If you’re an automaker looking to stand out in the already-crowded performance SUV segment, there very few phrases that are more effective at catching a buyer’s attention than “Ferrari-sourced engine.” Maserati is currently in the midst of rounding out its product portfolio, and right now established players like the Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, and BMW X6 M are in its crosshairs. Hot on the heels of the V6-powered Levante and Levante S models that debuted in 2017 comes the new Levante GTS, a model that will slot in between the six cylinder models and the range-topping Levante Trofeo.
Like the Trofeo, the GTS gets its motivation from a 3.8-liter, twin turbocharged V8 not unlike the boosted mill that powers Ferrari sports cars like the Portofino and 488 GTB. So while the GTS is something of a middle child in the Levante lineup, it’s certainly not wanting for power or cachet, churning out 550 horsepower in this particular state of tune while packing no shortage of tech features, luxury appointments, and head-turning design flourishes.
And with a base price of $119,980 ($133,250 as tested), it certainly should. That puts the big Italian up against some pretty serious competition in the realm of high performance luxury sport-utilities, so it’s a good thing the Levante GTS has the firepower to hold its own.
SUVs have always conceded a tangible amount of style in the name of practicality in comparison to sedans and coupes of similar ilk, but that doesn’t mean the Levante GTS is a bore to gaze upon. The SUV’s look is defined by its face, which successfully blends the purposeful appearance of its large air intakes and grille with elegant character lines and a prominent trident that makes the Levante’s identity known in no uncertain terms.
The Levante’s Sport Skyhook adaptive suspension system was retuned for GTS duty and allows for no less than six different height levels while offering more than three inches of overall travel. In its sportiest setting, the Levante’s silhouette is sleeker, more wagon-like, and less ungainly overall than its V6-powered siblings. 20-inch wheels are standard on the GTS, but the optional 21-inch wheels fitted to our tester add some visual drama and help to highlight the copious stopping power provided by the six-piston calipers and 15-inch cross-drilled rotors installed up front, and the 13-inch discs outfitted at the rear.
Few phrases are more effective at catching a buyer’s attention than “Ferrari-sourced engine.”
Inside the Levante GTS there’s an unshakable sense that Maserati spent some time rifling through the FCA parts bin. While the large steering wheel-mounted shift paddles and optional Pieno Fiore leather do bring a heightened sense of occasion to the table, their impact is slightly dulled by the abundance of the switchgear and other touchpoint items that can trace their origins back to the Jeep Grand Cherokee and various Dodge products. But Maserati’s pragmatism also has its virtues: There’s loads of adjustability for occupants of all shapes and sizes, and it translates to a fast machine that’s also surprisingly comfortable to be in when you want to cruise under the radar.
Head and leg room are ample for passengers up front, while taller passengers will find the rear seats to be a tighter squeeze due in part to the Levante’s sloping roofline. That sporty shape also cuts into cargo volume and results in a bit less space than some of its rivals, but 21 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up (or 57 cubic feet with the rear bench folded) is still plenty of room for most families’ hauling needs.
Maserati borrowed liberally from elsewhere within the FCA family for the Levante’s tech features, too. While that might cut into the Levante’s sense of specialness, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio serves as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of bespoke tech.
Instead, FCA’s Uconnect 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system is on hand, offering the same fast, feature-rich and hassle-free operation it delivers in the numerous other vehicles it can be found in. Still, we can’t help but wonder why FCA didn’t opt to equip the Levante with the massive 12-inch display that debuted on the new Ram 1500 earlier this year. Given the premium vibe of this sport-utility and its emphasis on cutting-edge tech, it seems like a missed opportunity.
Inside the Levante GTS there’s an unshakable sense that Maserati spent some time rifling through the FCA parts bin.
Our tester was outfitted with an optional Bowers and Wilkins audio system (a 14-speaker Harman Kardon package is standard) as well as the Driver Assistance package, the latter of which provides what Maserati characterizes as level two autonomous driving technology. The highlight of that tech suite is Highway Assist, which combines the features of lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control to keep the vehicle centered in its lane while automatically adjusting to changes in the flow of traffic.
