Maserati Levante Trofeo First Drive Review
Muscle car on the Pacific Coast Highway in the US? Check! German sportscar on the Nurburgring? Check! Japanese sportscar on a fabled mountain road? Check! Italian sportscar at the Mecca of motorsport? Not yet?
Leaving that box unchecked on the bucket list after so many years of being a motoring journalist, bothers me. A consolation, however, came earlier this month, in the form of an invitation to visit Modena to drive a car that had all the figures you expect from a sportscar - close to 600 horses, a V8 with red cylinder heads, a nought to 100 time of under four seconds and member of the hallowed 300kmph club. Why consolation? Because this car doesn't hug the road, instead it has a 175mm clearance between its belly and the road, is the tallest in the fleet, seats four in great comfort and space, and yet has a trident piercing the grille up front. By our standards, that ground clearance is still sedan territory, but in the motoring districts of Italy it qualifies as an SUV. That is the Maserati Levante. Except what I've come to drive has the Trofeo tag to it, which makes it Maserati's most powerful production car ever (don't count the MC12 because it wasn't considered series production)
The Levante doesn't need an introduction. Since 2016, this has been the largest car that Maserati has built and it is available in a variety of engine choices ranging from a practical diesel to enthusiastic petrol. And yet it has always seemed like something was lacking. Now, however, the Levante Trofeo I drove in Modena could be that critical piece that completes Maserati's SUV. When fancy Italian words of motorsport origin affix themselves to a car, you can be sure to get something rather special and the Levante Trofeo, is just that.
Just that you will need the keen eye of an enthusiast or the nerdiness of a car-spotter to identify the Levante Trofeo. Save for marginally larger air dams and old-school, woven carbon fibre splitters, there is hardly any way to tell this car apart from its lesser variants. There is the Trofeo scripture Easter-egged into the Maserati trident on the D-pillar and I think it's a classy touch - especially if you are choosing this car for its understated elegance over something as shouty as a Lamborghini Urus. Even the trident on the grille tastefully integrates the radar-based new-age assistance systems. The Levante Trofeo also features the largest wheels that Maserati has ever put on a production car - 22-inch - and all the designs look stunning! Though it's hard to ignore them, you will be better off choosing a smaller size for our Indian roads.
But the Trofeo only lets you go down to a 21. I would go with a size 20 for they offer a relatively cushier ride, but that size is only available on the Levante GTS, which too has debuted this year alongside the Trofeo. It sits at a spot lower than Trofeo though and has slightly more elegant styling with its body-coloured splitters. The cabins of these two variants are largely similar.
The Levante's cabin has always left us wanting for more as some bits feel too plasticky at this price point. The Trofeo's cabin fixes most of it with more luxurious appointments. The tunnel console is done up in carbon fibre, the headliner is all Alcantara and complements the bespoke leather trim. The leather is pieno fiore, which Maserati says is the best you can get in an automobile. I would have liked to see metal switches to go with that leather and in the same finish as the chunky paddle-shifters, which by the way are exactly how they should be on a sportscar - column-mounted. I would have also liked embossed Trofeo badges on the seats instead of embroidered ones. But those are possible in the customisation program. In fact, Maserati says that between its variants and trim options, there are 4,00,000 possible combinations to choose from, and chances are that you will never see two Levantes that look the same. Exclusivity is therefore, taken care of.
The Levante is suspended from air-springs all around, and though it doesn't lower itself upon unlocking like some of its peers, ingress and egress is easy. The cabin is airy just like an SUV should be, but the high-rise dash, the contouring of the panels, and the old-school steering makes the cabin appear like it snugly wraps around you like a sportscar. I like that feeling of being cocooned in leather that smells so good.
Maserati badly needs a new infotainment system that lives up to the times. The one in the Levante is very much in line with what you get in other premium cars from FCA group, but Maserati certainly deserves better. Even the starter button has no thumping light theatrics, or fancy crystal work or knurled finish. In fact it looks the same as the switch in the Jeep Compass and feels ordinary. Press it though, and it rouses its Italian pedigree.
