Despite having been presenting 4x4 concepts since the early 2000s, Maserati has taken its time in coming to the ever-growing SUV market. The Levante, though, has finally arrived, ready to wade into battle with the Range Rover Sport and Porsche Cayenne.
Underneath the rather attractive bodywork, it’s essentially a jacked-up Ghibli, albeit with some clever four-wheel-drive gubbins and a few other choice modifications. Maserati freely admits the Levante is no match for the Range Rover on the rough stuff, but instead pitches this as a sportier alternative that’s still more than capable when the going gets muddy.
It seems the Levante is a divisive thing to look at. Some love its combination of sleek lines, taut haunches and aggressive grille, but others seem less than impressed. Either way, it’s a striking thing, but we’re very much in the love camp. We’re particular fans of the long bonnet, the rakish rear window and the narrowed lights, which give it a purposeful, forward-set stance.
Inside, the cabin feels as you’d expect from a £54,000 (€63,000) SUV (no prices available for Ireland). Even if you don’t go for the extended leather pack, which adds smart upholstery to the dash, you’ll be surrounded by high-quality plastics and soft leather seats.
There’s a lot of space in the Levante, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the car’s enormity. At a touch over five metres in length, the Maserati is 6in longer than a Range Rover Sport and just as wide.
It is, however, around 10cm shorter than the Range Rover in terms of height, but this doesn’t cause any problems in terms of practicality. There’s bags of headroom in the rear for even tall adults, and legroom is decent, too.
The 580-litre boot is also highly competitive, offering 91 litres more capacity than the Range Rover’s 489-litre load bay.
Maserati claims the Levante has been designed with handling firmly in mind, so it gets a 50/50 weight distribution, some lightweight magnesium components and the lowest centre of gravity of any of its rivals.
All that supercar stuff is very promising, but when you get the car on the road, even that can’t hide the fact this is a 5m-long, 2m-wide 4x4.
The steering is beautifully weighted and precise, body roll is well contained, and the 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine serves up a pleasant shove in the back when you put your foot down, but it always feels big and substantial — not quite heavy, but certainly chunky.
It’s still an impressively agile car for its size, though. Just don’t go expecting GranTurismo levels of handling prowess.
If you’ve come to the Levante in search of a transcontinental cruiser with lashings of all-terrain capability, however, you’ve come to the right place.
The suspension is tuned to provide feedback and tells you exactly what the wheels are encountering beneath you, but it never jolts or lurches over potholes.
The seats are comfortable, too, and though Maserati doesn’t pretend to offer class-leading technology, there’s more than enough infotainment kit to keep passengers entertained.
If you do encounter snow or mud on your travels, you can lift the suspension and tune the four-wheel-drive system to reduce its inherent rearward bias and split the power more evenly between the axles.
This doesn’t quite turn it into an expeditionary mud-plugger, but it does make it capable enough to tackle terrain far more challenging than the average owner will ever show it.
As standard, the Levante comes with a plentiful kit list, including full leather upholstery, satellite navigation and air suspension, as well as other niceties such as a Harman Kardon sound system.
You can add more gizmos with a range of packs, chief among which is the Luxury Pack, which provides a powered steering column, a 360-degree parking camera and heated front seats.
Alternatively, you can go for the Sport Pack, which provides aluminium gear shift paddles, larger 20in alloys and sportier seats.
There’s a driver assistance pack, too, which offers a horde of safety gadgets, including lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring.
The extras will drive the costs over that of its main rivals.
The Levante will probably always stay a niche offering compared with the Range Rover Sports and Porsche Cayennes of this world, but it seems Maserati is content with that. The Levante, then, takes its place as a likeable, characterful alternative to those segment leaders — standing out from the crowd without sacrificing luxury, performance or capability.