During long commutes such a feature can be a godsend, but we eventually disabled it because we found its intervention somewhat unnerving during more involved stints behind the wheel. Fortunately, the system can be toggled on and off – along with a number of other vehicle features – from a Uconnect sub-menu that requires literally one tap to access from the main screen.
While the sport-tuned suspension and beefed up brakes help to elevate the sporting prowess of the Levante GTS, the star of the show is undoubtedly the twin-turbocharged V8 under the hood.
It’s interesting to note that while the power plant does indeed hail from Ferrari’s engine factory, the Maserati mill is equipped with a cross-plane crankshaft rather than the flat-plane unit that Ferrari uses with its sports cars. That change alters the engine’s firing order in turn, and the upshot is that the Levante GTS sounds more than like something out of Detroit rather than Maranello. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though: Instead of a sonorous wail as the engine climbs to its 7,000 rpm redline, the Levante GTS sings a song of understated muscle car savagery that encouraged us to hold gears longer and dip into the throttle further.
Though not without its flaws, the Maserati Levante GTS is a worthy contender in the performance-luxury SUV segment.
At around 4,800 pounds, the Levante GTS isn’t exactly svelte (nor are its key rivals, for that matter), but the SUV tackled the twisting tarmac of the Angeles Forest with admirably tenacity. Firing up the Sport drive mode from a button on the center console lowers the suspension, loosens the reigns of the electronic nannies, and encourages the eight-speed automatic gearbox to utilize lower, more urgent gears. Dialing the suspension dampers up to Sport mode is done independently of the drive mode, oddly, but it’s well worth the effort. The stiffer setting more effectively corrals body motions during spirited driving, bringing the suspension in line with the capability offered by the drivetrain and brakes.
But despite all the weapons-grade performance hardware on hand, the Levante GTS isn’t punishing place to be when you want to keep the proceedings relaxed and low-key. Dial the drive mode and suspension dampers back down to their default states and the Levante settles down, dispatching rough pavement with little fuss while effectively isolating its occupants from outside noise. It’s that sense of balance which makes the Levante GTS feel like a performance-oriented SUV that one could live with on a day-to-day basis without any serious gripes.
- Porsche Cayenne Turbo ($124,600). As the original performance SUV, the Cayenne set the benchmark for the segment. The Porsche is a little more refined, but you’ll pay for it.
- Mercedes-AMG GLE63 ($102,550). AMG’s spin on the big performance SUV brings a degree of sophistication that’s missing in the Levante, but it lacks the emotive impact that the Italians bring to the table.
- Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk ($86,650). The most powerful SUV on sale today, the 707-horsepower Trackhawk is the king of the straight-line sprint, but the badge probably won’t elicit the envy of your neighbors.
Peace of mind
Maserati provides each new car with a transferable four-year, 50,000-mile warranty. Maserati also offers roadside assistance throughout the warranty period on all of its new vehicles sold in the U.S. and Canada.
Along with Highway Assist, the aforementioned optional Driver Assistance package also includes a number of active safety features like blind spot alert, forward collision warning, and Advanced Brake Assist, which applies additional braking if it detects that the driver has not applied sufficient brake force to prevent a collision.
How DT would configure this car
Our tester, outfitted with nero ribelle black paint and Pieno Fiore red leather was perfectly dressed by your author’s estimate.
Although the Bowers and Wilkins premium audio system sounds nice, we couldn’t help but wonder if it was nearly two thousand dollars better than the standard 14-speaker Harman Kardon system, and that’s something worth considering given the coin involved.
We could probably do without the $2,490 high-gloss carbon fiber interior trim package and the carbon fiber shift paddles as well ($450), savings which we’d put toward the essentially-mandatory Driver Assistance package ($1,590).Our Take
Though not without its flaws, the Maserati Levante GTS is a worthy contender in the performance-luxury SUV segment. Buyers looking for more straight-line speed and outright lunacy may want to check out the Levante’s corporate cousin, the 707-horsepower Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, while those more interested in German refinement may find a more suitable steed in the BMW M or Mercedes-AMG stables.
However, we’re willing to bet that, for certain sort of buyer, the Levante GTS hits all the right notes.
Should you get one?
Do you demand a Ferrari-built V8 in your sport-utility vehicle? If so, the answer is most certainly yes.