Maserati Levante -

First Drive

Maserati Levante, front action 3
Maserati Levante, front action
Maserati Levante, front action 2
Maserati Levante, side action 2
Maserati Levante, front static 2
Maserati Levante, front static
Maserati Levante, side action
Maserati Levante, rear action
Maserati Levante, headrest
Maserati Levante, boot
Maserati Levante, rear seats
Maserati Levante, dashboard
Maserati Levante, centre console
Maserati Levante, alloy wheel
Maserati Levante, dash clock

IF you've got it, flaunt it. Or, as Maserati does with its first SUV, make it big and bold.

A pencil's width longer than a Range Rover and easily as in-yer-face as the biggest-grilled Audis, the new Levante is not a car to be easily ignored.

Named after a warm Mediterranean wind, the Levante is put together in a famous old former Fiat factory in Turin and is 100 per cent Italian, from looks and engine to the way you'll react on opening a door for the first time.

Especially if your Levante comes with the £5,950 luxury pack option and is finished in soft brown leather that makes it more contemporary luxury hotel lobby than a mere means of transport.

That not insignificant sum comes on top of the car's £54,355 list price and indicates that Maserati wants its Levante to be considered alongside all the other SUVs emerging from car makers who up to now saw no case for big, high riding cars that could tackle muddy tracks as confidently as take you into town.

The cost of entry buys you a car whose beefy 271 bhp 3.0 litre V6 diesel engine helps produce impressive performance figures; a top speed of 143mph and zero to 62mph in 6.9 seconds.

That would be good going in a more modestly sized saloon, let alone a bruiser of an SUV that tips the scales (empty) at more than 2.2 tonnes.

There are consequences of this largesse; a CO2 tailpipe figure of 189g/km means £800 road tax in year one and the price of the car comfortably exceeds the £40,000 barrier which means £450 a year tax for the following five years.

And business users (most owners, you'd guess) will have a benefit-in-kind rating of 39 per cent to dent their bottom line on a monthly basis. But Porsche and Range Rover don't seem to have suffered with similar financial disincentives, do they?

Just announced - if you need still more performance from your Levante and have deeper pockets - is the 424bhp petrol version at £70,755. Its V6 engine is designed and built by Ferrari and takes the Levante S to 164mph and reaches 62mph in 5.2 seconds.

Most people will find the diesel perky enough. A bit lethargic from slow speeds, it needs its eight-speed automatic gearbox prodded into action, when this big car fairly bolts forward and makes enough proper 'fast Italian car' noise to enjoy the feeling.

Standard spec includes air suspension and four-wheel drive, both features that add to the Levante's prowess both on and off the road.

Not that many owners will want to threaten their car's paintwork with stiff off-roading, but the car will go places you'd not expect something with a Maserati badge to venture.

Back on terra firma and the Levante, with its weight set lower than the competition, makes a decent fist of the most devilish twists and turns. It's no sports car but firm steering and well contained lean make it an engaging companion when the bends arrive.

It may be a big car but there is no more than enough space for rear seat passengers and the boot is short of huge too. Neither issue is likely to sway the buying decision, though, when looks, badge and performance potential will likely matter most.

And even with the luxury pack on board and another £1,000 spent on splashes of Ebano wood trim around the interior the Levante misses that final polish you'll find in something like an Audi or Mercedes. Neither will ooze this Italian's style, you'd have to add.

That, in the end, may be the clincher for enough people to make this biggest, boldest of Maseratis a regular site at places where the beautiful people gather.

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