The A6GCS, a rare, Pininfarina-built sports car, lives on in today’s Maseratis, he argues. This includes the Levante, a handsome crossover aimed at suburban cruisers bored with the notion of German luxury. Can a brand with rich sporting heritage reconcile with evolving market trends? It must, even if the connection to a mythical 1950s racer is a bit tenuous. But a pair of Ferrari-powered V8 twins, the Levante GTS and Levante Trofeo, make that progression easier. Prodigious outputs of 550 and 590 horsepower help.
They are the top-shelf Levantes. You buy them when the powerful twin-turbo V6 Levante and Levante S simply won’t do. You’re talking six-figure prices, decadent interiors and more than a bit of bling. Well-heeled professionals drive the Levante, which starts at $75,980 and packs 345 hp, or pony up $11,000 for the Levante S and its 424 horses. The V8 starts at $119,980 for the GTS, and the Trofeo comes in at a lofty $169,980. These buyers haven’t just made it, they’re likely set for life. “We’re not in the boy racer clientele,” Busse says. “There’s a certain level of accomplishment that you feel in driving a Maserati.”
That’s probably true. But should the Trofeo be associated with generational wealth? I’m pondering this as I pull a hard right, kick up some dirt and pull onto the Pacific Coast Highway. The ocean laps to my left as the eight cylinders unlimber and I find myself reaching 60 miles per hour with little effort. The quoted time is 3.7 seconds, which feels dead on. I cue up Corsa, the sportiest of the Levante’s drive modes, one that’s only available on the Trofeo. The road is winding. I fall into a rhythm as I make my way up the coast toward Big Sur. The car’s selling point is the engine, but the Skyhook suspension with electronically controlled damping keeps this 4,784-pound SUV reasonably tied down and poised.
The cabin is quiet, as expected for the segment, allowing for easy conversation. The comfortable seats provide a decent view of the road, though the dramatic design does compromise some visibility. That’s a good thing. I’m driving the Levante the day before the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Vintage cars contrast with the leisurely beach-going crowd in old VWs and Toyotas. With a long hood, proportionally attractive curves and just a little bit more chrome than you typically see on a modern vehicle, the Maserati gets plenty of glances.
Focusing again on the Levante as the road gets more challenging, I notice the steering’s satisfying weight, though the Cayenne Turbo’s is better. Corsa fully airs out the exhaust valves during acceleration, and the Levante produces a growl that’s obvious but not ridiculous. It’s sounds a little understated, considering the 590-hp engine under the Levante Trofeo’s long hood is literally Ferrari red – it has red cylinder heads and a red intake manifold, and it is built for Maserati in Maranello. Ferrari actually produces all of Maserati’s engines, a legacy of the late Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who insisted Maserati and Alfa Romeo remain anchored to their Italian heritage, which means mechanicals from Italy whenever possible. (Originally, the Levante was supposed to be built in Detroit on the Grand Cherokee platform.) The Levante’s engine is not identical to the 3.9-liter V8 in the Ferrari Portofino and 488, though it is built on the same line. Maserati’s 3.8-liter mill has different crank- and camshafts and the cylinders fire in a different order.
Still, it’s amusing how often enthusiasts and even Maserati bring up the Ferrari connection. Did you know Ferrari builds Maserati’s V8? Take a sip of Chianti. If this were an actual drinking game, no one would ever be sober enough to drive a Maserati.
But this engine is no laughing matter. Paired with the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, it’s powerful, eager and provides the Levante Trofeo with a spirit that does hark back to the A6GCS (technically, that car had six cylinders, but let’s not get in the way of a good story). The 550-hp version in the GTS is more than capable. They both make 538 pound-feet of torque. I hardly notice the difference during back-to-back drives.
The Trofeo model features Pieno Fiore natural leather with accented stitching, a Trident on the headrests, and a custom instrument cluster. The exterior gets a dual-vented aluminum hood, 22-inch aluminum wheels, special badging and carbon fiber for the grille vents, splitter and side skirts. In addition to the red engine components, the engine has a high gloss carbon-fiber cover. If you pay the premium for this engine, definitely pop the hood once in awhile.
Side-by-side, the Trofeo model does look at bit snazzier, and the Pieno interior is gorgeous (see the related video below), You’re paying $50,000 for 40 more hp, bigger wheels and some interior and exterior upgrades. They’re both great to drive and do feel special in a way the six-cylinder models don’t. They feel special in a way some of the German brands don’t, for that matter. Not better, necessarily, but there is a reason enthusiasts still lust for Italian products. And if the Levante is your Italian good of choice, go with the GTS. It’s just as much fun, you save a lot of money and you’re still part of the exclusive Ferrari V8 club. Contemplate that over a sip of Chianti.