Maserati's first stab at an SUV sees the Italian brand building foundations to be a true luxury power in the shape of the Levante

Find Maserati Levante diesel deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
Nearly-new car deals
From £49,950
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

The transformation of Maserati from a maker of pretty but also rare hand-built grand touring coupés into a fully fledged global luxury car brand has been forging ahead at full steam for the past three years.

But with this road test subject it comes to a rather large and conspicuous climax.

The Levante is the seventh Maserati to be named after a wind, after the Bora, Ghibli, Shamal, Mistral and others

The new Levante is interesting because it takes the Italian brand into a third permanent production base and swells its showroom offering to five models when, throughout a century of history, it has rarely built more than two or three at a time.

It is also vital, because it takes Maserati into the biggest and most lucrative part of the world’s luxury car market.

But it’s most remarkable because, as you’ll no doubt have noticed, it’s an SUV: a £56,000, high-riding, four-wheel-drive, five-metre-long reason not to buy a Range Rover Sport, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6 or Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupé.

Whether Maserati should be making such a car has become a moot point. As recently departed company CEO Harald Wester could always be relied upon to point out, risking the Maserati brand on a big 4x4 – given how popular they have become – is actually much less cavalier than declining to do so.

With Porsche, Bentley and so many other luxury brands already feeding off the benefits of big-selling SUVs, while Alfa Romeo and Lamborghini are beginning to breach the market and Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce planning to join them, Maserati has clearly judged that its sporting reputation isn’t likely to be eroded here – and if it is, it’ll be a price worth paying.

Back to top

The Levante is, of course, just one part of a process of wholesale expansion and change at Maserati. While the Granturismo and Grancabrio are still largely hand-built at Maserati’s long-established headquarters in Modena, the current Maserati Quattroporte and Maserati Ghibli have, since 2013, been made at Bertone’s old Grugliasco plant.

In that context, Maserati’s expansion into a refurbished part of Fiat’s historic Mirafiori factory in Turin (where the Alfa Romeo Mito is made) for Levante production seems like a less contentious move than it might have.

And yet, as brand traditionalists will note, this car is certainly not built in Modena, it’s no sleek, elegant saloon or coupé and, for a time in the UK, it was only available with a diesel engine. Tweaks made for the 2018 model year has seen the introduction of a Ferrari-developed, twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine.

So just how much of the heart and soul of a ‘proper’ Maserati is left?

Save you money 83


Maserati Levante rear

To give credit where it’s due, the Levante plainly isn’t just another big 4x4 – and you can tell as much before you’ve even got near the driver’s seat.

Having accepted that so much of its potential global market would prefer its automotive luxury delivered by an SUV, Maserati has evidently been at pains to make the most sporting example it can. And so it quotes the best coefficient of drag and the lowest centre of gravity of any car of its kind.

The Levante’s platform is a further development of the steel Ghibli’s monocoque, although aluminium features in the bodywork and the front subframe

The Levante’s body, chassis and suspension are rich in aluminium, and the claimed kerb weight of the example we tested was 2205kg – a respectable but not outstanding figure for a first attempt at such a car.

The Levante’s platform is shared with the Quattroporte and Maserati Ghibli saloons and is therefore more closely related to the one found under a Chrysler 300C than anything currently used by Jeep. And there’s no shortage of sophisticated suspension and drivetrain components thrown in here.

As standard, the Maserati Levante gives you height-adjustable air suspension, which is fitted with ‘Skyhook’ adaptive dampers, as well as an eight-speed automatic gearbox, full-time four-wheel drive with electronic torque vectoring, and a mechanical limited-slip differential between the rear wheels.

The car is offered with a choice of turbocharged V6 petrol and diesel engines. The Levante Diesel uses the same 271bhp, 443lb ft VM Motori 3.0-litre V6 that is used to power the Ghibli and Quattroporte, while the Levante S gets a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-litre petrol punching out 424bhp and capable of propelling the big SUV to 62mph in 5.2sec and onto to 164mph.

It gives the SUV on-paper competitiveness against other large, sporty SUVs on  CO2 emissions, 0-62mph acceleration and outright speed fronts, although its claimed figures don’t appear to mark it out as anything outstanding.


Maserati Levante interior

The bar here is set high by the readily apparent luxury and perceived quality of the Levante’s rivals – but Maserati clears this initial hurdle with room to spare.

The car’s driving position is excellent: vaunted and commanding yet congenial and very slightly hunkered down behind the high scuttle.

If the gearbox weren’t frustrating enough, to manually disengage the electric handbrake you pull the switch up. To engage it? Well, you pull it up as well. Which is annoying

Out in front is a landing strip of a bonnet; beneath you is a comfy and gently sporting seat. It’s a fine start (more Jaguar F-Pace than Porsche Cayenne) and is not immediately undone by the rest of the interior.

