Test drive: 2018 Maserati Levante SUV tested in the desert

We tame the refreshed 2018 Maserati Levante SUV across the UAE desert and loved it

Maserati Levante GranSport 8

Hasn’t the Levante been around for a while?
Yes, but the car we drove in the UAE recently, the flagship Levante S variant, has been updated for 2018, along with its lesser siblings – diesels included. Little has changed as far as the exterior goes, but Maserati keenly highlighted much of the changes underneath this stylish SUV’s skin.

These revisions were driven by the Levante’s stellar reception throughout its core left-hand-drive (LHD) markets like the Middle East – our test-drive venue included. These improvements were also meant to enhance the Levante’s prospects for right-hand-drive (RHD) markets, thus our good fortune of receiving Maserati’s exclusive desert test-drive invitation.

Loyal readers would already know by now that official importer Naza Italia offers a sole diesel-powered option presently. However, the debut of this refreshed 2018 range will change that outlook soon with Maserati committing itself at ramping up its RHD model production back in Italy.

In other words, the Levante will finally come to our shores with the engine it deserves, and here’s what’s in store with the flagship Levante S GranSport and GranLusso guises.

Maserati Levante GranSport 16

So, what’ new in this 2018 model?
Plenty. First comes the adoption of a new electric power steering system which also prompted Maserati in ramping up the Levante’s Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS). Highlights of the latter include Active Cruise Control, Lane-Keep Assist and Highway Assist, Forward-Collision Warning Plus, Active Blind Spot Monitor and more, thus making the Levante one of the safest in its class too.

The powertrain appears untouched, but this was never the Levante’s Achilles heel to say the least. Just to refresh your memory, Maserati has four options available comprised of two twin-turbo petrol V6s derived from the Ghibli plus two turbo-diesel V6s, all mated with a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic box and a heavily revised Q4 (or SQ4 in the Levante S) All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) suite.

To compliment the enhanced AWD suite, Maserati had the Levante’s height adjustable air suspension suite, which also features Skyhook active dampers, improved drastically over the outgoing 2016/2017 version. Altogether, these changes were meant to make the Levante much better on- and off-road.

Maserati Levante GranSport 25

How does it drive?
Driving on road in the UAE proved challenging thanks to the presence of countless speed cameras lining the state’s major motorways. With that in mind, we kept the Levante S GranSport assigned to us in ‘Normal’ mode throughout our on-road stints, which wasn’t a bad thing surprisingly.

This mode, with its lightened steering, softer throttle mapping and active dampers working overtime felt civilised to say the least, masking this SUV’s true high performance nature. By the way, there’s also an ‘I.C.E’ (Increased Control & Efficiency) drive mode that’s focused towards fuel efficiency, but we reckon few would bother with the idea of ‘hypermiling’ this Maserati.

It be a shame not to drive any Maserati in anger, and we cheekily sneaked a quickie in ‘Sport’ mode before our one-day drive ended. Here, the exhaust note changes for a raspier tune, its throttle mapping sharpened, its steering made heavier, the suspension firmed up and ride height lowered.

This is where the Levante comes into its element as a Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport killer on road to say the least. With 430hp and 560Nm of torque driving all four wheels, this two-tonne behemoth of style, power and luxury does the century sprint in just 5.2 seconds while on its way to its claimed 264kph top speed.

Even the ‘lesser’ Levante (without the ‘S’) variant still packs a respectable 350hp and 500Nm from the same twin-turbo V6, granting it with a 6-second century sprint time and 251kph claimed top speed. If you wanted a fast SUV, then you need not worry about the Levante’s capabilities in this end.

The good news doesn’t stop there as this SUV feels equally athletic as its rivals when thrown around the bends. Don’t be surprised to see the Levante S baiting smaller sports saloon like its Ghibli and Quattroporte cousins easily here, and that’s quite an achievement given its size and weight.

Maserati Levante GranLusso 21

How is it off-road?
It’s safe to assume that the Levante S isn’t your typical tarted up soccer mom SUV that refuses to play in the rough.  No. This is in fact a Maserati that’ll willingly get down and dirty in the rough, and one that will do that whilst keeping you in high levels of plush comforts and unmistakable Italian style.

All it takes it’s a quick fiddle of the switches for the correct ride height, drive mode set to ‘Off Road’, and perhaps a slight deflation of the tyres as we did for our desert dune-bashing session. Even in such challenging conditions, the enhanced SQ4 AWD suite proved its might with relative ease so to speak – very much to our surprise in fact.

Some will argue that a Range Rover Sport, or even cheaper alternatives like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol (hot favourites here in the Middle East) will do a better job. However, the Maserati will easily keep up with them, and that’s already again another huge acheviement given that the Levante is in fact the famed Italian trident marque’s first ever SUV after all.

Maserati Levante GranSport 1

Is this worth waiting for?
If you really don’t fancy going down the Range Rover or Porsche Cayenne route, and you’d like to have some chic Italian styling to go with that, then yes. The famed Italian trident badge doesn’t disappoint to say the least, and we’re sure plenty are already lusting for, especially in GranSport guise.

And you couldn’t go wrong should you opt for the Levante S in GranLusso guise either. This comfort-focused variation even features a cabin tastefully styled by Ermenegildo Zegna to boot, making it quite the stellar choice for the discerning high nett-worth urbanite indeed.

Has the ‘Maserati of SUVs’ bettered itself? We’d like to think so. Certainly, this unmistakably Italian approach to this genre of cars holds an appeal that’s equally as strong as it’s promise of performance, luxury and style.

2018 Maserati Levante S

2018 Maserati Levante S GranSport gallery

2018 Maserati Levante S GranLusso gallery
Thoriq Azmi
Author: Thoriq Azmi
Former DJ. Driver, rider & word-stringer @ Top Gear MY. Geek. Leftie. #fuelledbythoriq