Back in 2015, I jetted off to Siena, Italy to sample Maserati’s first SUV, the Levante, which would catapult the trident brand to a new audience and play a key role in ramping up its market share and profitability. It was a decent first attempt as we took it where no other Maserati had gone before – off road.
However, the 3-litre V6 diesel variant – the only model that was destined for our shores at the time – was good but lacked that aural splendour so accustomed with the brand. This was addressed, somewhat, by the Levante S with its sonorous twin-turbo 3-litre V6. Sadly, it paled against the competition from Porsche in the Cayenne GTS, BMW X5M, and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63.
Now the company has finally afforded the market exactly what the Levante needed – a twin-turbo, Ferrari-sourced V8 shoehorned into its snout. Yes, indeed, the Levante Trofeo is the flagship variant of the range and, following our brief stint at its wheel, it has duly readdressed all those performance deficiencies. With signature scarlet red Ferrari cam covers, the 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 employed here is a thing of beauty, thanks to the aforementioned cam covers and the contrasting carbon fibre engine cover, replete with the Trident motif. It thumps out a hearty 433 kW and 730 Nm through an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox, while the all-wheel drive dispatches it all to the tarmac with relative ease.
Stepping into the cabin is an occasion that is met with sumptuous leather seats, and a dash and steering wreathed in the same high quality material. Unlike the first Levante models, the Trofeo also dispenses with the that archaic, Chrysler derived infotainment system for a more integrated and crisper interface. Of course, being the high-performance variant, you also have the Trofeo insignias peppered ever so lightly through the cabin. I was also quite enomoured by the extensive use of alcantara on the roof-lining and pillars, rounded off by a minimalistic yet tasteful use of carbon fibre material. Overall, it is quite a pleasant sanctuary to while away the time at the wheel.
How does it go, you may be wondering? Well, in a nutshell, satisfyingly so! It is an engine with lashings of torque no matter where in the rev range you are and, while it enjoys being stretched out to its almost 7,000 r/min ceiling, it pulls admirably from just tick over. It also emits a fruity soundtrack from its quad exhausts, particularly in Sport or the even more hardcore Corsa modes, that will have the hairs on your arms standing on end. Thankfully, the gearbox is well up to the task of rapidly dispatching cogs, while the handling is good if not entirely as buttoned down as the admittedly sharper Lamborghini Urus. That said, it is exactly what the Levante should have been from the outset. It looks the part, has an air of grace about it and, now, also the legs to keep up with most performance SUVs in this segment.
If exclusivity is high up your purchase list, then the Levante Trofeo will not disappoint. However, if outright performance and no compromise is your thing, then Lamborghini Urus remains the most focussed performance SUV on the market. Of course, the latest Porsche Cayenne GTS variants will soon be available in SA and might be a worthy alternative, too. Also, the Aston Martin DBX is also on offer, so the segment is awash with alternatives.
Maserati has always appealed to a discerning, slightly left-field buyer and the Levante is a great package for those who seek a bit more utility, but in a more exclusive package. However, the slightly lacklustre performance meant it was always creamed by the opposition, but I am now happy to report that this anomaly and shortcoming has been duly addressed by the Trofeo variant. Make that in spades! Or is it prongs!? Your choice.