel economy

The suspension geometry itself is derived directly from that of the Ghibli (double wishbones at the front, with a five-link rear), albeit with greater travel for rougher trails, heightened spring rates and better control of camber and toe angles to respond to the six different ride heights permitted by the standard-fit air springs, says Maserati.

As before, Skyhook dampers sit at each corner, while most European models – our Levante S GranLusso test car included – benefit from six-piston Brembo brakes at the front axle. Meanwhile, for the revised V8 models that remain slightly further off for UK buyers, Maserati has added a strut brace to reinforce the front half of the chassis, while on all models the rear body structure is predominantly made of steel for greater strength. Those eight-cylinder cars duly tip the scales 60kg more heavily than the V6 versions, though Maserati claims all have perfect 50:50 weight distribution, and the drag coefficient remains among the lowest in the class.

Modern Maserati is keen to make the most of its relationship with Ferrari, and we are reminded that the 3.8-litre V8 engines on offer – respectively tuned to 542bhp and 582bhp in the GTS and Trofeo models – and the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 sampled here come from the most famous name in the business.

Ours is tuned to 424bhp, though a 345bhp version of the V6 is available too, with a VM Motori-built 271bhp 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 propping up the range. In its quickest guise, the Levante will sprint to 62mph in a scarcely credible 3.9sec, though even the claimed 5.2sec figure for our Levante S GranLusso is far from embarrassing.

All models use an eight-speed gearbox from German firm ZF, with Maserati’s Q4 all-wheel-drive system heavily biased towards the rear axle, even once slip is detected.

A limited-slip differential between the rear wheels also comes as standard, and operates in conjunction with a revised brake-based torque-vectoring system. For the updated Levante, Maserati’s Integrated Vehicle Control system has also been woven into the stability-control electronics. Both engine speed and braking are adjusted on a predictive basis, allegedly nullifying the early-onset understeer inherent to most SUVs.

Maserati Levante S GranLusso 2019 road test review - front seats

Putting the Levante GranLusso’s interior under the microscope is an undertaking that’s as exasperating as it is delightful. On the face of things, Maserati seems to have worked hard to create a space that looks and feels not just upmarket but alternatively so, to imbue a distinct sense of identity, richness, luxury and flair next to the more serious, purposeful interiors of rivals from Porsche or Audi.

Our car’s tan leather upholstery with its Ermenegildo Zegna silk inserts best exemplifies this, as do the £1035 Ebano wood trim inserts that extracted comparisons to Riva speedboats and vintage Fender Stratocasters from our testers. At a glance, the Levante’s is a classy and sophisticated cabin; but these almost romantic initial impressions begin to erode under closer inspection.

In terms of tactile appeal, the wheel-mounted controls for a small digital screen and cruise control are not on a level with the Levante’s German rivals

Cheap-feeling plastic switchgear and controls that don’t belong on an £80k car are the main offenders in this regard, and their abundant presence doesn’t make for an endearing juxtaposition against the more tasteful elements of the Maserati’s cabin. The plasticky controls on the centre console look particularly jarring against the wood veneer, while the hard grey moulding that surrounds the infotainment screen is similarly unattractive. The row of climate controls immediately below might work well from an ergonomic point of view but, as with so much of the switchgear, it lacks the tactile appeal and material richness expected for the price.

The Levante makes use of Maserati’s Touch Control Plus (MTC+) infotainment system, which is effectively a reskinned version of FCA’s latest UConnect set-up. This means an 8.4in touchscreen is the main means of interacting with and controlling the majority of the Levante’s functions, which include satellite navigation, heated seats and steering wheel, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are also included as standard.

While the operating system itself is easy enough to learn, it’s not always quite as slick as you would expect a near-£80,000 car’s infotainment suite to be: there can be a noticeable delay when switching between menus and the graphics for the satellite navigation aren’t outstanding. Setting up Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mirroring is easy, but the lack of any apparent shortcut buttons makes navigating back to the menu to change the radio station or adjust seat heater temperatures a frustrating endeavour.

Interior space is reasonable, but not as abundant as its five-metre footprint suggests it should be. Despite being bigger than both a Range Rover Sport and a Porsche Cayenne (in both length and wheelbase), it’s the Maserati that comes up short for rear leg room. The Levante’s 710mm compares with 740mm for the Range Rover and 790mm for the Porsche. Admittedly, four adults will fit comfortably, but Maserati’s packaging efforts still seem questionable.

