Maserati Levante S GranSport 2017 review

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The Levante range now starts with an introductory model before progressing upwards to either luxury-minded ‘GranLusso’ specification or performance-styled ‘GranSport’. The former gets 19in wheels as standard and its exterior styling has extra chrome trimmings, while the latter has 20in rims, ‘piano black’ exterior trim and red brake calipers.

The car’s elegant frameless doors now have ‘soft-close’ motors on them: that’s added convenience feature number one. Once you’re inside, you’ll find the Levante’s cabin is wrapped in smooth, colourful leathers, and that it’s got very comfortable front seats – with slightly less room in the back than some rival SUVs offer, but still plenty for most adults to get comfortable in. Just as before, where the Levante’s interior impresses, it looks and feels very rich and expensive; but where its quality and sophistication disappoints (on the column stalks and some of the switchgear, and in the graphical presentation of the infotainment system particularly), it lags a long way behind the likes of the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90.

Maserati has added several active safety features to the car, among them a ‘highway assist’ system that works to automatically keep it in its lane and to maintain the gap to the car in front. There’s also a new lane keeping assist system and a traffic sign recognition system: the kind of features that Levante buyers have doubtless been asking for since they’re available on its various rivals.

Delivering some of those features, however, has meant moving the Levante from hydraulic- to electromechanical power steering. The car’s new steering system is lighter than the old one at parking speeds, but has the tuning potential to be made heavier when you put the car into its sportier driving modes.

In ‘normal’ mode, the Levante rode Dubai’s smooth stretches of tarmac with the compliance and most of the isolation you’d hope for in a car of this type. It takes two presses of the ‘sport’ button to properly prepare the car for a briskly taken series of bends: the first one makes the powertrain ready, the second tells the car’s standard air suspension to hunker down on its haunches by 20mm and to firm up its ‘skyhook’ adaptive dampers, while it also ramps down the steering’s assistance level.

Having done that, the Levante feels much more taut, accurate and keen-handling than the luxury SUV norm, and unmistakably like a true driver’s car. It doesn’t quite have the uncanny cornering balance of a Porsche Cayenne but it’s not far behind, and while the new steering set-up feels slightly less honest than the old one, it’s well-paced, has useful weight and isn’t without feel.

All of that would mean little, of course, if UK buyers wanting a sporting luxury SUV continued to be stuck with the Levante’s plain old VM Motori diesel engine; but having the Ferrari-developed twin-turbo petrol engine in this car instead makes it so much more enticing to drive. The 424bhp 3.0-litre unit works up a head of steam through a little bit of turbo lag, but not a dismaying amount. But it really pulls keenly and revs freely once it’s on song, and sounds both authentic and sweet through Maserati’s active sports exhaust. Unlike the diesel, the V6 petrol needs no speakers hidden behind the rear bumper to produce its vocals performance.

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