It wasn't long ago that the Internet was merely used for watching Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee mate on top of a yacht. Now the largest scale companies are completely dependent on it. You and I both, as well.
Juan Pablo, my honor student nephew who fell far from the family tree, attends the same high school I graduated from twelve years ago. He told me that he doesn’t have books anymore. Instead, he has an iPad that serves as a tool for everything he does, which is a bit sad. He’ll never have the surprise of flipping through a textbook with an image of Jose Rizal missing his two front teeth, courtesy of an artistic seat mate. Gone too, are the days when you could bluff your way through tardiness. Thanks, Waze. Times are changing so fast.
If you told me back when I had a Nokia 76 something, that in the future - I’d be able to hail a ride that isn't a taxi, see the person I’m speaking to, pay my bills, navigate a digital map with real-time traffic situations, and order food for delivery using nothing else but my mobile phone - I would’ve bet both of my testicles on it. Even worse, I would’ve bet on the lives of all my closest loved ones - if you told me that I’d be able to drive a Maserati one day - except that it would be an SUV. Eh? Talk to me when Patek Philippe makes a digital watch.
Yet here we are. Thank goodness no bets were made, for I would have been a castrated orphan by now. I honestly thought that the opening of Starbucks Coffee's first branch in Italy would beat the launch of an SUV from a bespoke exotic carmaker like Maserati. Yet, parked behind this screen and keyboard that I’m punching through is a 2018 Maserati Levante. It embodies the very definition of the old saying, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Truth be told, I am a bit horrified. I am because like many lovers of music, they won’t have a clue what a McIntosh Labs vinyl player is. All they need is a pair of Beats headphones by Dr. Dre and for many, it will define the pinnacle of listening to music.
It’s no different from a pair of Tods driving shoes being replaced by Yeezy’s at Paris Fashion Week. Change has come. It’s the same story with many future car aficionados who will orient themselves to Maserati very differently from how I did. For them, a Ghibli will be a 4-door sedan that they see parked outside Revel and not a supercar that blows all the noise regulations to pieces. It’s a shame really, because Maserati doesn’t seem to draw dreamy and aspirational reactions from kids the way they used to. One person over lunch even concluded that he thought Maserati was somewhat the Italian counterpart of Volvo. He has since gone missing, and I’ve not a clue of his whereabouts.
"I thought that it was going to reek of style over substance, but slowly I was struggling to drive that point home."
Easily, I think that the Levante is a beautiful thing. It is by no means perfect, but it is pretty in a way that all Maseratis are. It has an Italian charm that make Macans and Cayennes disappear from view, even if they’re right beside each other. From the front, I think it is one of the horniest looking things on the road. The grille is so beautifully done, I wanted to remove it and hang it on our living room wall. It has many subtle details that are unmistakably finished the Italian way, like those sexy chrome-rimmed side air vents and those dark blue trident wheel caps. Stop getting turned on by those giallo brake calipers, Enzo.
The side profile is curvaceous with hips that don’t lie. I imagine that this could be significantly improved with the larger 21-inch staggered Anteo wheels found on the S models. Nonetheless, this is a much better wheel than the 19-inch Zefiro. While the whole bodywork of the Levante is very sensuous, the aphrodisiac seems to fade when you get past those C-pillar ‘Saetta’ tridents. From the rear, a female friend who used to live in the Bay Area said that it looks like an Infiniti. Even worse are the comparisons to a Hyundai Tucson. I can't blame them, because from the rear, it can pass as the Korean crossover when the sun fades.
Elevate your aspirations.
All of that is forgotten as soon as you open the door. Inside, you’ll find an abundance of buttery smooth leather by Poltrona Frau stitched to perfection by Italian ateliers. If you are driven by all things excessive and beautiful, you may order it with bespoke Mulberry silk inserts by Ermenegildo Zegna. When you sit inside and cozy up to the smell of all that hide, your senses are tickled by the large steering wheel with a trident at the center and a speedometer that reads to 310 km/h. At first I thought that it was going to be an automobile that reeked of style over substance, but slowly I was struggling to drive that point home.
The climate control system isn’t struggling at all, considering that it’s 40 degrees outside. The seats in front are ventilated too, and that is a major win in this country. I didn’t have to sip from warm bottles of water either, because the center console had a cooling box with cupholders for your beverages. That makes a total of 4 cupholders in front. The touchscreen infotainment system is a significant upgrade from the previous Chrysler garbage that you can find in the likes of a 2015 Quattroporte. It’s snappy enough and it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which for most people instantly simplifies the whole user experience.
