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 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.