Is the Ferrari-Powered Levante SUV Worthy of the Maserati Name?

We've got a verdict.
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We've got a verdict.
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Critics have expressed doubt that the Levante crossover SUV is an authentically worthy Maserati, a vehicle that lives up to the legend of the marque's zoomy sports cars and illustrious racers.

YouTuber Doug DeMuro concluded in his review that the Levante is an imposter, compared to Maserati's illustrious history, but we wanted to get a look for ourselves. It is hard to be sure whether the complaints are against the very notion of a Maserati SUV or just against this specific execution of the concept.

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We're going to say the the very idea of a "car" is changing, and increasingly crossover SUVs are people's idea of cars, while coupes may be headed the way of the dual-cowl phaeton. Not wanting to end up like Duesenberg, Maserati is sensibly moving into the crossover market where there are customers. 

Maserati 3500GT Spider, Tipo 6CM and Khamsin (left to right).

Maserati 3500GT Spider, Tipo 6CM and Khamsin (left to right).

The design. 

That's fine. It looks like crossover SUVs are going to take over the world. But critics like DeMuro grouse that the Levante's lines are generic. It lacks the oomph of a true Maserati. Driving the Levante around town elicited no head turns that would otherwise be expected of a Maserati. Leaving us to agree that a Maserati needs suitably exotic looks, SUV or not.

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The top speed. 

Our tested Levante S is propelled by a Ferrari-built 424-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that is packed with Maserati-grade technology and which makes a proper shriek at speed. But its top speed is 164 mph, short of the 185 mph of the brand's promise. 

Yes, that number comes from an ancient Joe Walsh song, "Life's Been Good," but it is the de facto expectation for Americans when considering a Maserati. Again, the Levante falls short. Not because it is slow, but because "Maserati" carried incredibly lofty expectations.

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The exclusivity. 

Maseratis should be aspirational. That is why they are idolized in song as the epitome of rock star indulgence. Maserati makes Levantes that are acceptably aspirational. The tested Levante S has good power and sophisticated suspension.

For 2018, Maserati is adding luxury and sport trim packages called GranLusso and GranSport, which imbue this practical family machine with the sort of attitude necessary for a Maserati. The problem is that Levantes aren't all Levante S with either the GranLusso or GranSport package. They should be.

The base Levante's engine is 345 horsepower, which boosts the vehicle to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds. Which is excellent for an ordinary brand. But Maserati is an extraordinary brand, and even the Levante S's 5.2-second 0-60 time marginal among its competitors, like the 600-horsepower, 187-mph Bentley Bentayga.

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The soundtrack. 

There are two sources of audio in the Levante. One is the car's exhaust pipe, and the Levante acquits itself well in that regard thanks to bypass valves that let it speak in its outside voice when switched to Sport mode. As a proper Maserati should.

The second source is the Levante's stereo system. Maserati offers a 900-watt, 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and a truly kick-ass Bowers & Wilkins premium surround sound system with 1,280 watts and 17 speakers. These brands provide the expected cache and the incredible audio performance to exceed drivers' expectations. 

Yet Maserati inexplicably positions both of these systems as optional, with a "Base Sound System" as standard equipment. Authentic Maseratis don't have "base" anything. So sound is a win for the Levante, but it would be an unqualified win if they'd delete the Base Sound System and start off with the Harmon Kardon as minimal equipment.

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The cockpit. 

Maseratis have "cockpits" rather than "cabins," even when they are largish five-passenger crossover SUVs like the Levante. With the arrival of the GranLusso and GranSport trim packages, the cockpit is elevated to an appropriate level, but it is a struggle to achieve that when the driver is surrounded by so many switches and instruments borrowed from corporate cousins like the Chrysler 300 or even the Pacifica.

Check out the GranLusso's equipment: Ermenegildo Zenga Silk upholstery, Radica open-pore wood, and soft-close doors that power themselves shut so there's no uncouth slamming needed. If only they could come up with some more exclusive switchgear to go with it.

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Verdict. 

Is the Levante a worthy Maserati? Yes*. The Levante S (base price $86,100), equipped with the GranLusso or GranSport package squeaks over the hurdle, still weighed down by generic exterior styling and switchgear. It really needs more expressive sheetmetal and the muscle to achieve 185 mph for this success to be obvious. 

Lesser Levantes are, well, lesser. And unworthy.