• Heart-stopping on a couple of levels, including its $171,475 price tag
  • Take-no-prisoners 590-horsepower twin-turbo V8 co-developed with Ferrari
  • Chassis and interior both retuned for performance

For those of you who've never actually been shot out of a cannon, imagine being able to cleanly pass a group of 11 end-of-summer-vacation cars being led by the worst Good Sam Club member ever to hold up traffic along California's Highway 1. Imagine being able to do it with a single pivot of your right ankle. Welcome to the world of the 2019 Maserati Levante Trofeo.

The heartbeat of the matter: a 590-horsepower V8

Fixed firmly at the center of any discussion about the new Maserati Levante Trofeo lives animated praise for the 5-passenger SUV's twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter V8. Developed in conjunction with Ferrari engineering, and using the same 90-degree block as the Ferrari 488 GTB and 488 Spider, the California T and the new Portofino, Maserati aimed for low-rpm performance, a "signature Maserati sound," and a front differential that's essentially mounted to the engine at a weight of just over 500 pounds (including the diff).

Built at Ferrari in Maranello, the 590-horsepower Trofeo engine thrusts 538 lb-ft of torque from just a hair off idle all the way up to 5,000 rpm. Discussing the V8 Trofeo project with Maserati's engineers, and hearing about its creation as an off-hours, behind-the-scenes affair that started four years ago, it's clear that they feel a V8 Levante is the purest interpretation of a Maserati SUV. No argument here.

Playing with the Levante Trofeo's red-headed Ferrari-sourced twin-turbo V8 feels a lot like controlling the Infinity Gauntlet: You get a lot of control over space and time. Matched nicely to a 8-speed automatic transmission (with giant bat-wing paddle shifters mounted on the steering column), the Trofeo V8 will -- according to Maserati -- sprint from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and keep stretching up to a 187-mph top speed. In the essence of its powerband, the SUV's understressed drivetrain effortlessly gulps down paved highway. Let's not talk fuel economy (whisper: Maserati estimates 13 mpg around town and 18 on the highway).

Driving it like a GT SUV

Maserati tells us that the Levante Trofeo's intended balance point is between a grand touring SUV and a super-high-performance SUV. We'd argue for the latter much more than the former. As a GT car over long distances, this Levante's edgy ride quality won't let you forget the performance that lies just under the surface. And while its steering and brakes -- 15-inch drilled front discs with 6-piston aluminum calipers -- are pretty much inherited from the 2018 Maserati Levante S, the Trofeo's suspension -- double-wishbone-front/multilink-rear and Air Shocks all around, with plenty of aluminum-alloy componentry -- gets a Maserati factory retune to mirror the supercar engine's attitude.

Conveniently, four buttons to the left of the shifter allow you to vary the Levante Trofeo's driving mode of the moment. These buttons are: Off Road (raises ride height half an inch for light off-roading), I.C.E. (Increased Control & Efficiency -- say, for icy roads), Sport/Corsa (quickens shifts, stiffens suspension and lowers ride height), and a Skyhook button which engages to instantly adapt the individual shock absorber settings at each wheel to help you maintain control. This is a great place to note that the 2019 Maserati Levante Trofeo rides on knockout 22-inch forged-aluminum wheels shod with 265/35R-22 tires in front and 295/30R-22 tires at the rear. As such, the Trofeo tire profiles are comically low for any off-roading adventures -- you're basically begging for sidewall and wheel damage.

Driving it like a racecar

With the enthusiasm of a young dog who sees you pick the leash off its hook in the kitchen, the new Maserati Levante Trofeo wants nothing more than to go for a run. With its standard Q4 Intelligent All-Wheel Drive, a 50/50 weight distribution, ultra-low-profile rubber, and rear limited-slip differential -- plus that Italian Hall of Fame engine -- the Trofeo drives like it's always waiting for a racetrack to appear.

A long press of the Sport/Corsa button commits you to "Corsa" (aka, "Race") mode. In Corsa, the Trofeo drops an extra inch versus Sport mode, as well as advancing the throttle sensitivity, shifting quicker, and opening up the exhaust for a bigger sound. The SUV's suspension and all-wheel-drive settings also get sportier, and the traction and stability systems reprogram to kick in at higher levels.

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The other trick that Corsa mode gives you is launch control. With your left foot on the brake and the steering wheel straight, pull the downshift paddle on the steering wheel -- you'll see launch control engaged in the instrument panel -- floor it with your right foot and drop the brake. Interestingly, this effect is the most GT of all: The Trofeo takes off quickly, but not abruptly like some other supercars. It's very cool, in fact, because you still get the grin of illegal-feeling acceleration, you just don't feel your brain bump up against the back of your skull.

Living in it and with it

Exterior changes to the 2019 Maserati Levante Trofeo focus mainly on minor front fascia and rear bumper work, and striking dual-vertical carbon-fiber bars in the Maserati-trident-centric grille. Your Trofeo Spotter's Guide will also note carbon-fiber trim pieces at the revised nose and tail, as well as a "Trofeo" trident badge attached to the SUV's C-pillar. Adaptive Full LED Matrix headlights -- 20% better visibility and twice the life expectancy of bi-xenon lights.

A fairly roomy and cargo-friendly luxury SUV, the Trofeo add a number of standard interior treats to spoil you. First on the list is the looks-good/smells-great full-grain leather upholstery, with contrast stitching and the "Trofeo" logo into the headrests. For trim, carbon fiber captures the day. For those rare times when the V8 doesn't supply the soundtrack you're looking for, Maserati also includes a 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. So, you'll be able to rent it out on weekends as a concert hall.

Now sit down, we're going to talk price. At our dinner table during the press introduction for the Maserati Levante V8 models -- GTS and Trofeo -- everyone agreed that $171,475 was a lot of money, and that unless your limitless ego and income required that you always get the most you can regardless of price, the Trofeo's 550-horsepower brother, the $121,475 Levante GTS was the Levante to lust after. Your chance to decide comes in early fall of 2018, when both arrive in Maserati showrooms.

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