The 2020 Maserati Levante is something of a bait and switch. It's like paying for grand cru burgundy and getting a bottle of Boone's Farm instead. It lures you in with lusty styling, the promise of instant celebrity that comes with daily-driving an Italian exotic and, of course, bonkers speed, especially in top-of-the-line Trofeo guise. This SUV certainly delivers in those areas, though, unfortunately, the Levante falls short in most others.
But let's start with the best part of this eye-catching SUV: the powertrain. Behind its intimidating front end is a little gem of an engine, a 3.8-liter twin-turbocharged V8 purloined from Ferrari. Despite its rather diminutive displacement, it's an absolute firecracker -- hell, practically a whole crate of dynamite. This engine punches far, far above its weight class, cranking out an astonishing 590 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque. And yes, all those ponies make the Levante Trofeo seriously quick, rocketing it from a rest to 60 mph in as little as 3.7 seconds.
That performance is aided by a smooth and responsive eight-speed automatic transmission, which routes torque to the pavement through an all-wheel-drive system and a limited-slip differential for added surefootedness. As for fuel consumption, expect 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on highway drives. Combined, this SUV is rated at 15, a figure I managed to beat by 1 mpg in real-world driving.
Not only is this Maserati's V8 potent, it's mellifluous and silky smooth, pulling with the linearity of a naturally aspirated engine. There are no discernable hiccups, surges or sags as it goes about its business. Vibration and harshness are nearly nonexistent, too. Truly, this is a lovely powerplant. It's just a shame the rest of this vehicle's dynamics aren't as well dialed in.
The Levante's steering has a nice bit of heft, but it's not particularly crisp or quick. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, a competing high-performance SUV from an Italian brand (and Maserati's corporate cousin), feels far livelier in your hands. This Maserati's brakes are also kind of weird. The vehicle has plenty of stopping power, yet the pedal is way too soft underfoot and can be a bit challenging to smoothly modulate. When it comes to ride quality, the Levante Trofeo is certainly starchy, though not brutally so. In its softest setting, the air suspension system helps iron out roadway blemishes, but if you make it stiffer, the surfaces beneath your feet get broadcast in higher fidelity, though, again, this is not unbearable. Stylish 22-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile Continental SportContact 6 tires provide plenty of style and grip, though the Trofeo model is potent enough to squawk these rubbers when you romp on the accelerator.
Yes, the Levante looks great, with those angular headlamps (which are of the LED variety and adaptive, too), broad hips and generally tasteful proportions, but its interior leaves much to be desired. The Trofeo model tested here features acres of lovely leather throughout the cabin, accentuated by bright red stitching. The headliner and roof pillars are also covered in rich Alcantara fabric, while the 12-way adjustable front chairs are decently comfortable and firm enough to be chiropractor-approved. The backseat is, surprisingly, plenty spacious for even lanky adults. My tester is also fitted with 3D carbon-fiber trim that is very cool and used tastefully throughout the interior. Rather than being treated to a glass-like finish, this carbon fiber has texture, a tactile feel where the material's weave is exposed, something that makes it feel super special.
Maserati nailed the basics with this interior, so what's the problem? Well, if you look a little closer, whiffs of cost cutting become apparent. The Levante carries a premium price tag (more on that in a bit) and yet its cabin is full of mass-market Fiat-Chrysler controls, from the window switches to the turn-signal stalk to the starter button. There's nothing inherently wrong with these components, they just belong in a Chrysler Pacifica, not a Maserati. Creaky climate controls and wobbly trim on the center console further cheapen the experience.
Another area where a few pinched pennies are obvious is in the infotainment department. The Maserati Touch Control Plus (MTC+) system is basically FCA Uconnect by another name. With an 8.4-inch touchscreen, it's just as friendly and responsive as what you get in, say, a Dodge Durango, but it features some Maserati graphics and a control knob on the center console so you don't have to poke at the display if you don't want to. Again, there's nothing wrong with this infotainment solution, but shouldn't a Maserati offer more?
Like its brethren, MTC+ comes with an integrated navigation system as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Naturally, the Levante offers plenty of other tech, features like blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and a surround-view camera system. My tester is also fitted with a nifty feature called Highway Assist, which is basically adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability as well as lane centering. Unlike competing systems, this one includes sensors in the steering wheel, so the vehicle knows whether your hands are on the tiller or not. When engaged, Highway Assist does a good job keeping the Levante in the middle of its lane, though it's not very smooth, constantly making little corrections, incessantly sawing at the steering wheel, which is weird and a bit disconcerting.
An entry-level Maserati Levante starts at around $80,000, though even at that level it feels pretty overpriced. The top-shelf Trofeo model seen here is nearly twice as expensive, checking out for $152,685, including $1,495 in destination fees. Sure, that substantial outlay gets you a handsome vehicle with solid dynamics and a delightful Ferrari engine, but there are plenty of other SUVs out there that are more enjoyable to drive and far less expensive. But even similarly priced rivals like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and BMW X5 M, or, hell, even the related Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which has similar tech and switchgear, feel far nicer. Unless you're dead set on getting a Maserati, you'd be wise to consider another SUV.