Maserati’s Levante is still only three years old, but in that short time it has become the marque’s best-selling car by some margin. Now the range is expanding further with the introduction of two V8-powered models, designed with performance in mind.
The Levante GTS makes 523bhp and 710Nm of torque from its 3.8-litre petrol engine, while the top-specification Trofeo takes this up to 572bhp and 730Nm, making it the most powerful series-production Maserati ever. That puts it in direct competition with high-performance SUVs like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Audi SQ8.
The V8 engine is similar to that already used in the Maserati Quattroporte GTS (not sold in the UK) and Ferrari’s 488 models, but with some detail alterations to ensure it could work in tandem with the Q4 all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic transmission.
Both the GTS and Trofeo versions of the Levante send 100 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels in normal driving, only switching to the front when required. A mechanical limited-slip differential is also fitted, while torque vectoring contributes to the Levante’s agility by braking the inside rear wheel.
To cope with the additional performance the Levante’s air suspension and electronic Skyhook damping have been recalibrated, and both models also benefit from Integrated Vehicle Control, an electronic system designed to anticipate the driver’s action and adjust the engine, brakes and steering operation instead of reacting in the manner of the ESP.
Visually, the hottest Levantes are easy to spot, with the GTS model getting more aggressive front and rear body-coloured bumpers with piano black detailing, a subtle rear spoiler and a chromed surround for the front grille. The more exclusive Trofeo adds carbon details to the larger front bumper, a bonnet with enlarged cooling ducts and carbon detailing on the rear bumper. Both models get 21-inch wheels as standard, with 22-inch versions available as an option. Inside both versions get upgraded leather, premium sound systems and a redesigned gearshifter that is easier to operate in both manual and automatic modes.
Start up the Levante Trofeo and even with the drive mode set to normal, the V8 fires with a significant rumble from the exhaust. In fact it is the engine that dominates the driving experience, whether you are cruising on the motorway or making the most of the available performance on a winding back road. With so much torque on offer it is a relaxing car to drive; the automatic gearbox shifts with smoothness and reasonable speed.
Noise levels are kept low, with only the occasional growl from the exhaust if you tread the throttle. A little less impressive is the ride quality; on most roads the Levante Trofeo feels composed and comfortable, but the air suspension sometimes struggles with larger undulations, resulting in some diagonal body movement. Even so, it fulfills the brief of offering luxurious, comfortable transport.
The Levante Trofeo is at its best when in Sport or Corsa modes, when you ask the engine to give its all. Switch the gearbox into manual mode and the 3.8-litre unit will rev with freedom and purpose up to 7,000rpm, accompanied by an intoxicating roar from the exhaust opened up in the more aggressive modes. The performance itself is equally impressive, despatching the 0-62mph sprint in a fraction over four seconds and running comfortably close to 190mph.
The engine’s enthusiasm encourages you to drive it hard, and although it is undoubtedly the Trofeo’s strength, the rest of the dynamics are up to the mark too. Although the gearbox is a conventional automatic it shifts promptly and quickly via the paddles, with only the slightest occasional pause during a downshift.
Even during extreme use the brakes remain consistent and powerful, and the steering is improved further still in the more dynamic settings – both the GTS and Trofeo have revised programming for the electric power steering. Traction is excellent, even in slippery conditions, and the Trofeo rewards keen drivers with accurate responses to inputs.