Maserati Levante

Not bad, but could use a bit more GranTurismo DNA


ENGINE 2987cc V6, DOHC, 24v, turbodiesel / POWER 202kW @ 4000rpm / TORQUE 600Nm @ 2000rpm / WEIGHT 2205kg / 0-100KM/H 6.9sec (manual) / PRICE $139,990




Practicality; fine handling


Diesel only; jittery ride; average pace; long options list ACCELERATING onto the main straight of a private racetrack in a Maserati diesel SUV is a bit like pressing Pavarottiís head into a pillow just as the famed tenor soars several octaves.

The new Levanteís soundtrack is far from that of aurally audacious Maseratis past, even if the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 delivers a muffled warble under duress as its 202kW and 600Nm are put to decently tidy use.

Tellingly, though, the sonorous twinturbo petrol V6 of the same capacity is used for promotional video, yet itís solely a left-hand-drive proposition.

Perhaps expectedly for an allwheel drive family hauler that weighs 2205kg, the 6.9-second 0-100km/h claim is respectable, not forceful.

The $139,990 (plus on-road costs) Italian is surprisingly most on-song at a racetrack, with the ZF eightspeed automatic shuffling within a narrow power band and pulling all that torquey thrust together. Itís around town that low-rpm lag is most noticeable as the oiler gasps to get such a heavy lump off the line.

Maybe this Maserati is heavy for good reason, though. It even passes on electric power steering for traditional hydraulic assistance that delivers fine connection and consistency as the front 21-inch Pirelli P Zeros (optional, 19s are standard) attempt to deal with all that weight massaging into the surface on corner turn-in.

Again, itís around town that a looseness on-centre is most evident, followed by a vagueness in the first movements just beyond it.

At least thereís 50:50 weight distribution and all-wheel drive that typically sends torque entirely to the rear wheels and prioritises doing so in Sport. Along with a rear limited-slip differential, the Levante can be good fun through bends. There is significant roll, but body movement is controlled during quick changes of direction and thereís fine balance as the throttle is rolled on late corner.

In Normal mode the standard air suspension can also be raised to morph the Maser into a mountain climber, successfully turning tyres into tentacles over bumpy, dirt terrain.

Although offset by a lack of kit (everything from four-zone climate to a blind-spot monitor is optional), a roomy back seat and boot teamed with decent finish all means the Levante does the family stuff better than a similarly priced Ghibli sedan, which also canít go off road.

As with many Maseratis, though, this one suffers from poor rough road ride quality in any mode, teamed with a jittery urban ride Ė like performance, itís a further compromise clearly made to get a tall and heavy SUV to handle both on- and off-road.

Frankly, a sedan-based wagon that is lighter, quicker, smoother and more dynamic (sans off-road capability) all sounds sweeter to us. Add a Maserati petrol that sounds more operatic, and weíd be singing its praises. M