Engine and dynamics
Every Maserati's engine has been sourced from Ferrari since 2002 and the Levante Trofeo continues that tradition. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 that powers the Trofeo is developed with Ferrari and is also used in the 488. Maserati has maintained the characteristic firing order of its V8s for this engine too, giving it a raspy note as compared to the slightly shrieking sound of its prancing horse counterpart. The forced induction does rob it off some of aural drama at start-up and low revs, but in today's times, there is nothing that a switch cannot fix. In the Trofeo, that switch reads Corsa and it unlocks the full potential of this engine. This engine sounds its crackling best at revs beyond the 4,000rpm mark and passing that mark in the first two gears itself lands you into illegal territory in Italy. I'm told the Italian cops can be pretty tough when it comes to speeding cars, but the sound of an Italian V8 can melt even the toughest of hearts!
You get the same V8 in the Levante GTS too, but it is decidedly quieter in that specification and gets a 540PS tune. The Trofeo puts out 590PS and earns the claim of being the most powerful production car that Maserati has ever built! An SUV, who would have thought? If it's hurting the purist in you, rest assured that there is a new Maserati sportscar that will reclaim that right as early as next year's Geneva Motor Show. The Levante Trofeo gets a launch control function too and the procedure is quite simple - shift to Corsa mode, step hard on the brake, and pull in the downshift paddle twice. That engages launch control and allows you three seconds to bury your foot into the throttle and let go off the brake. Get these simple steps right, you will hit 100kmph in 3.8s! The Levante GTS takes 4.0s, and both these times are quicker than the likes of 550PS Porsche Cayenne Turbo (4.1s) and only a whisker slower than the 640PS Lamborghini Urus (3.6s).
Like the Urus, the Trofeo's engine is mated to the quick 8HP transmission from ZF. Even in this application, the transmission is just as telepathic as you would expect in a sportscar and around some of the winding roads of Modena, I was only using the paddle-shifters because I wanted to hear the engine and the crackles more often.
The Trofeo isn't just about straight line speed either, and goes fast around corners just as you would expect of a car conceived in the motoring regions of Italy. The air suspension is set up to be on the firmer side for these kind of dynamics, which meant that I felt every cobblestone when I drove through the narrow lanes of Italy. There is no dedicated 'Comfort' setting for it. The Improved Control and Efficiency mode (ICE) does offer some respite, but this is a taut car - more so with the 21-inch wheels. The Sport/Corsa modes only make it stiffer, while the wide 295-section tyres track over undulations in the road.
The Levante moved to an electronic power steering in 2017 and it feels over-assisted if you compare it to the likes of the Cayenne. But Corsa mode does stiffen it up quite nicely! In fact the Corsa mode is what I wanted to stay in, all the time. It's a match made in heaven. This makes the Levante feel like an SUV derived out of a sportscar and not some road-going SUV that was engineered to go fast. It does a fair bit of off-roading too, though it isn't the intent of this car. It is meant to have fun on tarmac and that it does extremely well.
The driving is so involving, in fact, that you won't care anymore about the resolution of the infotainment or the finish of the switches. It is very Italian in that sense. The town I drove past in the mountains had a speed limit of 50kmph, but the winding roads around them, which were as narrow as most of the roads in Himachal, had a limit of 90kmph! Because winding roads is equal to driving fun and there should be no limit on it. The Levante Trofeo exceeds those limits too, of course, but has the same intent. Everything that the car does is focussed on driving fun and that is exactly how a Maserati should be!
So while I'm still unwilling to check the 'Italian sports car on an iconic Italian road' box off my bucket list, since this isn't a road-hugging sportscar, I'm glad to report that the Trofeo is the perfect Levante that we all have been waiting for. It ticks all the right boxes - the poise of a Maserati, the sound of an Italian, and the go of a sportscar. If a Levante is what you seek, the Trofeo is the one to go for.
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