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First drive: Maserati Levante Trofeo. Image by Maserati.

First drive: Maserati Levante Trofeo
Old-fashioned Italian thrills from the Levante Trofeo, as Maserati plonks a V8 up front and gives us a hot SUV for the ages.

 



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Maserati Levante Trofeo

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

As a blood-and-thunder way to say goodbye to the internal combustion era, few SUVs can be as exuberant and enjoyable as the Maserati Levante Trofeo. It's not perfect and it's certainly not cheap, but it's immensely likeable and remarkably talented nonetheless.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Maserati Levante Trofeo
Pricing: Levante range from 65,065, Trofeo from 125,370, car as tested 149,610
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged 90-degree V8 petrol
Transmission: Q4 all-wheel drive with rear limited-slip differential, eight-speed ZF automatic
Body style: five-door performance SUV
CO2 emissions: 362g/km (VED Band Over 255: 2,245 first 12 months, then 490 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 155 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 21.4mpg
Top speed: 187mph
0-62mph: 4.1 seconds
Power: 580hp at 6,250rpm
Torque: 730Nm at 2,500-5,000rpm
Boot space: 580-1,625 litres

What's this?

A Maserati Levante that feels like it finally merits that hallowed Trident badge on its snout. After an assortment of OK but not sensational V6 engines were first installed in this contentious Italian SUV following its 2016 launch, it finally benefitted from a V8 in the mighty GTS model, complete with 530hp. But this Trofeo is another level again. Its Ferrari-sourced 3.8-litre twin-turbo unit is enhanced to 580hp and 730Nm, enough to punch 2,170kg of Maserati to a 0-62mph time of 4.1 seconds - that searing time assisted by the off-the-line traction benefits of Q4 all-wheel drive and a slick eight-speed ZF transmission - and a top speed of 187mph. You can get the same engine in the Ghibli and Quattroporte Trofeo models, where it will propel either saloon to a 203mph V-max, but neither of those rear-driven machines is accelerative as the Levante and it somehow seems more naughtily perverse that Maserati has slotted this supercar engine into a rather unassuming SUV.

Because the Levante Trofeo is somewhat underplayed with regards the visuals. OK, it's not so much underplayed when it's wearing 'V8 MTY' number plates and finished in Rosso Magma warpaint. Which is, and we can't quite believe we're writing this, a SIXTEEN-GRAND option. Yes, once you've dropped 15,895 on this 'Fuoriserie' personalisation choice, and then 2,970 on 22-inch Orione Black alloys as well as 200 on Nero brake callipers, you end up with a 150,000 bright-red shouting machine, granted. But if you strip through this particular test car's specification, a Trofeo doesn't look that much different to any other Levante.

Sure, there are red details on those three vents on the front wings, and there are quad exhausts at the back, and there's more red for the Trident badge on the C-pillar, and you get little 'Trofeo' badges on the flanks and a smattering of carbon-fibre addenda in places. But as these high-performance, high-riding vehicles go, the 580hp Levante is quite sedate. Which we like; in fact, we'd say the Levante has never looked better than it does in this specification. And we reckon that's the case when the only real detail which differentiates it from a GTS further down the line is to be found on the bonnet, where a pair of cooling vents are added near the base of the windscreen.

It's the same story of 'classily restrained' in what is actually a very lovely interior. The infotainment has been improved with Maserati Intelligent Assistant (MIA) on a 10.1-inch, 16:10-ratio high-def touchscreen, when it was presented on an 8.4-inch, 4:3-ratio display before, and there's some gorgeous quilted leather on the seats and more excellent carbon fibre on various fascias. Red stitching for the hide plus 'Trofeo' and 'V8' logos dotted around the place further heighten the ambience, and then the steering wheel is a proper, round item with a normal rim and some exquisite carbon paddle shifts behind it. Everything you operate and touch feels high quality, there's plenty of space in the rear of the cabin and the Levante also has a decent 580-litre boot. Good start from the Trofeo, then.

How does it drive?

