Car Reviews

2017 Maserati Levante Review

Robert Pepper’s first drive 2017 Maserati Levante review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: Maserati’s first SUV is a worthy effort with different strengths than what we’re used to from the premium Italian marque.

2017 Maserati Levante

Pricing: $139,990 Levante, $169,990 Levante Sport and Levante Luxury (all plus onroad costs); Warranty: Three-years, 100,000 kilometres; Safety: no ANCAP rating; Engine: V6 diesel 3.0L; Power: 202kW @ 4000rpm; Torque: 600Nm @ 2000-2600rpm; Transmission: eight-speed automatic; Drive: all-wheel-drive with rear-wheel-drive bias, mechanical rear LSD; Dimensions: 5003mm (L); 1968mm (W); 1679mm (H) in normal suspension height; Boot space: 580 litres; Seats: 5; Turning circle: 11.7m; Tare weight: 2205kg; Fuel Tank: 80 litres; Thirst: 7.2L/100km; 0-100km/h: 6.9 seconds; Top speed: 230km/h; Towing: 2700kg braked, 750kg unbraked, TBM and GVM not known as yet.

Editor's Rating

What's the inside like?
What's it like on the road?
What about safety features?
The Levante is a respectable SUV that is worth considering if you want a premium vehicle but aren't looking for the last word in driving dynamics, or don't need seven seats. And Maserati do not sell as many cars as more well known rivals, so if rarity is what you're after the Levante is a good bet if you don't mind the cost.

JUST ABOUT EVERY luxury and sportscar manufacturer builds an SUV, and for two reasons. First, they’re a lucrative product line. Most of the top-end marques have loyal owners who need an SUV alongside their sportscar or grand tourer, people who reflexively buy their brand’s offering, so there’s another sale right there, and just as important, not one that’s letting a competitor marque in through the front door.

The other big reason is that a premium SUV is a useful way to acquire new buyers too, as families who can afford more than a middle of the range Japanese or Korean vehicle still have the same basic needs as the less well off such as space, practicality and appreciation of the higher ride height.

What is it?

So it’s no surprise that Maserati now offer the Levante, which they say is 100% Maserati, 100% SUV. Now the SUV bit is easy to understand, but what is 100% Maserati? 

To me, it’s luxury, performance, rarefied Italian style and a soundtrack to tremble your knees. Yet from the back the Levante doesn’t look particularly special, and indeed someone said what I was thinking – you could put a Korean badge on it and nobody would notice. But from the front or side there’s no mistaking the upmarket, Maserati look with the grill, the trident badge, and the smart wheels with the painted brake calipers you definitely don’t see on lesser vehicles. Originally, the Levante was to be based on the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but that decision was overturned so it’s now based on the Ghibli platform, and made in Italy.

There are three models of Levante available in Australia – the Levante, and two equally priced higher-spec variants; the Levante Sport and Levante Luxury. We had a chance to drive all three at the press launch, albeit briefly in some cases. All models share the same basics of a V6 3L 202kW turbodiesel, air suspension and 8-speed automatic, differing only in trim levels and wheel size.

The Levante is slightly larger than most its competitors; for example it is 5003mm long, and that compares to 4880mm for the BMW X5, 4731mm for the Jaguar F-PACE, 4850mm for the Range Rover Sport and 4855mm for the Porsche Cayenne. The Audi Q7 is longer at 5052, but the Levante is a five-seater only.

What’s it like inside?

This is an expensive, top-end Italian car so you’d expect to be entranced by the beauty of the interior. But no. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it, no mismatched colours, no afterthoughts, no glaring usability problems.

But it’s smart rather than stylish, functional rather than beautiful, and acceptable rather than distinctive, at least in this monochrome. The more colourful interors look better.

That said, there are nice little touches. The glovebox is cooled, has a USB port, a light and a strap for holding things in, and it’s spacious. It can also be locked with a PIN. The centre console has drinks holders, a cooler and more USB/12v outlets. The controls are more button than touchscreen, so they’re easy to use. Naturally, there’s keyless entry but only on the front doors.

