SPORTY, SLEEK AND STRIK­ING; LEVANTE UPS THE COM­PE­TI­TION

Maserati’s an­swer to the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne ar­rives in UK. James Foss­dyke puts it through its paces

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - BY JAMES FOSS­DYKE

WHAT’S NEW?

De­spite hav­ing been pre­sent­ing 4x4 con­cepts since the early 2000s, Maserati has taken its time in com­ing to the ever-grow­ing SUV mar­ket. The Levante, though, has fi­nally ar­rived in the UK, ready to wade into bat­tle with the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne.

Un­derneath the rather at­trac­tive body­work, it’s es­sen­tially a jacked-up Ghi­bli, al­beit with some clever four­wheel-drive gub­bins and a few other choice mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Maserati freely ad­mits the Levante is no match for the Range Rover on the rough stuff, but in­stead pitches this as a sportier al­ter­na­tive that’s still more than ca­pa­ble when the go­ing gets muddy.

LOOKS AND IM­AGE

It seems the Levante is a di­vi­sive thing to look at. Some love its com­bi­na­tion of sleek lines, taut haunches and ag­gres­sive grille, but oth­ers seem less than im­pressed. Ei­ther way, it’s a strik­ing thing, but we’re very much in the love camp. We’re par­tic­u­lar fans of the long bon­net, the rak­ish rear win­dow and the nar­rowed lights, which give it a pur­pose­ful, for­ward-set stance.

In­side, the cabin feels as you’d ex­pect from a £54,000 SUV. Even if you don’t go for the ex­tended leather pack, which adds smart up­hol­stery to the dash, you’ll be sur­rounded by high-qual­ity plas­tics and soft leather seats.

SPACE AND PRAC­TI­CAL­ITY

There’s a lot of space in the Levante, but that shouldn’t come as a sur­prise con­sid­er­ing the car’s enor­mity. At a touch over five me­tres in length, the Maserati is six inches longer than a Range Rover Sport and just as wide.

It is, how­ever, around 10cm shorter than the Range Rover in terms of height, but this doesn’t cause any prob­lems in terms of prac­ti­cal­ity. There’s bags of head­room in the rear for even tall adults, and legroom is de­cent, too.

The 580-litre boot is also highly com­pet­i­tive, of­fer­ing 91 litres more ca­pac­ity than the Range Rover’s 489-litre load bay.

BE­HIND THE WHEEL

Maserati claims the Levante has been de­signed with han­dling firmly in mind, so it gets a 50/50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion, some light­weight mag­ne­sium com­po­nents and the low­est cen­tre of grav­ity of any of its ri­vals.

All that su­per­car stuff is very promis­ing, but when you get the car on the road, even that can’t hide the fact this is a five-me­tre-long, twome­tre-wide 4x4.

The steer­ing is beau­ti­fully weighted and pre­cise, body roll is well con­tained and the 3.0-litre V6 diesel en­gine serves up a pleas­ant shove in the back when you put your foot down, but it al­ways feels big and sub­stan­tial — not quite heavy, but cer­tainly chunky.

It’s still an im­pres­sively ag­ile car for its size, though. Just don’t go ex­pect­ing Gran­tur­ismo lev­els of han­dling prow­ess.

If you’ve come to the Levante in search of a transcon­ti­nen­tal cruiser with lash­ings of all-ter­rain ca­pa­bil­ity, how­ever, you’ve come to the right place.

The sus­pen­sion is tuned to pro­vide feed­back and tells you ex­actly what the wheels are en­coun­ter­ing be­neath you, but it never jolts or lurches over pot­holes.

The seats are com­fort­able too and though Maserati doesn’t pre­tend to of­fer class-lead­ing tech­nol­ogy, there’s more than enough in­fo­tain­ment kit to keep pas­sen­gers en­ter­tained.

If you do en­counter snow or mud on your trav­els, you can lift the sus­pen­sion and tune the four-wheeldrive sys­tem to re­duce its in­her­ent rear­ward bias and split the power more evenly be­tween the axles.

This doesn’t quite turn it into an ex­pe­di­tionary mud-plug­ger, but it does make it ca­pa­ble enough to tackle ter­rain far more chal­leng­ing than the av­er­age owner will ever show it.

VALUE FOR MONEY

As stan­dard, the Levante comes with a plen­ti­ful kit list, in­clud­ing full leather up­hol­stery, satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion and air sus­pen­sion, as well as other niceties such as a Har­man Kar­don sound sys­tem.

You can add more giz­mos with a range of packs, chief among which is the Lux­ury Pack, which pro­vides a pow­ered steer­ing col­umn, a 360-de­gree park­ing cam­era and heated front seats.

Al­ter­na­tively, you can go for the Sport Pack, which pro­vides alu­minium gear shift pad­dles, larger 20-inch al­loys and sportier seats.

There’s a Driver As­sis­tance Pack, too, which of­fers a horde of safety gad­gets, in­clud­ing lane de­par­ture warning and blind spot mon­i­tor­ing.

Prices start from £54,335, which is about £9,000 cheaper than the 3.0-litre V6 diesel-en­gined Range Rover Sport.

It isn’t quite that sim­ple, thanks to dif­fer­ences in spec­i­fi­ca­tion and all the rest of it, but the up­shot is that the Levante is no more ex­pen­sive than any of its ri­vals.

WHO WOULD BUY ONE?

The Levante will prob­a­bly al­ways stay a niche of­fer­ing com­pared with the Range Rover Sports and Porsche Cayennes of this world, but it seems Maserati is quite con­tent with that.

The Levante, then, takes its place as a like­able, char­ac­ter­ful al­ter­na­tive to those seg­ment lead­ers — a way of stand­ing out from the crowd with­out sac­ri­fic­ing lux­ury, per­for­mance or ca­pa­bil­ity.

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