The 2019 Maserati Levante no doubt feels like the Maserati of SUVs per the automaker’s marketing pitch, courtesy of Captain Obvious. However, replace the standard twin-turbo V6 with a Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V8 and, well, hello, speedy daddy.
New for 2019, the Levante GTS and Levante Trofeo models join Maserati’s SUV lineup, and thanks to their super performance V8s can accelerate to 60 mph in four seconds or less.
Although made in Maranello, Italy, this 3.8-liter V8 engine is not of the drag-and-drop variety. For Maserati, the engine received a redesigned crankshaft assembly and different electric wiring as well as a new oil pump, auxiliary belt, and cylinder heads. The engine mapping was recalibrated, too, which meant redesigning internal parts like pistons and connecting rods.
Despite this list of modification, the newest Levante still knows how to prance.
With all-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment on all models, the Levante GTS offers 550 horsepower and hustles to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds with a top speed of 181 mph.
The Levante Trofeo is the punchier performer of the duo. Its upgraded V8 roars out 590 hp, is 0.3 seconds quicker to 60 mph, and tops out at 189 mph. Curiously, the speedometer lists 230 mph with gaps for every 10 mph seemingly measured in millimeters. Lead-foots, beware.
Peak torque for the V8s is achieved at just 2,500 rpm, rated at 538 pound-feet for both V8s. Both engines also have a listed redline of 7,000 rpm but, according to Maserati, the GTS needs to shift at about 6,000 rpm.
By comparison, the 3.0-liter V6-powered base Levante and Levante S offer 345 and 424 hp, respectively, with acceleration times of 5.8 and 5.0 seconds. Also, with 369 lb.-ft. of torque for the Levante and 428 lb.-ft. for the S, peak torque for both V6s arrives at a higher 4,500 rpm.
Getting back to the new Levante GTS, in the numbers race it holds its own versus the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR. With the optional Chrono package, the Cayenne posts a 3.7-second zero-to-60 mph time when equipped with a 550-hp 4.8-liter V8. The supercharged 5.0-liter V8 Rover has more power (575 hp) but is almost 300 pounds heavier than the Maserati and Porsche and, thus, takes 4.3 seconds.
For now, the Levante Trofeo’s sole target is the Lamborghini Urus whose 4.0-liter V8 offers a whopping 641 hp and 627 lb.-ft. Yet, the Lambo is only slightly quicker with an estimated 3.5-second zero-to-60 mph time.
Still, specs on a spreadsheet translate to what on real roads? With the new Levante, the answer is smiles. Not to sound like a coal-rollin’, non-recylin’, electric-car hatin’ consumer (because I am none of these), but that twin-turbo V8 sound is a musical genre slowly disappearing from the world’s audio library. Please stay.
Even with a luxuriously quiet cabin (as is expected in this segment), the engine note still emanated in the most unobtrusive but melodiously apparent way. And although I didn’t do any timing, acceleration was on point and instantaneous. The AWD system with a rear limited-slip differential kept the Levante GTS and Trofeo securely planted and neither SUV felt hefty, miraculous considering the weigh nearly 4,800 pounds.
My drive route was a fanciful experience, starting from California’s agricultural mecca of Salinas Valley, through the hillside vineyards of Paso Robles, and up along the Central Coast’s infamously beautiful Highway 1. Both the GTS and Trofeo proved tight, responsive, and enjoyable to drive, with just the right amount of stiffness for performance-oriented vehicles.
Suspension systems for the various Levante models are essentially the same, save for tuning characteristics of the air spring control system and the damper rates. An Aero Lift Auto system adjusts the vehicle’s ride height by nearly 3 inches based on the selected driving mode, maximizing performance or fuel efficiency depending on the setting.
The GTS rides on 20-inch wheels while the Trofeo scurries on 22s. In both SUVs, the shocks were accommodating but the Trofeo’s ride quality did suffer a tinge when maneuvering over anything but the smoothest of pavement. For everyday commuting, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if you want to venture off the freshly laid asphalt path? At least the perforated premium leather seats are comfortable.
In the GTS, driver-selectable driving modes include Levante standards: Normal, I.C.E. (increased control & efficiency), Sport, and Off-Road. The Trofeo, however, adds a new Corsa mode with launch control. From here, it’s safe to say the V8 smile turns into a satisfying chuckle. When selecting Corsa, the Trofeo feels noticeably tauter and its V8 belts out a boastful aria.
In fact, Corsa mode was engaging enough that I completely forgot about that launch
Control system. Granted, California’s two-lane Highway 1 is clogged with lots of tourist traffic on a summer Saturday, including slow-on-hills RVs, making it a lousy place to sample such technology. Passing lanes, however, became an autocross of memories. Memories of the dust of the vehicles I overtook—sometimes in batches because in 3.7 seconds I could.
Needless to say, heavy use of your right foot produces dismal fuel economy. Not yet EPA tested, Maserati estimates fuel economy at 13 mpg in the city, 18 mpg on the highway, and 15 mpg in combined driving. And that’s on a good day.
Along the California coast, which boasts a higher-than-everywhere cost of breathing, the Maserati Levante looked right at home while still generating its fair share of ogles and ooohs.
Even as the seasonal crowds gathered to view the cloud-shrouded, 56-bedroom Hearst Castle or the 5,000-pound male elephant seals that gathered to molt along the shoreline below, exiting the vehicle always meant a conversation with a stranger about what, why, and how much?
Quite a bit much over the “entry” Levante actually, which starts at $77,475 (including the $1,495 destination fee). The Levante GTS will set you back $121,475 while top-dog Trofeo will lighten the wallet by $171,475.
From an exterior design perspective, the standard Levante is easy to distinguish from its higher-priced siblings. Variances between the S, GTS, and Trofeo, however, require some expert-level spot-the-difference mastery. Wheel size and brake caliper colors are the easiest and most obvious changes before squinting comes into play.
Each Levante model features a trim-specific front design, usually tweaked with the materials used for the grille surround and vertical bar inserts (i.e., how much chrome). The GTS showcases a honeycomb mesh on the lower front fascia as well as a body-colored lower front splitter, rear spoiler, and door handles. Piano black inserts are added to the bumpers along with a “GTS” badge on the rear liftgate.
The Trofeo swaps out the body-matching front splitter, chrome grille inserts, and piano black bumper trims for carbon fiber. Other performance-oriented features include a hood with dual vents, carbon fiber side skirts, and a subtle “Trofeo” badge beneath the Maserati trident on the C-pillars.
Understated details follow through into the cabin with aluminum paddle shifters (GTS) changing to carbon fiber (Trofeo), a 14-speaker Harman Kardon stereo (GTS) to a 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system (Trofeo), redesigned cluster graphics, and model-specific badging for the headrests and floormats.
Oh, and don’t forget that Trofeo-only Sport/Corsa button next to the newly designed gearshift lever.
Is the Levante Trofeo worth a $50K price jump over the Levante GTS?
Given that the model-to-model differences are seemingly slight, and considering that the Trofeo’s 40-hp increase is genuinely difficult to ascertain, I’d say no. But I’m not a super-luxury SUV buyer. The best is the best, and three-tenths of a second shaved off the zero-to-60 mph time is still three-tenths.
For some people—say the estimated 1 percent of Levante buyers who choose the Trofeo—the philosophy is that if you can have it all, then have it.
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