• Ferrari-sourced 550-horsepower twin-turbo V8
  • Everything about the "old" V6 Levante retuned for performance
  • Priced at $121,475, and we can actually see it (and feel it)


So how often do you think about Maserati? If you're a typical wealthy American, probably not an extraordinary amount. The Italian carmaker has been holding its own in the U.S., off and on, but it hasn't captured our imaginations like Ferrari and Porsche. With the launch of the Levante SUV two years ago, Maserati hoped to gain a bigger piece of the performance-luxury-SUV pie as Porsche did with the Cayenne. That's a long road, however, and Maserati is still finding its feet.

Now the company has the 2019 Maserati Levante GTS, a near-exotic 5-passenger crossover SUV with deep Ferrari genes percolating under the hood. In a word, the company has finally created the Maserati of SUVs -- a little GT backed by a lot of power.

V8 power steals the show, V8 power is the show

We don't imagine that Maserati Levante posters spend much time hanging from bedroom walls, but that has every reason to change now that the new Levante GTS has come to town (or rather it's coming to town soon in the fall of 2018). The reason for this is simple: 550 twin-turbocharged at-will horsepower and 538 lb-ft of mighty torque delivered to the heart of the powerband from about 2,250 to 5,000 rpm.

Ripping through the same 8-speed ZF automatic transmission as the rest of the Levante line, the 3.8-liter 90-degree V8 engine's war power was developed with and built by Ferrari in Maranello. The parallel twin-scroll turbochargers waste no time launching you and your family forward to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds flat.

A superb foundation for performance crafting, the Levante GTS engine's block is shared by the Maserati Quattroporte GTS (though with less power), as well as other notable Ferraris, including the 488 and the new Portofino. Maserati engineers focused on the V8's lower-rpm behavior -- different camshafts and crankshafts -- to allow its race-bred personality to play a part-time role as a grand tourer as well.

Performance car dynamics

There's no denying the presence of a Ferrari engine, and the rest of the Levante GTS's driving inputs can't help but follow suit. In the GTS, the brakes and steering are essentially carried over from the V6-powered 2018 Maserati Levante S. The aluminum-alloy-component/Air Spring shock absorber suspension, however, gets a retuning to the performance-V8 spirit of the beast. Overall, the ride can get harsh at times, but the Levante GTS stays planted like a pro in corners, with its 50/50 weight distribution, Q4 Intelligent All-Wheel Drive, and rear limited-slip differential integrated naturally into the orchestra.

From the cabin, separate center-console-mounted buttons for "Sport" mode and the driver-adjustable Skyhook shock absorbers (as well as buttons for "Off Road" and the low-friction-surface "I.C.E." modes) allow you to make endless variations on the degrees of dynamic fine-tuning you desire. Sport mode amps up the Levante GTS's performance to sharpen the suspension and drivetrain responses, while the Skyhook settings continuously adapt the shock absorber settings help keep you in charge of the Levante over varied surfaces.

Exterior and interior

Even though it rides low and wide, the Levante's exterior is an acquired taste. If you've already acquired it, then skip this paragraph. If not, read on -- I'll be brief. The hero angle of the 2019 Maserati Levante GTS is the front end, dominated by the chrome grille with the wide-gapped double vertical bars and the iconic (there's no denying that term here) Maserati trident riding dead in the center. Thinking about going off-roading? Unless you own a cabin anywhere but lower Manhattan, we don't recommend using the Levante GTS's so-low-profile (40 aspect ratio) tires wrapped around 20-inch wheels to get to it.

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Within the Levante GTS, the upscale party starts with premium leather covering the seats, door panel and lower dash, with a choice of trim materials, including our favorite, the unfinished carbon fiber. The driver and front passenger enjoy firm, multi-adjustable ventilated sport seats, and both rows get heated seats. Beyond its V8 exhaust note, the GTS comes standard with a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system that's controlled via a Uconnect infotainment setup. Now, 8.4-inch touch screen notwithstanding, Maserati deserves objective praise for using Chrysler's Uconnect simply because it's an excellent interface. Interior roominess is long-legged-adult-friendly in the second row, and the rear seatbacks fold neatly to encourage cargo storage.

The price -- believe it or not -- is right

Starting at $121,475 including destination charges, the 2019 Maserati Levante GTS won't feel out of place in the same neighborhood as the $125,650 2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo (same horsepower, more torque, slightly quicker 0-60). Yes, the Italians are still playing catch-up with the Germans, but the Levante GTS is a decent shot across Porsche's bow (especially considering Porsche's current love of a pricey options strategy). And if badge exclusivity plus an inspired connection to Ferrari mean anything to you, the new Levante GTS will change the way you think about Maserati.

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