What is it?

The Maserati Levante is the first SUV to be built by the Italian marque. Announced in 2016, it went on sale in the Middle East last year. Every carmaker needs an SUV these days, and the Levante is Maserati’s attempt to muscle in on the ground traditionally occupied by the Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport, and BMW X5. All of these cars are at pains to showcase just how sporty they can be, despite being large cars. And that’s the playbook that the Maserati Levante follows, too.

You can have your Levante in two variants (and there’s a third on the way) in the Middle East. The standard model comes with a 3.0-litre, twin-turbo, Ferrari-developed V6. It’ll give you 350 bhp and a 0-100 km/h time of 6.0 seconds, which isn’t that bad. But the one we have is the Maserati Levante S, the engine in which is tuned to 430 bhp. That drops the 0-100 km/h time to 5.2 seconds. Still not blistering, but you’re at least in the competition’s ballpark there.

Power is fed through the same 8-speed ZF auto’ as the one found in the Quattroporte, and sent to all four wheels. There are off-road driving modes, and some of Maserati’s promotional material sees the Levante bashing through the desert dunes of the UAE. Whether any buyers will be quite so brave with their own Levantes remains to be seen.

The Maserati Levante is priced pretty aggressively against its rivals, with prices starting at around AED 350,000 for the standard model and about AED 380,000 for the S. To get an equivalent Porsche Cayenne at that price, you’d have to turn to the second-hand market.

How does it drive?

Your outlook on the Maserati Levante’s drive will depend on your own definition of driving pleasure – it’s a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Levante S offers enough speed, plus a wonderful, rasping engine note that encourages you to rev to the top of that V6’s range. But on the other, the overall experience isn’t quite as sharp and pointy as you’d hope it would be in a Maserati.

That engine is good, though. We reckon that, if you’re at all interested in speed and performance, you have to buy the S. We haven’t tested the standard model, but the S delivers just enough performance to make it feel exciting and fast. And even then, you have to work to get at the whole 430 bhp. There’s little low-down grunt (or noise), meaning you have to really floor your right foot and watch the rev counter sail pass 5,000 rpm before you get a real sense of its capabilities.

It’s worth doing this, though, because the noise you get as the revs climb is sensational. At idle, a little raspiness to the exhaust is the only distinguishable feature. Push hard, though, and you’re rewarded with a cacophony of climbing revs and screaming exhaust noises, based by a sweet, melodic grunt. It’s almost orchestral in how well it all comes together. It’s also fairly addictive – even a quick run to the shops becomes a game of reaching those upper revs while staying within the speed limit.

The handling isn’t quite as exciting. Like all of these sporty SUVs, the Levante S is very well composed for a car of its size. But it isn’t as poised as the Porsche Cayenne, or indeed the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, with which it shares some relation. The steering is geared towards weightiness rather than delicacy, yet there’s still not an enormous amount of feel through the steering wheel. Combined with the body roll that’s unavoidable with a high-riding car, and you have something that doesn’t exactly beg to be thrashed around corners.

All of that said, the grip is pretty monumental. You can take bends at insane speeds, and while you might not be too comfortable in the process, the car will stick to its line like it’s a train on rails. That gives the Levante S something of a bruiser’s personality. It feels like it’ll just bulldoze anything in its path, rather than dance around it.

And anyway, what the Levante S lacks in poise, it more than makes up for in comfort. It’s fitted with air suspension as standard, and while Maserati hypes that as a sporting trait, the reality is that the air suspension works best in ironing out bumps in the road and improving the ride. It’s a superbly comfortable car, this, with a wonderful driving position and a lot of refinement.

The upshot is that, if you do want a bit of sportiness in your Levante, you have to choose the S – but be prepared for decidedly SUV-like dynamics. If you’re just interested in driving comfortably in a large-ish car, the standard model should do you fine, given how refined the Levante is.

Interior quality and tech

Let’s get some of the bad news out of the way first. Some of the switch gear is carried over from Maserati’s less-glamorous relatives in the Fiat-Chrysler group, and in some areas, the kit isn’t nearly up to the standard of the Levante’s rivals. The gear selector lever, in particular, is too plasticky and finicky to be in a car in this class.

Elsewhere, though, the integration of less-expensive switchgear is barely noticeable. We’re not even bothered by the fact that the infotainment system – dubbed ‘MTC+’ in the Maserati Levante – is essentially a reskinned version of the broader group’s Uconnect system. We’ve said time and again that the Uconnect infotainment system is one of the best in the business, and we’re glad that the same functionality has been carried over to the Levante.

The rest of the cabin is a masterclass in Italian pastiche and style. The interiors were created in collaboration with fashion designer Ermenegildo Zegna, which provides mulberry silk inserts on the seats, door sills and roof lining. The leather is sumptuous and high-class, and the stitching meticulous. There’s also an optional Bowers & Wilkins sound system that’s well worth having.

Combine all this with the fact that the Levante is deceptively roomy inside, with back seats just as comfortable as the front, and you have a wonderful place in which to spend time. With an interior like this, maybe you won’t be that bothered by the dynamics after all.

Running costs

Because the Maserati Levante is still relatively new in the Middle East, and because there aren’t that many about, residuals are pretty good. The more-powerful S isn’t great for fuel economy, delivering 10.9 l / 100 km. With an 80-litre fuel tank, you’ll get a theoretical range of around 730 km, with fill-ups costing AED 200 at current prices. Insurance-wise, you’re looking at about AED 10,000 for a decent fully comprehensive policy for the Levante S.

Our verdict

The Maserati Levante may come with a couple of annoyances but there’s a certain charm about the way it does business. In the Levante S, the engine note is good enough to swing the buying decision, and you get a wonderful interior and comfortable ride whichever model you choose. Add to this the aggressive price, and that Maserati badge, and you have what could actually be a pretty smart premium SUV purchase.