Italian manufacturer joins the oil-burning premium SUV ranks
Like the Jaguar F-Pace and the Bentley Bentayga before it, this is the car touted to grow its maker’s sales from low-volume mediocrity to something to boast about. It’s a task made harder not only by the quality of the opposition but also by its sheer quantity.
Going by its dimensions, the diesel Levante is a rival for the Porsche Cayenne, but the price for this model puts everything from an Audi SQ5 to a 3.0D F-Pace among its rivals, while our test car’s £70,174 with-options cost gets you a Range Rover Sport.
The Land Rover actually makes for a good yardstick as Maserati claims a similarly broad range of virtues for its SUV. To make good on the claims, the car combines a rear-biased all-wheel drive system with self-levelling air springs on front double wishbone, rear multi-link suspension.
In the UK we get the same 271bhp V6 and eight-speed ZF transmission that feature in the Ghibli Diesel.
The bond is recognisable inside, too, where the architecture replicates much of the saloon’s, but the aesthetic has been tweaked to suit the SUV’s higher scuttle and driving position. Leather is standard, although the premium fine-grain leather in the pictures is a £2650 option, as is the high-gloss carbonfibre trim (£2280).
The added finery doesn’t entirely paper over the Levante’s bottom line. The branded oval clock is drab, the start/stop switch has a Chrysler parts bin feel to it, none of the switchgear would past muster in a Porsche and if you wish to engage Drive or Reverse in a single movement, you’ll need the dexterity of an eye surgeon to work the fiddly selector.
Even with forward motion finally engaged, there’s another problem: the Levante isn’t terribly fast. Pull away with only moderate gusto and the car ambles forward in a way that might feel a little pedestrian to a Macanor SQ5 driver. The reasons aren’t complicated: the car weighs 2205kg – over 300kg more than a 3.0D F-Pace, which produces 73lb ft more. Several years ago we called the equivalent Ghibli’s performance adequate; toiling under the SUV spread has done the unexceptional V6 no favours and it seems less worthy of a Maserati trident than ever.
Ironically, its stodginess is quite well suited to the inconsistent chassis. The fundamental dynamic identity is sensibly plagiarised from the premium SUV rulebook, creating a typically thick-set and thickly steered presence to command from the driver’s seat. But too often the generally satisfying experience is hampered by the air suspension’s tendency to gripe at intrusions rather than flatten them, while the primary ride gently roves about looking for an equilibrium that it apparently cannot locate on British roads.
Next to a Range Rover Sport, it makes for a mildly unpolished experience and, when the pace increases, one unable to make quite the same virtue of its size and weight. Driving the Levante briskly is, at best, uneventful. There is certainly sufficient grip and balance to nonchalantly deliver the V6’s potential, but the car rarely feels overtly rear-driven or encouraging in the way an F-Pace or a Macan would, and inconsistent steering makes it hard to place with much confidence.
The lack of vigour is a problem, because so much of the competition extols it as a basic asset. Whatever you think of powerful, pricey SUVs, they are very much in the business of seriously expediting family journeys, and the bubble of tranquillity, comfort and composure in which they do it has become ever more convincing. The Levante manages all three, but none at a level to usurp its rivals on this first look. Perhaps the leaner, faster petrol V6 might have faired better, and almost certainly it would have made a better Maserati.
Good-looking and capable enough but not near the top of a segment crowded with potent rivals
Engine: V6, 2993cc, diesel
Power: 271bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 443lb ft at 2000-2600rpm
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 2205kg
Top speed: 143mph
Economy: 39.2mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 189g/km, 35%
Rivals: Porsche Cayenne Diesel, Range Rover Sport 3.0 SDV6