ACCELERATING onto the main straight of a private racetrack in a Maserati diesel SUV is a bit like pressing Pavarotti’s head into a pillow just as the famed tenor soars several octaves.
The new Levante’s 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 twin-turbo petrol V6 of the same capacity is used for promotional video, yet it’s solely a left-hand-drive proposition.
Perhaps expectedly for an all-wheel drive family hauler that weighs 2205kg, the 6.9-second 0-100km/h claim is respectable rather than forceful.
The $139,990 (plus on-road costs) Italian is surprisingly most on-song at a racetrack, with the ZF eight-speed automatic shuffling within a narrow power band and pulling all that torquey thrust together. It’s 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, it’s around town that a looseness on-centre is most evident, followed by a vagueness in the first movements just beyond it.
At least there’s 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 there’s fine balance as the throttle is rolled on late corner.
Only then in Normal mode the standard air suspension can also be raised to morph Maser into 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 Maserati Ghibli sedan, which also can’t 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 – like performance, it’s 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 we’d be singing its praises.
Like: Surprisingly engaging on smooth roads, decent diesel, roomy cabin
Dislike: Hardly a Maserati soundtrack, struggles on rough roads, turbo lag
Engine: 2987cc turbo diesel V6, dohc, 24v
Power: 202kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 2000-2600rpm
0-100km/h: 6.9sec (claimed)