Maserati hits the right note

A twin-turbo petrol V6 brings the Le­vante back to clas­sic Maserati char­ac­ter, writes

The Southland Times - - Motoring -

feels a lot more power and ag­gres­sion is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate.

In fact, you can calm the S quite ef­fec­tively by just driv­ing it in nor­mal mode. It’s au­rally re­strained, the adap­tive sus­pen­sion is com­fort­able and you can sim­ply cruise.

The sus­pen­sion sys­tem also gives the driver a fair few op­tions on how and where to drive, with six dif­fer­ent height lev­els. The driver can al­ter the ride height via a rocker switch or by choos­ing dif­fer­ent driv­ing modes on the cen­tral con­sole. The height vari­a­tion from the low­est po­si­tion to the high­est is 75 mil­lime­tres – up to 85mm with the Park level in­cluded.

The Le­vante could al­most pass for a top-level lux­ury car, were it not for some slightly pro­saic el­e­ments in the cabin.

There’s no deny­ing the qual­ity of the very ex­pen­sive and very touchy feely ma­te­ri­als, but the ar­chi­tec­ture is pretty or­di­nary. Some of that is down to Maserati’s reliance on the Fiat Chrysler parts bin, but there’s also just a gen­eral lack of imag­i­na­tion in the de­sign and lay­out.

Would we want to go back to the old days of Maserati, when switchgear was ar­ranged by scat­ter­gun and bits felt like they might fall off at any time? Of course not. But the pas­sion of the way the car drives doesn’t quite 3.0-litre twin-turbo petrol V6, 321kW/580Nm, 8-speed au­to­matic, AWD, Com­bined econ­omy 10.9 litres per 100km, 0-100kmh 5.2 sec­onds.

5003mm long, 1679mm high, 3004mm wheel­base, lug­gage ca­pac­ity 580 litres, 20-inch al­loy wheels with 265/40 front and 295/35 rear tyres.

We like: Awe­some pow­er­train char­ac­ter, tena­cious han­dling, SUVprac­ti­cal.

Looks thor­oughly un­re­mark­able from some an­gles, cabin lacks flair. trans­late to the in­te­rior en­vi­ron­ment, that’s all.

Part of the Maserati ethos is also be­ing OTT about per­son­al­i­sa­tion.

So aside from the three trim lev­els, you can choose be­tween seven dif­fer­ent al­loy wheels, five of which are new for 2018. There are five dif­fer­ent in­te­rior trim choices, two dif­fer­ent steer­ing wheels and four dif­fer­ent colours for the brake calipers.

And that’s be­fore you start to re­ally dig into the finer de­tail of the op­tions list.

Do you have any­thing sen­si­ble to add?

Well, Le­vante has taken a big step to­wards the mod­ern age with the ad­di­tion of elec­tric power steer­ing, which, in turn, en­ables an en­hanced range of ac­tive safety fea­tures.

So the high-rid­ing Maser now ticks a lot of boxes. New ac­tive func­tions in­clude High­way As­sist, Lane Keep­ing As­sist and Ac­tive Blind Spot As­sist, as well as Traf­fic Sign Recog­ni­tion.

Also stan­dard are Adap­tive Cruise Con­trol with stop and go, For­ward Col­li­sion Warn­ing Plus (FCW Plus), Ad­vanced Brake As­sist sys­tem (ABA), Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing and Sur­round View Cam­era.

Good school-run car, then?

Al­most cer­tainly, if your chil­dren’s school­mates aren’t fright­ened by howl­ing V6 en­gines and mas­sive grilles with pointy tri­dents on them.

Ac­tu­ally, the Le­vante is a pretty prac­ti­cal SUV. It rides on a very long wheel­base and rear seat space is gen­er­ous.

That’s per­haps be­cause Maserati has a fair bit of ex­pe­ri­ence in four-door ma­chines, so it knows the value of prop­erly com­fort­able cab­ins.

The boot’s not bad ei­ther: 580 litres. Just re­mem­ber to se­cure loose items.

Maserati Le­vante S Grans­port Base price: $174,990. Pow­er­train and per­for­mance:

Vi­tal statis­tics:

We don’t like:

Any other cars I should con­sider?

The Maserati’s com­bi­na­tion of high-power petrol-SUV per­for­mance and lux­ury is not easy to match, es­pe­cially at the $175k price of our Le­vante S GranS­port model (there are also en­try-level and posh-cen­tric Lusso ver­sions).

The Range Rover Sport SVR is prob­a­bly the model that’s the clos­est in char­ac­ter, but it’s a lot more pow­er­ful (su­per­charged V8) and a lot more ex­pen­sive. Porsche’s Cayenne S is a con­tender – al­though you could ar­gue it’s a lot more low-key than the Le­vante. If the Le­vante S is a bit rich for your blood, we’re about to see a lower-pow­ered (well, 260kW) ver­sion for $139,880. More on that soon.

There is also a wild card, of course. The smaller, cheaper Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadri­foglio is in no way a com­peti­tor for the Le­vante S... but then maybe it is: it’s very Ital­ian, very fast and also has an en­gine with a claim to Fer­rari fame.

PHO­TOS: DAVID LINKLATER/STUFF

Ex­quis­ite ma­te­ri­als, but the over­all look and lay­out is not quite lux­ury-car spe­cial. On a coun­try road, no­body can hear your Maserati V6 scream.

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