You have only to drive for a few minutes to the West from Maserati’s Modena factory to find yourself within the rich agricultural plains of the Emilia Romagna region, famed for its fruit production, or South to find rolling hills covered in hundreds of acres of vineyards. You might therefore suppose that the ideal vehicle in the area would be a utilitarian 4x4, with a wash down, mud resistant interior, room in the back for a few tools, and with a little extra power under the bonnet for crossing ploughed fields, or climbing snow covered mountain passes.
But this is Italy remember, where things are done with a lot more style, a great deal more flamboyance, and in Modena especially, ludicrous degrees of horsepower. Which explains why the 550 horsepower Maserati Levante GTS is the least powerful of the two new Levante V8 models, whilst the 590hp Trofeo claims the ultimate bragging rights. The launch of the V8s is simply the next step in the development of the Levante range, one which involved shoehorning an uprated version of the Ferrari built, Maserati specification 3,799cc engine under the bonnet. That engine features new valve-train components, pistons, rods, crankshafts and twin turbos, giving the power plant not only impressive power output, but mouth-watering levels of torque — 730Nm in both the Trofeo and GTS. Coupled to an eight speed ZF gearbox, the delivery of motive force is effortless, with maximum torque available across a broad range, from 2,500rpm to 5,000 rpm. In reality that means you are never left wanting for acceleration, particularly if, as you will, you leave the vehicle set in Sport mode.
In the Trofeo you also have the choice of selecting Corsa mode, giving not just quicker gearbox shift times, but lowering the vehicle by 35mm to bring down its centre of gravity. And if the idea of having a Corsa or ‘Track’ mode setting on an SUV strikes you as rather pointless, you’re probably going to want to get your hands on a Levante Trofeo before passing further judgment. With the addition of more power however comes the important matter of improving the brakes, which in this case meant thicker front discs and increasing the diameter of the rears to 330mm, plus reprogramming of the ABS. Callipers are Brembos all round which, naturally, can be ordered in a wide variety of colours to suit your style!
The predominantly aluminum suspension is, as per the V6 Levantes, double-wishbone front and multi-link rear. There’s a mechanical limited slip differential fitted at the rear and both models come with air suspension; dampers are electronically controlled, allowing for constant adjustment to suit road and driving conditions.
This level of sophistication and technology translates into an effortless, comfortable ride in town and on the highway, comparable to that which you’d enjoy in a Quattroporte or Ghibli, with entertainment provided by the low level burble of that lovely V8. But when you hit the mountain roads and the conditions become more twisting and challenging, the Trofeo / GTS changes character, unfazed by undulating surfaces and hairpin bends, allowing you to drive, as you should in any product of Modena, with a LOT of gusto.
An enormous surplus of horsepower is always useful when shifting over two tonnes of metal, but it’s the ease with which the suspension and traction control, all managed by Maserati’s IVC or Intergrated Vehicle Control, tackle the bends, which impresses most. The roads on which I was driving were not fast and flowing, they consisted of many short straights leading into bends with poor visibility, with only a few chances for the Trofeo to stretch its legs, but lots of point and shoot blasts between corners, then testing the suspension through the bends. At no time did I find myself trying to make excuses for the vehicle’s weight or handling, I was purely focused on the driving, and that’s a compliment to the men and women who worked so hard to perfect the IVC. Fundamentally, IVC uses information about the vehicle’s limits gathered from thousands of hours of test driving and computer modeling, to predict its behaviour in all circumstances. Then, rather than intervening only when the vehicle is pushed to the edge of those limits, it subtly begins correct for those situations before they arrive. Whilst you could argue that it’s just more ‘nannying’, I might agree with you if it weren’t for the fact that it’s unnoticeable, that you can simply push on as hard as you dare, without ever really sensing that the car’s computers are intervening. Done well, as it is on the Levante, it’s a very effective tool, and makes for a fun, spirited but ultimately safe drive.
Of course fun is also easy to have when you’re sheltered in a leather rich cabin, trimmed with the nicest looking and most tactile carbon fibre inserts I’ve seen in a car. Personally I’m not a big fan of carbon fibre inside a vehicle but these look and feel great, giving a modern edge to the gorgeously trimmed interior. Maserati uses a full-grain “Pieno Fiore” natural leather and it is a fabulous material, looks amazing, gives high levels of grip on the seat, and truly complements the cabin design. Entertainment is courtesy of a 17 speaker Bowers and Wilkins, selections being made on an 8.4” touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both supported. I would add that a lighter colour roof lining will help to enhance the interior — I sat in one car with a dark roof lining and to me it felt a little claustrophobic.
At a shade over five metres long and with a three metre wheelbase the Levante is not a small SUV, so at 1.84m tall, I could sit as comfortably in the rear, with plenty of head room, as I could in the front seats. Open the tailgate and you’ll find a large boot complete with tie down points, 12 volt power socket and elasticated straps designed to hold your shopping bags in place as you hurtle through the bends!
Externally the Trofeo is distinguished with a piano black surround to the grille, bonnet vents, carbon fibre front bumper air blades and side skirts, and carbon fibre inserts on the rear bumper. Rather subtly, it features no brash badges on the tailgate, but look carefully and you’ll notice that the Levante badge is merely underlined, a feature unique to the Trofeo. If you ignore that little clue at the traffic lights, you’re likely to be rather humiliated, especially if the driver chooses to use the Trofeo’s standard Launch Control system to attain a 0 -100 kph time of just 3.9 seconds. The GTS has no bonnet scoops, but it does at least warn you of its potency with a GTS badge at the back, so you know it has a mere 550hp on tap and thus, will ‘only’ get to 100kph from standstill in 4.2 seconds.
The lines demarking fast cars from sports cars, sports cars from hyper cars, and rapid SUVs from fast Grand Tourers, began to blur a long time ago. Some might regard a near 600 horsepower SUV with sports car handling as an unnecessary anomaly, yet there are more customers out there looking for high performance, load hauling capacity and a high roofline, than there are for low slung GTs. Maserati is simply matching supply with demand and in the case of the GTS and Trofeo, doing so in style, and with absolutely no compromise when it comes to performance.