There is plenty of room in the front seats, but average in the rear where the occupants get 12v and USB sockets, and ventilation.

The rear cargo bay is averagely spacious for this class of curvy SUV, well lit, has good tie-down points (optionally with moveable rails) and has a 12v socket so everything you need. The tailgate is power operated and there’s an optional kick sensor for handsfree operation. There is a 40/60 split option, the rear seatbase folds flat unlike most others, there’s a ski flap hatch in the centre of the rear seatbacks and even ‘curry hooks’ which can also be used for the likes of shopping bags. Overall, the interior is nicely functional but not the work of art you might expect.  It’s good to see Maserati putting some thought into it, and everything is high quality…as it should be for the price.

Click any image to start the Levante interior photo gallery.

What’s the infotainment like?

The infotainment unit will be familiar to anyone who owns a Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep vehicle, which is a bit disappointing given Maserati are a premium brand, in the same way you don’t want to see Toyota switchgear on your Lexus or Nissan knobs on your Infiniti. On the upside, there’s a reason to reuse the infotainment unit – it’s very good, easy to use, bright, responsive and intuitive.

There are no particularly special features though, but the interface is better than most with a combination of buttons on the dash and steering wheel, two dials on the centre console and the touchscreen. Sounds confusing, but it’s not – means you can use what you prefer and so can the passenger. The unit also has one of the better implementations of Android Auto, and while not tested, it’ll also run Apple CarPlay.

The driver’s dash display is clean and modern, and links nicely to the main infotainment unit with information such as a trip computer and navigation. There’s a trick little display showing front/rear torque bias, a bit gimmicky but these things can be interesting if not particularly useful.

What’s it like on the road?

The driving position is adjustable with a multi-way, two-memory driver’s seat and tilt/reach steering wheel. There’s four drive modes; Normal, Sport, Offroad and I.C.E, or Increased Control and Efficiency (not In Car Entertainment). An odd name as every other manufacturer calls this an Eco mode.

The shifter is a little odd and takes some getting used to as it doesn’t move left and right for manual and automatic modes but once learned it’s fine. To select manual mode you press M.

Around town you’d be in Normal mode, and there’s not much to say about the drive other than it’s typical premium diesel SUV – not as responsive as a petrol, but more than sufficient urge once you get going. The ride is comfortable enough, but the gearshift is occasionally a little less than refined except for upchanges which are always silky smooth. The auto/stop start works as well as any other on the market. The turning circle is 11.7m, tight for the size of car, and there’s a good reversing camera with an optional surround camera feature.

Maserati say that “a thrilling engine sound is essential for every Maserati” and we agree, but the Levante only sounds decent in its sports modes and then only at lower speeds, with the extra sound activated by a couple of actuators near the exhaust pipes. At higher speeds it’s more of an whiny intake noise than a burble. I have deep respect for a Maserati sound and indeed the roar of a friend’s V8 was once my ringtone, but the Levante’s soundtrack will not inspire.

Out onto open roads and the adaptive cruise control works well. The target speed can be set down to 1km/h intervals and is displayed on the dash. The Levante is an easy cruiser, quiet, refined and stable across all surfaces, always maintaining composure come what may, albeit with a firmer and noisier ride than one may expect across rougher bitumen. We didn’t drive at night, but the Levante has as an optional automatic adjustment of headlight depth and width with adaptive lighting. We did test the blind spot warning and that is effective with a loudish alarm.

Into winding roads and there’s 202kW and 600Nm from the V6 turbodiesel to shift a bit over 2.2 tonnes with an 8-speed automatic. That means acceleration is adequate, but it’s far from brisk and there were just two of us in the vehicle. It feels slower than the 0-100km/h time of 6.9 seconds, and higher speed overtakes are entirely possible but lack the grin-inducing urgency or sense of wafting you get with more powerful vehicles. The kilowatt-to-dollar ratio is insufficient.