Anyone familiar with the Maserati Ghibli should spot the family resemblance in the swooping ‘V’ of the dash, the bold analogue instrument cluster and the broad centre console, but the Levante’s cabin is still distinctive enough for it to stand out in Maserati’s line-up.

With the application of £2650 worth of fine-grain leather, it looks the part, too, but not every surface, nor every item of switchgear, is as impeccably crafted as in Porsche’s SUV cabins. There’s cheaper plastic to find if you go looking for it – most notably in the brazenly naff clock and the Chrysler parts-bin starter button.

However, much as the moon is impossible to see when the sun is up, you’ll probably not initially notice these cheaper fixtures for the white-hot ire you’ll be directing at the car’s intransigent gear selector. Maserati apparently wants the button and lever to be operated with tea-party gentleness, which is a level of patient etiquette not common in road testers.

Consequently, finding Drive, Reverse or Park in a single movement while in a hurry is more miss than hit.

There are broader misgivings to report about the Levante’s overall packaging. This is a large SUV (and it certainly feels it on narrow roads), yet its innards don’t seem to yield up enough interior volume to appropriately reflect the space being taken up by the car on the outside.

There’s room enough for four adults, but you get the distinct impression that three school-age children sitting across the rear bench would feel a bit cramped. The load bay isn’t extravagantly roomy, either, due mainly to a lack of decent height. Maserati claims 580 litres of load space, or around 70 litres less than you’d get in the smaller F-Pace, which feels no less spacious inside.

The main focal point of the Levante’s dashboard is the 8.4in touchscreen of its all-new infotainment system. Maserati is not the only car maker to fall into the trap of presenting its multimedia options as if on a tablet, but it might be the only one to have pursued the idea so diligently.

The problem with the home screen layout — which appears like a simplified version of that which you might see on an iPad — is that you need to be able to pick out a function within half a second so your eyes can be returned safely to the road.

Because of that criteria, having 19 options all displayed in very similar, same-colour graphics is plainly less than ideal. Over time, of course, you’d memorise the position of each sub-menu, but over a few days we were still stabbing away in a half-panic.

Otherwise, the system is obliging enough, and while the sat-nav is a notch or two less well developed than those of its premium rivals, there’s a solid choice of stereo equipment, including a Bowers & Wilkins Quantum Logic surround system with Kevlar speakers and a 1280W amp.

Those considering a Levante are given three choices when choosing a trim. The first decision is whether to opt for the diesel or petrol variant, and then to decide whether to keep the car standard, which comes with a wealth of standard equipment. Or opt for the luxury-biased GranLusso trim or the sportier looking GranSport trim.


Maserati Levante side profile

Given that it wears the same badge as Juan Manuel Fangio’s 250F Formula 1 car, the Levante is an SUV from which it seems reasonable to expect a bit of briskness.

Particularly so because all of its key rivals provide a convincing sense of muscular V6 shove – and it’s surely for the Levante to go one better than most.

Understeer that appears isn’t surprising; the lack of obvious help from the rear axle is, though. The Levante’s unsportiness starts here

Given the 6.8sec 0-60mph time we recorded, the Levante’s performance seems worthy enough in isolation – but when you check what an equivalent BMW X5, Range Rover Sport or Porsche Cayenne will do, it’s nothing special.

But the biggest problem here is that the Levante will only achieve this kind of pace when put under unseemly duress – when launching against the brakes and held stationary at almost full power. 

Move away from rest in a slightly more dignified fashion (as every driver will) and you can expect the standard sprint to 60mph to take at least a second or two longer.

That may sound like a trifling concern, but it’s indicative of a wider one. When accelerating from any prevailing speed, the Levante won’t brush off its mass and pick up the pace with the sort of authority that has become a familiar, effortless feature of its rivals and really befits a luxury sporting car.

It’s because the single-turbo diesel engine is operating at a sizeable disadvantage on peak torque – worth as much as 70lb ft in some cases – compared with plenty of the cars against which it must be measured. And the result, not dissimilar to our experience of the Ghibli, is a more ponderous SUV than we might have expected to find wearing a Maserati badge.

Driving the Levante is also not the most refined or cultured of experiences. The most memorable big oil-burners present a deep, sonorous background level of ambient noise, rising and falling in conjunction with the accelerator pedal.

The Levante conveys this only sporadically, being unable to generate a proper hum without a noticeable undertone of clatter and rumble, and nor can it sufficiently deaden the sound of its engine on a motorway so as to be called hushed.

The Levante S is a different kettle of fish, with the sonorous twin-turbo V6 petrol is better suited to the Maserati badge. The engine is sharp and reponsive and revs more freely than its oilburning alternative, which makes it a better fit than the diesel engine.


Maserati Levante cornering

Various recent routes towards success in this department may have been demonstrated by the Jaguar F-Pace and Bentley Bentayga, but simply replicating the dynamic success of either of those cars is much more easily said than done.