Alongside the stonking V8 engine, which looks magnificent if you decide to pop the bonnet and take a peek in at it (no boring black plastic covers here from the Italians), the Levante Trofeo has a multilink rear axle with air suspension and Skyhook adaptive dampers, plus a limited-slip differential on the rear axle. Massive grip is promised by the 22-inch tyres, mega traction in all weathers by the Q4 AWD set-up.

And, at less than 2.2 tonnes, it's not the heaviest SUV in the world. All of which adds up to a quite extraordinary driving experience. The Levante kind of hovers between the class of the Porsches Macan and Cayenne in terms of its physicality, although it is priced very much on a par with the latter. But, along with the Macan Turbo and the closely related, if only V6-powered Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, we can't remember piloting a more involving, riotous SUV than this Trofeo.

It is loud, for starters. Histrionically loud in that marvellous way that never lets you forget it's a V8, so that it rumbles and chunters at low revs and bellows atavistically as it zones in on its redline. A mischievous exhaust system throws in plenty of burbles and cracks too, and weirdly enough this same drivetrain in the Quattroporte isn't quite as vocal as it is here. Maybe it's the different buying demographics, maybe it's the different exhaust routing on the two machines, but it's odd that one Maserati V8 is theatrically noisy and the other... isn't, so much.

Anyway, in the Levante, the soundtrack makes the SUV feel even faster than it genuinely is. Which is very fast indeed. Have no doubt about those on-paper stats, because there's minimal turbo lag here and whipcrack responses from both the Q4 system and the ZF transmission, which means the Maserati lunges violently at the horizon if you so ask it to. It's a beautiful, surging power delivery, too, feeling linear and insistent right around the rev counter. The Levante certainly feels race-car quick on the roads, justifying its 'Trofeo' badge.

Thankfully, it doesn't all fall apart in the corners, nor on the refinement front. On the latter score, the Trofeo is maybe not the most cosseting SUV in the world, as it always has an underlying firmness to its comportment to remind you that it's capable of 187mph if left to run free. But it's certainly bearable for occupants in the way it deals with lumpen tarmac, while noise suppression is also excellent across the board too.

However, it's the playful way the Levante Trofeo corners which is greatest reward of all. Its Q4 system will only ever send up to 50 per cent of the torque to the front axle if required, which it can do in 150 milliseconds, but in regular running the Maserati opts for 100 per cent of its grunt flowing to the back wheels. Which makes it incredibly rear-biased in feel. Out of one dry roundabout in Corsa mode, where the Levante Trofeo operates without traction control enabled, it swung into a neat tailslide without too much provocation at all. OK, so power-oversteering an SUV about on the public roads is hardly something responsible nor a habit owners will get into regularly, but this reluctance on the part of the Maserati to feel in any way nose-led is most refreshing.

It is then further helped by superb suspension with quality damping control, some epic brakes and lovely steering, which is perhaps light in weighting but does possess some feel and a fabulous immediacy to the way it responds to inputs. Link it all together with that tremendous V8 engine and the Levante Trofeo is an absolute delight to drive quickly. Plus, it feels special and gratifying at sane road speeds, thanks to the symphony coming from the engine bay and exhaust pipes, so it goes straight into our own personal 'Top Three' of hot-rod SUVs.

Verdict

Having spent the morning in the underwhelming Maserati Ghibli Hybrid, an afternoon blast in the rambunctious Levante Trofeo provided entirely restorative redemption for our faith in the Trident marque. The thing is, though, that brilliantly, obnoxiously loud V8-powered SUVs which emit 362g/km CO2 and go like the clappers are not the future; they're the past. And while Maserati has undoubtedly executed the Levante Trofeo quite brilliantly, you kind of feel this is not a product which is going to propel the company to the necessary sales success in years to come. It has to master cars like the Ghibli Hybrid if it is to survive long-term, not dinosaurs such as this bright red beast. Mind you, having said all that... what enormous fun this Levante is. Quite sensational stuff from the Italian outfit.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 4 May 2021









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2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.

2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.2021 Maserati Levante Trofeo UK test. Image by Maserati.








 

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