Those who long for a racy motor combined with the comfort and practicality of a 4x4 can tick all the boxes with Maserati’s new Levante, says Charles Rangeley-Wilson.
Maserati is the latest sportscar-maker to jump on the SUV bandwagon, aiming squarely at the ‘have your car cake and eat it’ fantasies of middle-aged wheel nuts like me: hopeless midlifers with a long list of racy cars and bikes once owned, but not owned anymore.
About once a day, I flick restlessly through PistonHeads on the iPad and daydream my way behind the wheel of one sporty machine after another. To riff on Orsino’s plaintive line, a lifetime surfeiting on the music (of exhaust pipes) has not really caused the appetite to sicken, not at all. Meanwhile, I console myself with the fact that my old Audi estate still goes well and my children and wife remind me that I’d look silly in a Porsche anyway.
Then along come Porsche, Jaguar and now Maserati to build the Grand Unification Theory of motoring: pumped-up sportscars with four roomy seats, enough of a boot for the paraphernalia of family (or fieldsporty) life and the promise of off-road versatility. Everything in one sonorous, four-exhaust-pipe package. Meraviglioso! Thank you Stuttgart, Coventry, Bologna.
Porsche’s lithe Macan set the bar as the racecar SUV par excellence. The Jaguar F-Pace ran it very close. I reviewed both gushingly. Now, Maserati’s Levante has growled onto the showroom floor, oozing the promise of an exotic Italian pedigree.
I had mine for one brief weekend fling and, to test my theory that such a car – with its iconic Trident insignia – might just fill a motorbike-sized hole in the life of the fifty-something petrol- head, I drove it to watch the Cadwell Park round of the British Superbike Championship. With its racetrack pedigree, I hoped my ride would cut the mustard among all those MV Augustas and Ducatis.
If the Macan and F-Pace are the true rivals for now (there is a red and loud Alfa on the way and rumours of an Aston), the Levante is unapologetically the snarliest, blingiest of the three, an angry gargoyle grafted, as if in some diabolical laboratory of the unhinged, onto the body of a pedigree racehorse. It certainly turned heads.
Although the Italians cut the snazziest suits, it’s tough to compete with the Germans when it comes to the lining. Inside, the Maser is no less Baroque, leather piled on leather, all curves, curls and filigrees, but to pick nits, the switches, closures and detailing are not up to the standards of its German (or British) rivals, even if the overall impact is brighter and appealingly rakish.
On the road, the Levante drives very well: an easy blend of ride and handling that’s smooth and urgent all at once. Ironically, it handles British B roads – and, boy, are they testing as you cross those Lincolnshire Fens – with more aplomb than the Jaguar, although the Jag I tested was made fidgety over bumps by its massive wheels. Overall, the Levante feels more leisurely than the Jag, and especially the Macan, and would probably be shaded by both in a point-to-point blast.
The reason is weight. On paper, the Maser engine outshines the German unit by a few horses at the expense of more carbons, but the Jag engine is in another class: altogether Greener and more pokey. Couple that with the Levante’s bulk – it’s a few hundred kilos heavier than its rivals – and, in many respects, the Italian stallion felt a bit old school: a Sinatra kind of old school and highly appealing for all that. Capisce?
On the road: Maserati Levante Diesel 3-litre V6 MY17
Priced: From £54,335
Combined fuel consumption: 39.2mpg
Annual Road Fund Licence: £800 for first year, £450 thereafter
0–60mph: 6.9 seconds
Top speed: 143mph
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