Skid Marks

Sounds like sex: Maserati Levante S 430

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The Levante feels at home at speeds well above legal.

Over the course of 14 years writing about cars, I have driven a handful of Italian machines. All have been truly memorable: Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Maserati.

We all know the first two: purveyors of exoticism on four wheels, very sensual sounding engines mated with equally sensual, even mad styling. But Maserati to many remains quite a mystery.

Maserati names most its models after the names of winds in the Mediterranean and Arab regions: Khamsin, Ghibli, Bora, Merak, and now Levante. All seemingly sounding mysterious—and sexy.

Ah yes. Maserati states that its motto is building cars that have luxury, sports, and style cast in exclusive cars. Indeed, many of Maserati’s models have exuded amazing styling, akin to a sharp looking Italian suit. The problem is, not everyone fits in an Italian suit.

After years of being in the throes of bankruptcy, Maserati under Fiat-Chrysler ownership is finally spreading its wings with sound engineering and funding from the FCA Group.

The Quattroporte and Ghibli luxury sports sedans were the first truly modern, reliable global Maseratis, and the Levante hopes to take things further for the brand.

The Levante is Maserati’s first crossover ultra-luxury SUV for the FCA Group, with cars like the Porsche Cayenne, BMW’s X5 and Mercedes-Benz’s GLC in its sights.

Named after an easterly wind that blows through the Straights of Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea, Levante is a mild wind that can change to gale force strong, mirroring the character of the brand’s first SUV.

Interestingly, in both Italian and Spanish, Levante also means something akin to the rising sun from the east. Quite apt, as the East is indeed where the Levante will be seeing massive success in the near future.

First off is the profile. The shape is quite polarizing. There are some angles of the Levante that look difficult to swallow, particularly the D-pillars at the back.

There’s the massive radiator grill with Neptune’s Trident in the middle, and the port holes on the front fenders.

Of course, the Levante S rides on massive 20-inch wheels, staggered in size (wider at the back), which hints at its luxurious and sporting intent.

A twin turbocharged and inter-cooled F160 engine

The interior is opulent: rich soft leather and wood adorns most surfaces. Interestingly, the few surfaces left in plastic don’t feel up to par with the rest of the organic materials used.

The large 8.4-inch multi-function LCD screen looks a tad cheap and cheesy, but functionality remains excellent.

You even have the option to fit a Harman Kardon or Bowers and Wilkins sound system, plus an interior designed by Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna. I don’t see the Germans doing anything as stylish.

No complaints on the powertrain. The Levante 430 S is equipped with the F160 engine, a twin turbocharged and inter-cooled, direct-injected 60-degree 3.0-liter V6 engine producing 430 hp at 5,750 rpm, and crucially, 580 Newton meters of torque at 5,000 rpm.

Interestingly, the engine was designed by Ferrari (also part of the FCA Group), and shares some of its parts such as the turbocharger system and direct fuel injection with Ferrari’s F154 V8 twin-turbo engine fitted on the Ferrari F488.

And it sounds just like sex. There’s a soft burble at idle and low rpm operation as the Levante speeds off into the distance.

Floor it further, and it simply screams like a beautiful Italian seductress in the throes of ecstasy.

Lest this turns into an X-rated narrative, the ZF 8-speed transmission is a perfect match. The ratios allow you to really feel and hear the V6 scream towards redline, followed by an aggressive upshift.

Maserati’s Skyhook air suspension perfectly controls body roll, pitch and squat as you assault the road, be it winding or straight.

Rich soft leather and wood adorns most surfaces in the interior.

There’s a diesel engine option available, as well as the Trofeo with its twin-turbo V8 engine being the top high-performance model aimed squarely at the likes of the Cayenne Turbo S, BMW X5M and Merc’s AMG 63 SUV.

Inside, the seating position is excellent. The seats adjust electronically 16 ways, with the steering wheel adjusting for reach and rake.

Clearly, the Italians have learned that not everyone is suited for that classic Italian driving position (arms straight, knees bent like a monkey).

I do find the large center console obtrusive for my preferred driving position (as low as possible), but that’s subjective.

Visibility in and out is good, with no serious blind spots. A reverse camera helps when parking backwards or maneuvering in tight spaces.

Already, I can tell you that Maserati will gain a huge amount of new customers. China, with is massive appetite for chauffeur-driven luxo-barges is the obvious primary destination.

In the Philippines, where everyone wants an SUV, the more exclusive and faster it is, the better it will sell to well-moneyed enthusiasts who require a raised daily driver to survey their massive tracts of land.

In traffic, the Levante is bored. It just wants to get you into trouble. And indeed, trouble found me.

In my 21 years of driving, I have never been caught or fined for over-speeding. Well, one weekend enroute to Subic Bay, I finally got caught in the Levante as I failed to notice my speed.

And that is the Maserati’s strong suit: long-distance, high-speed touring. The Levante feels at home at speeds well above legal. I’d estimate that it is in its element between 140-200 km/h, probably on a drive from Italy to Germany on fast A-roads, autostradas, and the Autobahn.

Maxed out, Maserati says the Levante 430 S will hit just over 260 km/h.

The Skyhook suspension is another culprit that can get you in trouble: it feels perfect despite the firm setting and massive wheels and tires.

Corners are swallowed with ease, and the Levante just feels playfully right on winding roads. Big bumps are smoothened with a single thud rather than a jarring bang.

The steering is light, with decent feel, and surprisingly, a touch of delicacy admittedly absent on the Germans.

Of course, the Levante is a very safe SUV: six airbags as standard, ABS-EBD brakes with emergency brake assist when the safety nannies sense imminent collision, plus of course, traction and stability control.

There’s even blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning reminders to keep you on the straight and narrow.

Neptune’s trident

The Q4 all-wheel drive system has a pre-set 50:50 front-to-rear torque bias/distribution to help give the Levante stability on all roads and weather conditions.

Torque vectoring, which apportions more power to the outer wheel and brakes to the inner wheel, ensures that the Levante corners like its on rails despite its tall center of gravity.

The double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear ensure sharp responsive handling, much like how sports cars and sports sedan are equipped.

The Levante is like an Italian suit that now uses stretchy fabric. It looks sharp and impossibly cool, but the increased levels of both practicality and reliability, as well as versatility, means you don’t feel like wearing a straight jacket, or fear ripping your suit when you get in or out, up and down, while looking impossibly stylishly cool.

It still won’t be for everyone, but now, perhaps you won’t mind trying out that Italian suit yourself?

This is the new Maserati.



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