We Say: Jumbo Maserati takes on more petite Jag for SUV supremacy
Odd, isn’t it, that we live in an age where manufacturers responsible for several of the most seductive sports cars of the last century, and heroic feats on the racetrack, are staking their future solvency on family-orientated, diesel-drinking SUVs. Nowadays, it seems, if a brand has allure we care little about where that magnetism stems from, so long as we can have a slice it for ourselves: sewn into a leather jacket, slapped across a theme park, or glued to the posterior of a pseudo off-roader. Which is how I find myself in the chocolate-box Cotswold town of Burford, adjudicating a bout between Jaguar and Maserati, but rather than upsetting the locals with our pulsating exhaust notes, we’re blending in to perfection.
First some housekeeping, because the Porsche Cayenne seem like the closer rival to the Maserati Levante in terms size, but we’ve brought along an F-Pace instead. That’s because while the Cayenne remains the dynamic benchmark in this class, we already know from driving the Levante in Italy earlier this year that it’s closer in philosophy and feel to the more easy-going Jag.
The Levante is 270mm longer, a few mm wider and taller, and weighs a not-insignificant 321kg more. However, the Jaguar’s 650-litre boot is 70 litres larger and sitting in the back both, and legroom feel virtually identical. Where the Levante squanders its extra dimensions, we’re not quite sure. Both have eight-speed autos, with paddles if the mood takes you, and 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesels – the Levante with 271 bhp, 0-62mph in 6.9 seconds and a claimed 39.2mpg, while the Jag counters with a sprightlier 296bhp, 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds and 47.1mpg.
It’s the Levante that steals the eye of more strangers, though. In fact, on its arrival at our office car park the frisson of excitement was enough for several members of staff to head down and take a look – you don’t get that, um, ever for a diesel SUV. Brandishing a jumbo trident badge, the grille is large and deep enough to imprison small children behind it, but somehow works on a car this size. Slim headlights and well-ironed creases in the bonnet are neat, too, but then from the A-pillar backwards the design team go for a break, leaving just a flat expanse of grey metal before a flick over the rear wheelarch and a fairly uneventful rear end. And despite our test car wearing 20-inchers, the wheels are swallowed by the arches. Seriously, look at the picture below – it looks like one of those silly fold-up bikes. If you can stretch to it without draining the kids’ university fund – there are 21s on the options list, yours for $4,500.
Parked nose-to-nose, the F-Pace is so much more satisfying to take in. It might lack the Levante’s jewellery, like those side gills and a quartet of gaping exhausts, but you can’t argue with perfect proportions… and 22in wheels. I know that some members of our team will blow a gasket when I recommend these full-size rims, for the detrimental effect they have on the ride, but for me they’re important if you want to do the design justice. As for the ride compromise, yes, the Jag has noticeably sharper rebounds than the Maserati on actual cracks and holes in the road, but everywhere else it’s just as smooth.