 We had three laps of a private test track in the Sport on 21-inch wheels and three in the Luxury on 20-inch wheels where the Levante proved to be rapid but unexciting in its sports modes, and there’s little difference between the two trim levels at normal road speeds. There’s no sense of theatre with the engine note or anything else, the driving dynamics are very competent but leave little room for thrills, and the power certainly isn’t going to impress.

There is no significant understeer, no oversteer, just nice easy neutrality, the brakes are commendably effective, the ESP in sport mode permits sufficient slip for a quickish lap then cuts in fairly smoothly, and the car is entirely viceless. I felt we were traveling rather than driving around the track, and there was no real sense of connection to the vehicle. The Levante would be massively improved were it half a tonne lighter as you do feel the weight, even with the air suspension lowered and set to its stiffer sport mode.

2017 Maserati Levante Review by Practical Motoring

Maserati claim the vehicle has torque vectoring, but it’s actually just this – “whilst performing a cornering manoeuvre, the system distributes more torque to the outer wheels by applying a slight braking force to the inner wheels”. Other manufacturers call this Corner Brake Control (CBC) which is a more accurate description. Maserati are also the latest manufacturer to roll out the tired old 50:50 weight-distribution marketing ploy, and we have an explanation of why that’s largely irrelevant here.

The default reaction to offroading a car like this is “why would you” and “who’d do that”. Well, you never know. First, as I said in a recent blog post, these cars are the new grand tourers and in Australia that includes off-highway work. Second, there’s what I call the accidental offroader, when you never go looking for a challenge but it finds you. Deep snow at the resort, a rutted, muddy track at the farm, a drive onto and along the beach, having to pull a horse trailer up a steep dirt hill. So it’s important these vehicles have some abilities beyond the blacktop, just in case, and the Levante has an offroad mode which remaps the traction control, disables stability control and changes the accelerator mapping.

Unfortunately, the test track we were supplied wouldn’t have challenged a two-wheel-drive CR-V in the wet driven by a novice, and so it was well within the Levante’s capabilities. Nevertheless, I was able to get diagonal wheels in the air up a hill to test the electronic traction control. This is effective, and that’s good news. Then we have the air suspension which means variable ride height:

  • Offroad 2 +40mm – to 35km/h – clearance 273mm
  • Offroad 1 +25mm – to 90km/h – clearance 258mm
  • Normal – 0 – clearance – 233mm
  • Aero 2 -20mm
  • Aero 1 -35mm
  • Entry -45mm

The only measurement Maserati quote is the 273mm, which we assume to be the Offroad 2 height so we’ve worked backwards off that for the rest, but cannot be certain of the exact figures, as none were supplied. Regardless, the Offroad 1 height is superb as often on dirt roads you need a little bit of extra clearance yet you don’t want to bimble around at shopping centre speeds, and particularly not so if you’re driving a Levante. Standard clearance of 233mm (approx) is good, and 273 with the suspension up is brilliant.

Here’s what Normal and Offroad modes look like: 

This raised height makes a significant difference when offroad as you get far, far more underbody clearance (as well as improved approach, ramp and departure angles, and is a definite advantage over rivals without.

And then there’s the Maserati Q4 all-wheel-drive system. The Levante is nominally 10% front-drive, 90% rear-drive in its on-road modes, but in offroad mode the nominal split is 80% rear, 20% front with an ability to shuffle torque to 50/50 front and rear, and there’s a mechanical locking differential between the front and rear axles. That already makes for an effective all-wheel-drive system. But there’s more. There’s even a mechanical limited-slip rear differential (LSD) which not only helps on the racetrack at higher speeds, but further helps with offroad traction as the limited-slipper is proactive, whereas the traction control is reactive. The LSD is even two way meaning it works under power (25% lockup) and when braking (35% lockup). That’s both very cool and actually useful, the sort of ‘sleeper’ feature that starts to mark out a good car from an ordinary car.

There is an electronic hill descent control system which I got to use just once and it appeared a bit rough, but nevertheless without low range it’s great to have it and it’d be a definite bonus on slippery descents in muddy or snowy conditions which I think is where Levante will do its offroading. It works between to 4 and 14km/h and is adjustable via the cruise control system.

