Until a couple of years ago, crossing the Sharjah desert in a Maserati would have been impossible. But in the Italian sportscar maker’s new sport utility vehicle, it’s both possible and pleasing. Maserati’s first-ever SUV, the Levante, went on sale in 2016 and quickly rose to the top of the brand’s stable, outperforming the Quattroporte and Ghibli in annual sales. Yet Maserati continues to tweak the design, recently heralding the arrival of two even more luxurious trims, the GranLusso and the GranSport, which they invited us to trial across the dunes outside of Dubai.
SUVs with racecar lineage are nothing new. At least, not in 2018, when the market has welcomed the Lamborghini Urus, Bentley Bentayga, Jaguar F-Pace and the forthcoming Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Aston Martin DBX and third-generation Porsche Cayenne. The five-passenger Levante—named for a warm Mediterranean wind—holds its own among the herd, packing performance and a chic interior that challenges the competition.
With 20-inch wheels and red brake calipers, our high-performance Levante S GranSport (the more dynamic of the two trims) cut a striking figure against the reddish-orange Arabian sands and high-noon sun. We surveyed the rolling landscape, perched precariously atop a wall of sand. From inside the air-conditioned four-wheeler, the desert crossing was unquestionably more lavish than any other form of transport available, be it Jeep or camel. Flipping to off-road mode, we revved the Ferrari-developed 3.0-liter, twin-turbo V6, 424 horsepower beneath our feet, ready to see if the SUV performed as well as it preened. (Note that the base trim gets a sufficient but less fun 345 horsepower.)
The Levante proved a formidable match for the landscape, transforming the journey through the triple-digit heat into a joy to be relished from the air-conditioned vantage point of our Italian leather-clad, 12-way power-adjustable seats. We passed the afternoon scaling dune after dune with assistance from the SUV’s smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and intelligent all-wheel-drive system that transfers torque to the front wheels as needed for more power and better traction. The Levante also comes with three other drive modes: Normal, ICE (increased control and efficiency), and Sport and a helpful multi-level air suspension system that matches the SUV’s dynamics to the terrain.
From the outside, the Levante pays homage to the curvaceous coupes that underlie Maserati’s heritage. Inside, the cabin evokes a distinct Gulfstream feeling, with a leather-upholstered steering wheel, a capable Harman Kardon sound system and Maserati’s Touch Control Plus infotainment system with an 8.4-inch display. Our cabin was clad in wood trim and full premium Italian leather upholstery. GranLusso models come with the option for Ermenegildo Zegna custom-fitted silk upholstery covering the seats, sun visor and door panels, as part of a multi-year collaboration with the clothier.
It may not be the obvious choice for those seeking a luxury SUV with actual off-road capabilities, but it’s certainly one that those seeking an alternative. It’s refreshingly spirited and beautifully appointed, not to mention one with the delightful sounds unique to the brand.
The new 2018 Maserati Levante GranLusso and GranSport models are available to be customized, but the standard Levante S starts at $86,100.
Hero image courtesy of Maserati, all others by Cool Hunting