This Levante comes with a 900-watt Harman Kardon stereo system channeled to 14 loudspeakers. It does sound good with crisp highs, clear mids, and punchy bass. It's just not as good as what is promised on paper. I am certain that the higher spec Bowers & Wilkins system should be enough to turn this into a proper audiophile’s listening room. The interior space is decent. It's comfortable upfront and relatively spacious at the rear. It’s not the best in class, but it’s not a place to suffer in either. And if you are plagued with claustrophobia, don’t fret, for the gargantuan moonroof should cure that sickness in a heartbeat.
I finally fired up the heart of the Maserati, and its twin-turbocharged V6 engine finally made its presence felt. This, after all, is what will define its place as a good crossover to one worthy of wearing a Maserati badge. The Levante makes an outstanding noise considering that this only has the base petrol engine. When you press a little button that says ‘sport’, the exhaust valves open and it dials up the noise to 11, especially when you’re idling. As a matter of fact, it is only loud when you are creeping up in traffic or giving it absolutely everything. Anything in between that, the Levante only purrs. So far, it makes Maserati noises.
"The ride is unexpectedly plush. It never to crashes like a drunk bridesmaid at 3am."
There are 345 thoroughbred stallions under the hood and they all have a lot to give. The Levante is much quicker than I expected it to be, instantly revealing its race-bred DNA. It has brawn with manners, which I liken to a classical music concert. Only those that know are aware of the explosive power beneath the gentle symphony that serenades your ears. It is controlled aggression at its finest.
It has a hefty amount of power on tap, but it feels no need to boast. It’s never violent when you bury the throttle. The rate at which it builds speed is giggle-worthy and beautifully progressive. Watch out for that speedo. I find it so essential that there is an option to select sport mode without having to stiffen up the suspension. That way, you can wake up the whole neighbourhood without having to swing by the E.R.
Pedigree, based on a true story.
I really enjoyed driving the Levante. The column-mounted paddle shifters felt great, but it takes some time to get used to since they're stationary. The shifts were delicious, especially with the burbles and bangs from the exhaust. So lovely. I can’t say the same about operating the gear lever, which is absolute trash. I could never get the Levante to go straight into reverse from park. Three point turns were a nightmare. It’s a good thing that many of those I blocked were too busy admiring the Italian while I made a complete fool of myself. The air suspension adjusts automatically depending on how quickly you are driving and you can override it on certain occasions. The ride is unexpectedly plush. It never to crashes like a drunk bridesmaid at 3am.
When you set the suspension to ‘sport’, you feel the SUV tense up. It handles corners tightly, but I struggled to get clear feedback from the steering. With that, I'd back off a lot earlier than I would in the likes of a Cayenne. Perhaps, I'm struggling to find a signature Maserati driving feel. Noise, definitely. Feel, I don’t know. There is a distinct Porsche feel that goes across the board from a Macan all the way to a 911. There’s an essence that links all of their models together whether it be in fit and finish or steering feel. When I close my eyes inside a BMW, I only have to press the buttons or turn the steering wheel to know that I’m in one of Munich’s finest. It’s the same thing with Audi and even Mercedes-Benz, a carmaker that keeps radically changing direction.
Beauty and Beast.
The Levante isn't like the Germans, and that's a good thing. After all, nobody makes an X5 better than BMW, so why look for it in a Maserati. The Levante is complete shock and awe from the get-go, but that is not to say that it is all style with no substance. I think that it is rather spectacular. It isn’t at all flimsy as I expected it to be. Maserati may not be the last word in build quality or reliability, but as they evolve into a luxury car brand with a broader reach courtesy of the Levante and the Ghibli, significant improvements are inevitable. I am extremely pleased that the Italian soul and theatrical magic aren't absent in its first effort at making an SUV. It's a standout in a sea of Bimmers, Mercs, and Rovers.
The fact that in this day and age, there is a Maserati that I can be drive every day of the week, in pretty much any kind of weather condition, will prove to be too hard for me ignore. The Levante is tight, solid, and opulent all the way though. It is spine-tingling in a way that the Germans just aren’t. I giggled while driving it, and not a lot of cars brings that out of me. On that alone, it’s money well-spent. Even if I still feel that an SUV from the Italian carmaker shouldn’t have existed in the first place, when I was asked what car I was driving, I replied with great aplomb, "a Maserrratti". It has a sense of occasion and it brings Italian aristocracy to the sport utility vehicle, and for that, I can't complain. Grande passione!
The Maserati of SUVs.