The hill descent control system in action, braking the front right wheel. The stiff suspension means the Levante often doesn’t have all four wheels on the ground evenly when offroad, but like any modern offroader electronics compensate.

We had no significant opportunity to drive dirt roads, but there was a fair bit of suspension thumping over the low speed grass/dirt transit track to the offroad areas. I would speculate that the handling would be quite acceptable given the composure on the racetrack and the drive system.

There is no spare tyre as standard, only a repair kit, but a space-saver is an option. All four wheels and tyres are identical and as the tyres are asymmetric (not uni-directional) they can be swapped to any corner of the vehicle. The standard wheel sizes are 19, 20 and 21 but there’s also an 18-inch option which is 13mm taller than the others, an unusual offering but a welcome one for anyone considering extended dirt-road driving. Good move, Maserati.

It’s a bit hard to be definitive with limited information, but I do feel the Levante has far more capability in the rough than the test track allowed, and more than just about any of its competitors bar the Range Rover lineup.

We didn’t get to tow with the Levante, so this is a thought-bubble on the numbers only. The braked tow mass is 2700kg, not bad for this class of vehicle, and unbraked is 750kg which is normal for larger 4WDs but not for vehicles of this class. However, we don’t know how usable that is because the other important statistics like GVM, GCM and towball mass were unavailable at the time of writing. There is no trailer stability control system, which these days is an omission of note especially at this price point.

What about the safety features?

There’s no ANCAP rating and nor is there likely to be one. However, the Maserati Ghibli is 5-star so you’d hope – but never assume – the Levante is as good. There are numerous safety features, but not all of them are standard. Notable safety features as standard are:

  • Blind spot alert
  • Tyre pressure monitoring
  • Electronic parkbrake that can act as an emergency stop system
  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • ISOFIX rear child restraints

Options are:

  • Surround view camera
  • Forward collision warning (just warning, not AEB)
  • Lane departure warning
  • Cross path detection (reversing out assistance)
Reversing camera with optional surround system.

Pricing and range

Here’s the range and pricing, exclusive of on-road costs:

  • Levante is $139,990. Air suspension with six height settings, Reversing camera, Front and rear parking sensors, Adaptive cruise control, Blind spot alert, 19″ wheels, Bi-xenon headlights, Power tailgate, 12-way power front seats with memory, Heated front seats.
  • Levante Luxury is $169,990 and adds over Levante: Power adjustable steering column, Large glass sunroof, 20″ wheels, Premium leather, Harmon/Kardon sound system.
  • Levante Sport is also $169,990 and adds over Levante: Paddle shifters, Front sports seats, 21″ wheels, Sports steering wheel.

There are, as is typical with vehicles of this nature, a wide range of options like a surround camera, adaptive headlights, cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, extended keyless opening, an alarm and handsfree for the power tailgate. So as usual, budget for your options which will significantly increase the car’s already high price.

I think the smart money would be to buy the Levante instead of the Luxury or Sport, and spend the rest on your choice of options. The only annoyance is the lack of paddle shifters in anything other than the Sport which really is quite cheap of Maserati given paddles are now on sub $30k cars, and the Levante is marketed with a sporting intent.

Accessories include roofracks, a roofbox, ski and snowboard carrier, bicycle carrier, luggage divider, luggage soft box, iPad holder and child seats.

Why would you buy one?

The Levante enters a competitive and crowded market. It doesn’t possess the onroad dynamics of say a Porsche or BMW, nor the interior design of say an Audi or Mercedes, and it is expensive. Yet after some reflection I can see a niche for it.

The exterior design is mostly distinctive and upmarket, it will remain a rare car, there looks to be actual offroad capability, it’s a comfortable, practical cruiser and it is rapid around the corners with minimal effort. We were told that many buyers will be existing Maserati drivers, but the appeal of the vehicle is a little wider than just the brand loyalists. I think it’ll work well as a practical, upmarket SUV that isn’t going to be scared off by a bit of rough, and it’ll be one of those cars that grows on you over time.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a freelance journalist, driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: http://www.l2sfbc.com/