When the Maserati brothers started their eponymous car company more than a century ago, it seems unlikely that they could conceive of that brand still being a going concern in 2022. Even if they could imagine the company existing, they certainly couldn’t imagine the types of vehicles it would be building. A look back at the first hundred years of Maserati certainly wouldn’t indicate that its current best selling product would be a midsize SUV. I recently had an opportunity to take a Maserati Levante Trofeo on an extended road trip to northern Michigan and came back surprised.
The 197.6-inch long Levante lives in a segment that has become surprisingly crowded in the past 20 years with entries from brands that would have been unimaginable not long ago. That includes the BMW X5M, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLE and the Lamborghini Urus. Even one of the last SUV holdouts Ferrari will soon add its Purosang. But what sets the Levante apart from its competitors?
Maserati has done a good job of integrating its design language into the two-box utility shape with a bold grille that doesn’t seem too overwhelming and prominent rear haunches. The fender vents seem a bit off-putting but they are at least functional. The rear glass has a significant forward slope that adds some sportiness to the profile, reducing the wagon-esque shape.
All four trim levels of the Levante feature twin-turbocharged engines manufactured by cross-town cousins, Ferrari. The GT
All-wheel-drive is standard on all models as is an eight-speed automatic transmission. Air springs and skyhook dampers come standard and the Trofeo has four driving modes, including normal, I.C.E. off-road and Corsa. The off-road mode lifts the body up a couple of inches for added ground clearance, but other than a steep gravel driveway, I can’t imagine going anywhere truly off-road on 295/30R22 high-performance tires. The Trofeo comes with 380-mm diameter cross drilled rotors and six-piston calipers on the front.
Despite being Maserati’s best selling model, only a few thousand Levantes have been sold annually. As a result, customers can take advantage of the craftspeople that have long been established in the region of northern Italy to build some of the most amazing cars in the world. While the fit and finish of the bodywork on the Levante was excellent, it wasn’t until I looked at the pricing sheet after a few days of driving that I noticed one particularly pricey option, the paint.
Maserati offers special paint options on its models dubbed Fuoriserie-Corse. The Levante I drove was finished in Fuoriserie-rosso magma, an especially deep metallic red. The paint is applied entirely by hand in three coats with each coat finished to perfection before applying the next. The whole process is finalized with a red-tinted clear coat. There is a lot of manual labor that goes into these Fuoriserie-Corse finishes and the price tag of $17,000 shows it. It is a beautiful color, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s actually worth that much. Considering the price of the paint, it’s surprising that the black painted 22-inch wheels are only a $500 option.
On the inside, the Levante is finished in the way a buyer of a $155,000 vehicle would expect. There are supple leather hides covering most surfaces while other bits are covered in carbon fiber including the long, stationary shift paddles mounted on the steering column.
In the past, high-end low-volume vehicles like the Levante would typically get stuck with severely sub-par infotainment systems. Brands like Maserati just didn’t have the software engineering chops to develop a decent system. But as part of Fiat Chrysler and now Stellantis, they have the ability to leverage the electronics made for vehicles that sell in the millions.
Anyone that has driven recent Jeep, Chrysler and Ram products will be right at home with the 10-inch center touchscreen running the UConnect 5 system. This Android-based system features navigation from TomTom and voice recognition via Alexa voice services. It has full support for wireless Apple
Another thing that just works in the Levante Trofeo is the marvelous powertrain. Open the hood and instead of the usual mass or plastic covering the entire engine bay, there is just a small piece of carbon fiber trim between the two intake plenums leaving the engine exposed. In classic Italian tradition, the individual plenums and the valve covers are covered in red crackle finish like you would find on a vehicle from Maranello.
Unlike the similar-sized V8 found in the Ferrari 488, this one doesn’t have a flat plane crankshaft and the 8,000 rpm redline, but it still makes plenty of power in a way that won’t be around for much longer. In normal mode, it sounds lovely but in a refined, muted way that won’t alarm the neighbors. But switch over to Corsa when you get on the open road, and it rips and crackles as you accelerate and brake that makes you wish Maserati was still part of Formula 1 instead getting ready to jump into Formula E.
The ZF eight-speed is one of the most widely used automatics in the world because it is also one of the best. Cruising on the highway, you’ll never really feel it doing its thing, almost always being in exactly the right gear for the situation. But tap those long carbon fiber paddles as you brake toward a corner, and it downshifts smoothly and quickly. Turbo lag is minimal, especially in Corsa mode.
While the big tires won’t do much to make the off-road mode useful, they at least keep a strong grip on the pavement. Nimble isn’t really a great descriptor for a 5,000-lb SUV, but at least the handling is fairly precise and reasonably well balanced. It’s remarkable what vehicle dynamics engineers have achieved in making these high performance SUVs actually reasonably fun to drive. It’s no Tipo 60 birdcage, but the Trofeo will get you where you want to be swiftly and without drama.
Surprisingly, given the heft and power, when driven sedately, the Levante Trofeo isn’t exceptionally thirsty. While it’s no Prius or EV, the Maserati averaged 21 mpg on the 250 mile run to Traverse City with a mix of 75 mph highway and somewhat slower rural road driving. When pushed a bit harder to evaluate the performance, I still managed to squeeze 16 mpg out and averaged over 18 mpg for the whole trip. That’s better than the 16 mpg combined EPA rating and better than the 17 mpg I got last year on a 600 mile highway run with the Jeep Wagoneer.
Of course, the customers for the Levante Trofeo probably don’t really care about fuel economy. For those that can afford to spend upwards of $150,000 on a vehicle and want something more unique than a Porsche, BMW, AMG or Audi, The Maserati Levante Trofeo provides Italian flare in a very usable package. This generation may well be the last of its kind as Stellantis has indicated that Maserati will be going electric this decade starting with the new Gran Turismo.