With the Levante GTS, Maserati proves its mastery of Ferrari-powered SUVs

Larry Printz
Tribune News Service

When high-end sports car manufacturers started producing SUVs, purists were outraged — and understandably so. Ideally, sports cars should be small, lightweight and nimble, effortlessly able to reach high speeds, something that doesn’t fit the description of a vehicle engineered for going off-road.

But automakers were reacting to a fundamental shift in what people desire in an automobile: the need for cargo hauling utility. An American trip to the supermarket requires more lifestyle debris than Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen needed to reach the South Pole for the first time in 1911.

This is why consumers find any vehicle other than an SUV a non-starter, and why vehicles like the 2020 Maserati Levante GTS exist.

Levante’s V-8 delivers the power expected of an Italian-powered speed machine.

For those of you who don’t know, the Levante is Maserati’s first SUV, introduced in 2017 by a company long known for its sports cars, sports sedans and racing history. The Levante debuted with a twin-turbocharged V-6 that provides a reasonably powerful 345 horsepower in base models and 424 horsepower in S models.

By contrast, the V-8 delivers the output and soundtrack expected of an Italian-powered speed machine. That’s not surprising given that the engine is built by Ferrari and employs their engine architecture. To accommodate the engine’s added performance requirements, there are larger air intakes up front and a quad exhaust in the rear.

All of that power is funneled through a ZF eight-speed transmission to an all-wheel-drive system that shuttles power to the rear wheels unless traction is needed up front. Then, half of the engine power is shifted to the front wheels.

It goes without saying that the GTS elicits the sounds and sensations of a purebred Italian thoroughbred. You’ll find the Levante is remarkably nimble in normal driving conditions, with a planted feel and quick steering masks the fact that the Levante is the size and shape of an aerodynamic mobile garden shed.

The blissfully quiet cabin is resplendent in buttery supple leather.

The Levante performs with the required brio, delivering 60 mph in a brisk 4.0 seconds while emitting a forceful yet mellow soundtrack as the engine’s willing nature mates beautifully with the ideally engineered chassis.

Fitted with an air suspension, the Levante provides outstanding ride compliance and comfort when set in the Normal driving mode, and firms things up when set to the Sport mode, which also lowers the Levante’s ride height. Yet the Levante never feels overly soft. It can even be raised for off-road adventures, although this chrome-laden luxury liner will never be slogging through mud bogs and backwoods trails, only an occasional foray across a lawn for parking at the club.

As good as all of this is, however, there is the issue of the transmission shifter, an electronic lever that you toggle unsuccessfully to get into the required gear. It usually takes a couple tries. But you quickly get used to such quibbles, as this is far from the only luxury hauler with this issue.

Instead, consider the cabin, an Italian symphony of expert craftsmanship rendered in buttery supple leather and a lusciously soft headliner. A large 8.4-inch touchscreen display with ancillary rotary controller is easy to use, as its software is clearly derived from lesser Fiat-Chrysler products, although its display is somewhat differentiated in look. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard.

Maserati Levante GTS (Maserati)

Front seats are comfortably soft yet supportive, with generous legroom, more so than many competitors in this class. Rear seats are equally soft and supportive, but the seat-bottom cushion is somewhat low, and headroom is tight, the result of the Levante’s rounded roofline. And except for the lovely engine note, and the superb sound from the Bowers & Wilkins sound system, you’ll find the Levante to be blissfully quiet.

Obtaining such an exquisite machine requires coin — and more than a little. While the Levante starts at $76,980 with its base V-6, the GTS starts at $120,980.

But Ferrari mystique always commands a steep premium, one you can enjoy on a daily basis. That’s something you’d never attempt with your Ferrari Portofino. Besides, the Levante has way more cargo space for daily life and all it entails. Save the Portofino for weekend drives in the country.