Prudently, the Maserati has borrowed liberally from the playbook of others; this is a typically thick-set, heavily steered, generally purposeful-feeling car to drive.

Off-camber corners reveal equitable balance but highlights how much weight there is moving around

It feels wide (expect to instinctively breathe in on narrow roads), but the Levante nonetheless manages to conjure the familiar feeling of satisfaction that results from piloting something so overtly burly from the comfort of a crow’s nest.

However, it’s also clear that lessons sagely learnt by others have not been fully digested.

The F-Pace was a success because it upscaled – as much as it reasonably could – the dynamic prowess of the Jaguar XF.

The Levante, larger and on standard self-levelling air suspension, feels much more distantly removed from the taut sportiness that defined the Ghibli.

That would be fine except that the compromise struck between the divergent requirements of ride and handling is not a particularly satisfying one.

Naturally, comfort is prioritised here far more than it was in the saloon, but the SUV fails to make much of a virtue of its sophisticated air springs. Its various body movements make it feel curiously detached from the road, and yet it’s simultaneously keen to detail every vice and irregularity in the surface under its wheels.

Much like the Ghibli, the Levante feels as if it were tuned only with smooth roads in mind. It is most likeable on newer motorway sections; away from them, it struggles to reproduce the polish or refinement of the Range Rover Sport – or even a Porsche Macan on its optional air suspension.

And certainly, just as it is no match for the latter in a straight-line sprint, it doesn’t rival the Porsche among corners, either.

While it generates decent grip and is not without a sense of balance, the Levante is plainly too heavy and too limited in steering feel to measure up to the world’s best-handling SUV – and even by
the more appropriate standards of its closest competitors, it hardly handles very keenly.

Driven hard, the Levante is capable if ultimately less interesting than the presence of a limited-slip diff suggests it might be.

A two-level Sport mode firms up the air suspension’s resistance to body roll, and while the car never attains the composure of a Porsche Cayenne, its even weight distribution prevents it from ever becoming too untidy.

Nevertheless, the chassis never fully frees itself from the burden of the car’s mass or makes its heft seem to work in its favour, as a Range Rover Sport does. And because its engine suffers from a shortage of clout, the Levante often gives the impression of toiling — a sensation hardly moderated by the suspension’s inability to settle as satisfyingly as in rival options.

Combine that with the original steering rack that takes a moment or two for its assistance to catch up with your inputs on fast direction changes and the Levante didn't really feel like an SUV you want to drive quickly for fun. For the 2018 model update, Maserati ditched the hydraulic steering system for a electric power steering setup, which from our first encounters highlights this rack is better-weighted, crisp and very precise to interact with.


Maserati Levante

The Levante’s showroom price and quite generous standard equipment should put it in a relatively alluring place for private buyers with finance in place.

Most of the car’s active safety kit is also packaged as an option.

Lower volume is likely to help the Levante’s prices remain broadly competitive with its big-selling rivals

Those buying on monthly finance should expect to pay a premium for the Levante, with contract hire and PCP deals right now looking more expensive than those of many rivals.

Emissions of CO2 from the diesel engine aren’t low enough for the Levante to escape benefit-in-kind tax at the highest band, although VED road tax will be more reasonable than it is with the petrol version.

Meanwhile, our own fuel economy testing suggests the car will return 26mpg as a typical average – which isn’t outstanding but isn’t something that owners of large SUVs are likely to baulk at, either.

Save you money 83


3 star Maserati Levante

An SUV has become a must-have for car makers like Maserati, so the firm deserves credit for not low-balling its entry.

The Levante could have been a reworked Jeep Cherokee – a prospect to send shivers down the spine of anyone with affection for the firm’s 100-year history.

A mildly interesting also-ran, with a weak engine and so-so handling

Instead, it is in keeping with the brand’s recent output, being a good-looking, slightly odd-sized and semi-luxurious but not-quite-fast-enough mixed bag.

As with the Maserati Ghibli, Maserati has invested the Levante with the diesel engine it had available rather than the one the car really needed.

We have no trouble believing that the lighter, quicker V6 petrol model makes for a better car, while a more dynamically stimulating option might well have proved more successful in challenging the established supremacy of the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport.

As it is, the diesel Levante only makes for an average large SUV – and an anticlimactic addition to the Maserati range, while the petrol version certainly fits the bill better.

Expect it to become the firm’s best seller in due course, but don’t assume that counts for much. The Levante is more mildly interesting also-ran than the coming-of-age car it might have been.

Overall, that is why the Levante doesn’t touch our top five luxury SUVs which is headed by the formidable Range Rover Sport, followed by the Porsche CayenneVolvo XC90Audi Q7 and the BMW X5

Save you money 83

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 diesel First drives