When the Maserati brothers built their first race car in 1914, the automotive world was a much different place. Coupes were for racing, cars were for carrying people and trucks were for hauling vegetables. It’s difficult to imagine what the Maseratis would have thought today, more than a hundred years later, looking out over Michigan’s M1 Concourse raceway as a squadron of Maserati Levante GTS SUVs thunder past in a squeal of tires and a growl of exhausts.
The Maserati brothers, six in all, made a name for themselves by winning pretty much every major race in motorsport, putting off building their first passenger car until the late 1940s. While the company has built many more touring sedans and coupes in the decades since, Maserati has always been a brand devoted first and foremost to performance. Times change, and with even the most devout race car brands such as Ferrari and Lamborghini putting their stamp on an SUV, Maserati is following suit. The new Levante GTS isn’t meant to be just another luxury SUV, however. It’s intended to be a vehicle that the speed-loving Maseratis would be proud to emblazon with their name.
With all-wheel drive and a 550-horsepower engine hand-built by Ferrari, the Levante GTS is designed to be as comfortable roaring around a racetrack as anything bearing Maserati’s trident badge over the decades. With a luxurious leather-swathed interior, illuminated door sills and a choice of two premium sound systems, it’s also intended to make a statement at the valet stand. Cheekily taglined as “The Maserati of SUVs,” the Levante GTS is aimed at segment leaders such as the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport Supercharged.
“The Levante is critical for the brand,” says Tim Kuniskis, global head of brands for Maserati and Alfa Romeo. “The Maserati customer in general is looking for something that’s completely different. Everybody offers an SUV but not everybody offers a Maserati.” The brand, he says, represents hand-built luxury, race-bred performance and Italian design, all things the Levante GTS offers in abundance.
With global SUV sales continuing to surge, Maserati added the Levante to its lineup of coupes and sedans in 2016, and it has since come to account for a large chunk of the brand’s sales. It was followed earlier this year by the Levante Trofeo, a 300-km/h monster with a price tag approaching $200,000 and a sub-four-second 0/100 km/h time. Starting at $137,500, the Levante GTS is designed to fit snugly between these two models, enticing buyers who want a luxury SUV with equal parts performance and individuality.
The Levante GTS bears this out first and foremost with its engine, whose provenance at Ferrari’s Maranello headquarters provides both bragging rights and exhilaration. The Levante GTS’s V-8 more than proves its worth in a run around the M1 Concourse, where it gobbles the straightaways and hugs the corners. Stomp the gas a little too hard in a turn and it happily responds, slipping out its rear end just enough to put a smile on your face before regaining its composure and rocketing ahead.
A long list of appealing features sweetens the deal for potential buyers, including standard adjustable air suspension, sport pedals and a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon sound system (a Bowers & Wilkins system is available as an upgrade). All seats are heated, as is the steering wheel, and interior surfaces all come clothed in a range of fetching premium leathers.
The Maserati brothers would likely be skeptical at first sight of this beastly machine, whose chief resemblance to their iconic creations lies in its badge. After a few laps around the track, however, they would surely agree it’s worthy of their name.
- Base price: $137,500
- Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo V-8
- Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic/All-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.0 city/18.0 highway (est)
- Alternatives: Porsche Cayenne Turbo, Range Rover Sport Supercharged, Mercedes-Benz AMG GLE 63 S 4MATIC, BMW X5 M
With its long, low stance, available 22-inch five-spoke wheels and toothy, oversized grille, the Levante GTS makes an eye-catching statement at the curb.
There’s much to appreciate about the interior design of its cabin, which sports standard premium leather trim in your choice of black, red, tan and beige. Contrast stitching and Alcantara headliners are optional, while custom Ermenegildo Zegna silk accents are only available on the V-6 Levante, not the GTS.
Few Levantes will likely ever set foot on a race track, but Maserati made a point of assuring the GTS is more than up to the challenge. With 550-horsepower and 538 lb-ft of torque, a capable Q4 all-wheel-drive system and an eight-speed automatic transmission complete with carbon fibre paddle-shifters, the Levante GTS provides plenty of fun for windy country roads and more than enough power for roaring past semis on Highway 401.
The Levante GTS offers a suite of autonomous drive technology, including adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, plus an 8.4-inch in-dash touchscreen loaded with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and navigation. While the machined aluminum control knob is a nice touch, there’s nothing here you can’t also find on a new Kia.
While it boasts more rear legroom than the Range Rover Sport due to its sloping rear hatch, the Levante GTS sacrifices some cargo room in favour of a streamlined silhouette. That said, its rear cargo area should be sufficient for most buyers’ needs.
The verdict: 7.5
The Levante GTS provides Ferrari-like performance and Italian design in a sumptuous package.