The first time I started the Maserati Levante’s Ferrari-built V6 engine at a JFK valet lot, it roared to life with the audacity of a pink-slip racer.
Parking lot staff and travelers waiting for the airport shuttle all turned their heads at once—the Maserati’s shamelessly wide-mouthed grill branding it instantly as the culprit.
But the Levante is an SUV that grants guts and grace in equal measure, and after the aggressive introduction, it eased delicately to the exit, turned on a dime and caught the highway-bound traffic flying by in a matter of seconds.
Over the next four days touring the Hamptons in the Levante, I would come to love its mix of class and crass. I rolled down the windows at stoplights just to hear the growl of the engine at idle, and when heading into Sport Mode for jaunts down to the beach, I relished the rumble that split the rarefied Southampton air and startled the joggers, dog walkers and deer.
Then again, I half-closed doors just to watch them close properly on their own, and I took time for the silent pleasure of running my hand over the oxblood leather trim while waiting at stoplights.
This is an SUV that keeps you constantly checking the speedometer. It has an itch for speed, and its artfully-tuned engine noise seems to manifest gravity on your pedal foot.
The base model Levante starts at just under $77,000, and all models come standard with all-wheel drive. My press model was a $103,000 Levante S, with a 424-horsepower V6 engine designed by Maserati and built by Ferrari.
This configuration has a top speed of 164 mph, accelerates from 0-60 in 5 seconds, and generates 428 lb-ft torque—which is to say, more than enough of everything.
The brakes on the Levante are firm and commanding, without ever being overly abrupt. My press model had 21-inch Helios wheels, and red Maserati brake calipers that did as much for the SUV as red soles do for a pair of heels. The Levante felt weighty and substantial, but these brakes did a brilliant job of coolly reining it in whenever I spotted one of many Hamptons speed traps.
According to Maserati, the Levante is 100% made in Italy. It shares a platform with the Ghibli and Quattroporte, and you feel that sporty pedigree in its handling. Tap the Sport Mode button and the engine lets out a beastly threat, the air suspension lowers, and black shuttered air vents open in the grill.
After the initial show of aggression, the Sport Mode is not overwhelming and can be driven casually for a bit of extra oomph. I let it loose along the coast road, past the backs of beachfront mansions, and the Levante’s comfort at speed made me crave a thousand-mile tour.
Features and Design
You can learn a lot about a car by looking at the key fob, and the Levante’s is one serious piece of hardware. Large, heavy, nearly all metal; it seems destined to a life of being oh-so-casually flashed for effect, or landing on tables with an intimidating thud.
Like many elements of the Levante—from the engine roar to the over-sized trident on the grill, to the oxblood red leather trim of my GranLusso model—so much about this SUV is pushed to the very edge of where tasteful Italian luxury crosses over into exotic car machismo, yet without ever going too far.
Among my favorite features was the fact that any door not fully closed will be firmly and quietly closed by itself within seconds. And that the air suspension raises the Levante upon starting the engine. It can be raised further for Off-Road Mode, or lowered, with a toggle switch on the center console.
The frameless door windows are a feature I didn’t realize I wanted. With the windows down, they handle like convertible sports car doors, and create a somehow freeing effect without ever seeming insubstantial. And the always-on eyebrow running lights ensure that the Levante doesn’t just sound alive, but also looks it.
The luxury GranLusso interior is a perfect balance of Grand Tour and sporty. I was wary of the interior on paper—a mix of a blueish grey Ermenegildo Zegna fabric and red leather trim—but the red is rich, more of an oxblood, and the Zegna fabric lining the body of the seats and interior doors was multidimensional and luxurious.
Overall, the interior is just dramatic enough to belong perfectly in an SUV that is simultaneously restrained and outspoken.
The Maserati Levante focuses on what a luxury SUV really is, rather than on what people tell themselves it could be. It aspires to greatness rather than to practicality. It is indulgent enough to put a grin on your face and drop a load of dopamine on your system when you drive it, but elegant enough to provide an element of deniability.
I took a Maserati to the Hamptons because I knew it wouldn’t bat an eye at the billionaire beach houses, the hedge-hidden private clubs, and the simple act of dropping by Citarella for a $20 stick of butter.
But after four days in the Levante, it came to mean more to me than the weight of its key fob or the prestige of its badge. And on my way back to JFK to release it back into the wild, all I wanted to do was turn left, pop it into Sport Mode, and drive the 900 miles to my home.
Even if it meant I had to pay for the gas.