By Paul Eisenstein -- Contributing Editor
After a more than decade-long wait, Maserati is finally delivering its first SUV, the 2017 Levante. For a brand best known for sensually styled sports coupes and sedans, the new Maserati Levante comes as a pleasant surprise, albeit an expensive one, with a fully equipped model nudging into six figures. In traditionally Italian fashion, the SUV’s design is polarizing but distinctive. The overall package strikes a nice balance between performance and practicality, with classic luxury features as well as more modern, high-tech details like its 8.4-inch infotainment screen and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And there’s plenty of performance, whether you opt for the Levante S or the detuned “base” Levante. The new model lives up to its billing as the “Maserati of SUVs.”
If you’re looking for distinctive, stand-out styling and solid performance, just hearing the roar of its twin-turbo V-6 will be worth the price for some buyers. While Maserati’s quality hasn’t quite matched rivals, like Porsche, the new Levante would be worth considering for those who don’t want yet another German SUV.
You may not like this car if you’re watching your budget. Even the base 2017 Maserati Levante starts at $72,000. And neither powertrain package is what you’d label fuel-efficient. Concerns about quality and reliability, a problem with other Maserati models, have to be considered, as well.
Maserati began teasing us with the idea of a performance SUV in 2003 with its, original Kubang concept. The production Levante is a very different animal: Styling is even sleeker than the show car’s, while underpinnings of the Ghibli sedan give it the true soul of an Italian sports car.
... production Levante is largely based on the Ghibli sports sedan. That’s immediately obvious once you fire up the Ferrari-derived V-6 and slip it into gear. The driver-adjustable Skyhook damping system and electrically assisted hydraulic steering give you a clear feel of the road. More tall wagon than traditional SUV, that means you can slice through the corners and, despite its 4,650 pounds, you may soon forget you aren’t driving the Ghibli itself. Even though Maserati decided to forgo the Grand Cherokee underpinnings, the 2017 Levante still delivers surprisingly solid off-road manners, thanks in large part to its electronically controlled suspension. You can increase ride height with the touch of a button and, should you forget, the Levante will automatically lower itself when you hit highway speeds.
This surround-view system eliminates the challenges of maneuvering a 16-foot, 4,650-pound SUV in tight spaces, and it gives you the ability to select from several different viewing angles.
This driver-selectable suspension system keeps you firmly planted, even under aggressive street and track maneuvers, while also improving the 2017 Maserati Levante’s off-road manners.
To our delight, the cabin of the 2017 Maserati Levante takes a step up from that of the Ghibli. The overall feel is more refined and elegant, with a few exceptions, such as the infotainment display shared with more down-market Jeeps and other Fiat Chrysler models. However, there’s plenty of carefully polished wood and leather. The 12-way driver’s seat envelops you, providing perfect support during aggressive maneuvers. Pedal position was a minor complaint, now resolved with the optional, adjustable-pedal feature. Maserati opted for a roomy 2-row, seating-for-5 layout, rather than trying to cram in another row.
Like the Ghibli it is based upon, the 2017 Maserati Levante rides low and wide, enhancing the sense of sportiness. It is more a tall wagon than a true SUV. There’s plenty of glass and that translates into great visibility. The Levante has classic grand turismo looks, with cat’s-eye LED lights, and the familiar Maserati shark nose and concave grille. Those details do more than give it a sporty appearance. The Levante is surprisingly aerodynamic, with a best-in-class drag coefficient of 0.31.
A 360-degree camera with multiple views makes it easy to maneuver Maserati’s SUV in even the tightest parking spots. Even the base Levante offers an extensive array of safety gear, including emergency-braking assist and blind-spot monitor. The base car comes with an acceptable 8-way driver’s seat but we’d prefer to see the 12-way buckets come standard at this price point.
Looking to chill out? Opt for the refrigerated and cooled glove box. It’ll keep that can of Red Bull at the ready when you’re out for some hard driving. The optional Sport Package combines a variety of desirable features, including sport seats, a gloss-black grille, 20-inch wheels, shifter paddles and a sunroof. If you’re looking for the ultimate in style, it’s hard to ignore the optional Zegna Edition, a silk interior fabric package. It adds a distinctive look and feel not offered by any other brand until you’re up into the $300,000 price range.
Globally, the 2017 Maserati Levante will be offered with four different engine packages, though no diesels are currently scheduled for the U.S. market. Instead, we’re getting two versions of the same, Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V-6 that can best be described as” fast and faster.” Both engines mate to an 8-speed automatic transmission. All Levantes are all-wheel drive.
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6
345 horsepower @ 5,750 rpm
369 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/20 mpg
3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 (S model)
424 horsepower @ 5,750 rpm
428 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 14/19 mpg
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The base 2017 Maserati Levante starts with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $72,000 plus delivery charges. That jumps to $83,000 for the Levante S and gets you a handful of additional features -- most notably an extra 75 horsepower and 63 more lb-ft of torque. By comparison, you can get into a less well-contented Porsche Cayenne for as little as $59,350, though the German maker also nicks you for all sorts of features that are standard on the Maserati Levante. The Cayenne jumps to $77,250 for the 3.6-liter V-6 Turbo model, and goes all the way up to $117,550 for the V-8 Turbo. The curious can check KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what the Levante is going for in their area. We’ll have to wait to see how resale values hold up after a year or two on the market.