USING HERITAGE to sell cars is by no means exclusive to Maserati but the Italian marque is more qualified than most to do so. Its Bologna-sourced trident motif, its racing pedigree and the fact that it now shares a town (and engine tech) with Ferrari – a brand steeped in history itself, of course, but which Maserati actually pre-dates – all help.
However, with the Levante SUV it’s naturally been more difficult to see or feel that connection to the past. SUVs are a much more modern and less emotionally-engaging phenomenon — more a product of the financial department than a visionary design team.
The Levante is certainly keeping Maserati’s bank manager happy. It has been the company’s best-selling model by a country mile, piggybacking the world’s new-found love of high-riding cars.
It’s fair to say, though, that in its V6 diesel and petrol forms the Levante hasn’t felt like a ‘true’ Maserati – more a Maserati-styled SUV necessary to fund its future. Until now, that is.
The Levante Trofeo arrives together with the Levante GTS to head up the range, both getting a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre V8 petrol engine developed together with Ferrari, as well as all-wheel drive and an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
There are important differences between the two models, though. The GTS ‘makes-do’ with 542bhp, while the Trofeo we’re focusing on here gets a more potent output of 572bhp and 538 lb-ft of torque. It also adds a Corsa driving mode, which doesn’t give it the driving characteristics of an affordable supermini — ‘Corsa’ meaning ‘Race’, it’s the most visceral Levante driving experience possible.
Further setting the Trofeo apart from lesser Levantes are the largest alloy wheels ever fitted to a Maserati, at 22in, full adaptive LED headlights, more aggressive front and rear bumpers, and exterior carbon details. Combined, it takes the fight to other big, brutal SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne Coupé Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR.
It’s worth dedicating a solid paragraph at least to the star of the show – Maserati’s stunning V8. It’s nothing short of the most impressive engine in an SUV on sale today. In power delivery. In throttle response. In sheer, unadulterated exhaust noise. Launch control engaged, the Trofeo will crack 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds, riding a wall of Italian V8 wail. Frustratingly, it actually goes faster in the US and China (3.9 seconds) but European emissions regulations mean our exhausts don’t flow as freely. Boo.
Still, you won’t be worried about that once you’ve stamped on the throttle in any of the Trofeo’s four increasingly-focused driving modes. At more than two tonnes, this isn’t a light car by any standards, but the way the Trofeo takes off down the road belies its heft, pulling savagely to its 7,000rpm redline.
Thankfully, when it’s time to slow for a corner, six-piston callipers at the front and large drilled discs all-round do a stout job of scrubbing off speed in a controlled manner.
And while what comes next is perhaps not the tidiest handling among performance SUVs, it’s certainly entertaining. Holding down the Trofeo’s Sport button selects Corsa mode, switching the gearbox to manual-only changes, adding weight to the steering, lowering and stiffening the air suspension, improving throttle response and switching off the car’s stability aids. Although not completely off, it must be said.
The star of the show is the stunning 572bhp V8. It’s nothing short of the most impressive engine in an SUV on sale today
Set so, the Trofeo does a commendable job of containing its weight through bends and its manual gear changes – via lovely, long metal paddles – are so fierce you wonder why we bother with dual-clutch systems at all.
It doesn’t steer with the same precision or communication as a Cayenne Coupé but beneath that is a front end willing to bite, and a uniquely tuned, rear-biased all-wheel-drive system that will stubbornly drag you out of tight bends. Or, indeed, happily oblige (together with a rear sports differential) with large angles of power oversteer if prompted, albeit ultimately reined in with an electronic safety net. In other words, it’s huge fun.
But dial the Trofeo back to its Normal driving mode and its gearbox is just as happy flicking between gears in town, its suspension slackens to absorb ruts and potholes better than lesser Levantes or Range Rover Sport SVRs and its cabin offers enough room for four adults and a decent 580-litre boot fit for a family.
It’s at these slower speeds, though, that the Levante’s weaker areas are more easily noticed. For instance, its interior leathers, plastics and switches fall short of the quality on show in Audis, Porsches and BMWs, while its standard 8.4in Touch Control Plus touchscreen infotainment system both looks lower resolution and is more difficult to use than the systems from those same manufacturers.
There’s also the small matter of price. At £104,900 the GTS is comparable to a Porsche Cayenne Coupé Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR, but the Trofeo’s £124,900 price tag looks hefty next to most equivalents, save a Lamborghini Urus.
Nevertheless, the Trofeo looks, sounds and feels special enough to convince potential buyers. Potential buyers who, in truth, won’t particularly notice the financial jump from the GTS in any case. Yet the Levante Trofeo offers more than just a great engine, giving those with the financial means a reason to buy with their hearts as well as their heads.
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