One of my longstanding beefs with certain luxury brands that share corporate families with mainstream nameplates is that many of them don’t do enough to differentiate their high-priced metal from what’s on offer further down the ladder.
Count Maserati among that number — at least when it comes to the Levante GTS. While it boasts Italian designer looks on the outside, its connection to “lesser” Fiat Chrysler models is apparent on the inside.
At least speed covers up a lot of sins, and thanks to a Ferrari-sourced 3.8-liter twin-turbo V8 that makes 550 horsepower and 538 lb-ft of torque, the Levante GTS puts the sport in sport-utility.
Too bad that an SUV that costs more than some homes is all too willing to show its Chrysler bones. While even the rich usually have lowly roots, they typically don’t show them.
The driving experience does mask a lot of flaws. It may be an SUV, but it still has some Italian sport-sedan roots. For example, the noises emitted from the exhaust pipes are quite pleasing. Acceleration is properly swift – it’s a shame most of my driving was in urban traffic, and I was unable to truly stretch the Levante’s prodigious legs.
Turn into a corner, and the Levante feels planted, though with a tad bit of body roll. You do get precise steering as part of the deal. You don’t forget that the Levante GTS is an SUV, but it’s mostly well behaved on road, with only the body roll really putting a damper on things. The adjustable air suspension is generally up to the task. Some rough shifts from the 8-speed automatic do make the Levante feel a little rough around the edges at times, especially in Sport mode. Paddle shifters do allow you to take over.
All-wheel drive is the only kind of drive, but the power mostly flows to the rear (unless otherwise required).
There’s often a performance penalty to be paid, so to speak, usually in terms of ride. Which, unsurprisingly, is more than a tad on the stiff side. Twenty-two-inch rims no doubt play a part in that dynamic. If you want to look good and drive fast, this is the penalty. The air suspension can help provide comfort in the right mode, but only so much. And yes, it’s stiff in Sport mode. Perhaps too much so for daily maneuvering.
Maserati has tried to put its own stamp on the Levante with items such as an analog clock, unique switches and scripts, and other bits that differentiate it from the lesser models in the Fiat Chrysler portfolio. Still, the infotainment system and other switchgear bear a bit too much resemblance to what’s on offer in cheaper products. Despite the fact that the cabin is mostly different from less-expensive SUVs in the FCA family, there needs to be more of an upmarket feel at this rarefied price point.
Even the nearly three grand in carbon fiber trim isn’t quite enough.
That doesn’t mean comfort is sacrificed. There’s nothing punishing about the Maser’s seats or NVH levels. It’s just that it’s all too clear which parts were pulled from the bin in an attempt to cut costs.
At least the exterior styling is worthy of the storied Italian badge. Yes, the booty is a bit bulbous, but the Levante’s low-slung stance, gently sloping hood, and narrow headlights give it the proper look for a SUV that’s far more concerned about sport.
My test unit based at $120,980. A heated steering wheel, highway assist, Alcantara headliner, and traffic-sign recognition were among the standard features. Leather seats cost $1,490, while the aforementioned carbon-fiber trim cost $2,890. A Maserati logo stitched into the headrests rang another $290.
Four-zone climate control sets you back $1,090, while a kick sensor costs $100. Black DLO costs $400, while those 22’s are an eye-popping $4,000. Yellow-painted brake calipers set you back another $300, a driver-assistance package checks in at $1,590, and a soft-door close costs $590. The Bowers and Wilkins audio system runs $1,990 while the full LED headlamps cost $990. So before D and D – which wasn’t listed on my price sheet – the total is $136,890.
That princely sum snags you an SUV that’s quite fast and handles well for its size; unfortunately, for that price, there needs to be fewer reminders that Maserati is a corporate sibling of Chrysler at this moment in time.
The question is, oh ye of the trust fund, how much flack are you willing to take from your snooty friends for these low-rent parts in exchange for the sound, speed, and cornering on offer here? Does the American influence ruin the Italian heritage?
For some, the performance will make the point moot. For others, well, Maserati has some work to do.
[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]