This is especially true when you look at boot space as, somehow, it’s the Maserati that trails again. With the rear seats in place, the Levante has a 580-litre boot; the Porsche’s and the Range Rover’s, meanwhile, are 745 and 784 litres respectively.


The bald performance figures of this, Maserati’s most powerful six-cylinder Levante, are not to be sniffed at.

Unlike its diesel rangemate, the Levante S feels very much the bona fide performance SUV from the driver’s seat – once you’ve probed all the way to the end of the car’s long-travel accelerator pedal, that is. That it launches from standing without the aggressive savagery of its in-house rival, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, is entirely in keeping with the Levante’s more rounded, sophisticated character; the Maserati feels so much smoother and more serene even at full chat than the Alfa.

The Levante isn’t exactly guilty of having an overly ambitious speedometer: 70mph is positioned directly at 12 o’clock. Strange how satisfying it is to keep the needle dead straight on the motorway

There is enough torque and traction here, however, to send the Levante S to 60mph in just 5.1sec; to 100mph in less than 13sec; and from 30-70mph through the gears in only 4.5sec. In every case, those figures make this car an almost perfect match for a V8 diesel-powered Audi SQ7 on kickdown pace – and a league quicker than the Levante diesel we tested in 2016. You could buy quicker for the money, certainly, but it would be hard to find a direct rival with a more cultured and appealing blend of speed, soul, mechanical richness and good manners.

The car’s Ferrari-assembled, twin-turbocharged, narrow-angle V6 is of a different engine family than the one in Alfa’s current crop of ‘Cloverleaf’ offerings, but it has a similarly elastic, urgent and free-revving power delivery that rewards the occasional excursion to 6000rpm yet also makes quicker progress easy in the middle of the rev range. It sounds discreetly exotic and well-bred, with a sporting cutting edge that adds just enough spice to the audible recipe.

Our GranLusso-spec test car went without column-mounted gearshift paddles but, for a car of a grand touring brief, rather than a more dedicated performance machine, the omission doesn’t jar too much.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts with judicious timing in ‘D’, and that it could be a touch quicker in manual mode is a little disappointing but easy enough to forgive given how smoothly it generally operates.

Maserati Levante S GranLusso 2019 road test review - on the road front

The Levante S’s rolling chassis and adaptively damped air suspension give it good grip levels, respectable body control and steering that can, at times, be encouragingly tactile – but between them they create only just enough sporting purpose and handling poise to lift the car above the dynamic level of the average big SUV.

It says plenty about the investment going into this segment right now that a car that’s only been on the market since 2016 in any form can so quickly fall behind the class’s prevailing standards for things like bump absorption, ride dexterity, mid-corner stability and throttle-on handling balance. In some of those ways, the Levante doesn’t miss the mark by much. And yet the simple truth is that, having driven a Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Velar or Audi Q8 with a bit of enthusiasm, you’d be unlikely to be too impressed by the way in which the Levante S conducts itself on a testing cross-country road. It does not feel lighter, smaller, keener or more agile than its key rivals, and it doesn’t quite entice you to adopt a quicker stride like some do.

The Levante’s slightly clumsy, fidgety suspension reminded me of the way heavy, air-sprung cars used to ride a decade or more ago. I hope very much the forthcoming V8 versions get a thoroughly overhauled system

The car’s air suspension, which continually adjusts its ride height based on your speed, sets out to provide a laid-back sense of compliance when left in comfort mode with limited success (which we’ll come on to). It comes at the cost of some lateral body control, however, making the car feel a little flighty over bumps, and more prone to roll than you expect it to be when cornering quickly. Switch to sport mode on the car’s Skyhook dampers and body control improves along with steering weight (which is quite light initially), although the ride becomes notably less supple and settled, and gets brittle at times.

The upshot is that while a blend of control weight, handling precision, body control and ride compliance well-suited to UK roads may well be there to be conjured from the Levante’s various systems and mechanicals, you can’t quite get access to it with the car tuned as it is. Moreover, the suspension modes that the Levante does provide don’t serve it as well as they should.

A good-sized bump or ridge hitting the loaded side of the Levante S’s axles midway through a hard-charged corner is all it takes to demonstrate that the car isn’t the most dynamically sophisticated luxury SUV of its kind. The car’s ride becomes a bit wooden and brittle when thus interrogated, lacking the ability to keep its body upright while retaining much dexterity in reserve.

The car’s medium-paced steering means it takes more physical input to get it turned into tighter bends than you might expect to put in. Although it’s got decent outright lateral control when in sport mode and sticks to a line well enough on a balanced throttle, the car’s limited-slip differential for its rear axle doesn’t make for a particularly poised or adjustable attitude from apex to exit. Pour on power mid-corner with the electronic stability control deactivated and the Levante gently understeers.


Given the Levante’s shortfalls in relation to its athletic abilities, we hoped it would win back favour by playing the role of cosseting, relaxing long-distance tourer in a more convincing fashion. This was not quite so. The fidgeting sense of restiveness that hassled its primary and secondary rides plays its part, but so too does a handful of other foibles.

The Levante’s ability to isolate its passengers from the outside world, for instance, is far from outstanding. While tyre roar is noticeable at motorway speeds, it’s engine noise that serves to be a greater source of fatigue; settle the Levante into a 70mph cruise and the V6’s mellifluous growl is replaced by a persistent drone. Under these conditions, our sound gear measured the Levante’s cabin noise at 68dB – one decibel louder than the Range Rover Sport SVR and its famously raucous 5.0-litre supercharged V8.

Adjustability in the seat base, steering column and even pedal box does see the Levante claw back a few marks for comfort, but still fails to entirely mask a driving position that never quite feels natural.

The steering wheel, for instance, is surprisingly large (although GranSport models get a smaller one) and its squared-off rim didn’t sit comfortably in every tester’s hands. The footwell is uncommonly narrow, and there’s a particularly pronounced right-handed offset for the pedals, leaving little space to rest your left foot. And while the seats offer ample lateral bracing, some testers experienced difficulty finding a suitable amount of lumbar support.

Maserati Levante S GranLusso 2019 road test review - hero front

Prices for the Levante S start at £72,590 but, if you want to have yours in either GranSport or GranLusso spec (as most buyers probably will), you’ll need to part with at least another £6500 on top.

In the case of our GranLusso test car, paying this extra cash adds that stunning Ermenegildo Zegna interior, soft-close doors, chrome exterior brightwork and more on top of the Maserati’s already tidy roster of standard equipment.

Both the Porsche Cayenne S and BMW X5 40i maintain a greater proportion of their original value after three years / 36,000 miles

Being a luxury SUV, there’s scope for additional personalisation. Options added to our car included Blu Nobile triple-coat paint (£2400), as well as 20in alloys (£1300), rear privacy glass (£360) and a Bowers & Wilkins surround sound system (£2300). The £1600 Driver Assistance Pack adds active safety systems (which should be sought out on second-hand cars), including blindspot alert, advanced brake assist, traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control with stop and go.

All up, our Levante came in at £92,105. That’s not quite Porsche Cayenne Turbo money, but you would be able to get a very generously equipped (and dynamically superior) Cayenne S for less.

What Car? new Car buyer marketplace - Maserati Levante

Maserati Levante S GranLusso 2019 road test review - static

Two and a half years ago, when we road tested the Maserati Levante in the diesel-engined form in which it was introduced to the UK market, we concluded that it was somehow neither fish nor fowl: not quite a competitive rival for the SUV market’s Teutonic ruling powers, but not a true Italian exotic either.

Now that the undistinguished diesel engine of that car can be avoided, however, and a much more soulful, powerful and pleasing twin-turbo petrol V6 adopted in its place, the Levante’s identity problem has been addressed. The Levante S is a car with the performance, refinement and mechanical richness you expect of a Maserati. However, that it is without the multi-faceted ride and handling sophistication to make it a true challenger to the best driver’s cars of its ilk, even in this form, should remain a source of disillusionment for Maserati brand devotees, just as it was to us.

Better engine improves the class’s curate’s egg but can’t redeem it

Ritzy, rich and eye-catching in some ways yet lacking in substance in others, the Maserati Levante S therefore does half a star better than its forebear did, but remains double the distance off the best cars in the luxury SUV class.

What Car? new Car buyer marketplace - Maserati Levante

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Maserati Levante First drives