Big, bold and so, so

utterly Italian

Maserati Levante, front action
Maserati, Levante, side action
Maserati, Levante, rear action
Maserati Levante, full front action
Maserati Levante, front action 2
Maserati, Levante, dashboard
Maserati, Levante, cabin detail
Maserati, Levante, boot 2
Maserati, Levante, rear seats
Maserati, Levante, front seats
Maserati, Levante, engine
Maserati, Levante, boot

OSCAR Wilde would have loved the Maserati Levante, the upmarket Italian car maker's entry into the glamorous world of big and expensive SUVs.

For the Irish playwright and wit once said that 'nothing succeeds like excess' and if that's true Maserati has a considerable hit on its perfectly manicured hands.

Because the Levante (it means 'rising' in Italian, as in early morning sun) is one thing above all - and that's big.

Really big in size, at 5,003mm it's longer than a Range Rover; big in power, with 430 horsepower from a twin-turbo petrol engine developed by Ferrari and big in road presence, thanks to an exhaust that can sound like an artillery bombardment when you put your foot down.

It is also big in style, with the sort of interior treatment that could only come out of Italy; swathed in leather or silk from Italian menswear designer Ermenegildo Zegna. It's a travelling environment that instantly has anyone with an eye for fashion whispering 'isn't this gorgeous.'

It ought to be, of course, with prices starting at £56,250 and topping out at £76,995 before you add tempting options that might include such inessentials as high gloss Ebano wood at £1,035 and stainless steel foot pedals for another £235.

With or without the extras a vital Levante's strength must be its Italian-ness in a part of the luxury car market dominated by less flamboyant Germans (Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5), Brits (Range Rover Sport) and Swedes (Volvo XC90).

UK buyers of a Levante have the choice of being slightly sensible with a 275 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 turbo diesel or not sensible at all with a petrol engine of the same size and similarly cylindered but pumping out 430 pretty ferocious horses.

One engine is officially rated at 39.2mpg average and the other at a rather thirstier 25.9mpg. The vast majority of Levante buyers take the more economical diesel, still a pretty potent car with 143mph and 6.9 seconds to 62mph potential under the bonnet.

They won't approach the official economy figure in everyday use (join the club!) but after a brisk drive in the intoxicatingly potent petrol version (165mph/5.2 seconds) any owner had better be prepared for a shock if that's the chosen fuel.

The trip computer on the petrol Levante's stylishly Italian dash read a dipso 16.6mpg. Add in £1,700 first year road tax and £450 annually after that and a top 37 per cent benefit in kind rating for business use and this will not be a cheap car to run.

But then owning any highish end Italian expression of passion on wheels was never going to be inexpensive. Taking some financial pain is almost part of the pleasure, after all.

And there is pleasure aplenty in a cross country dash. Push the buttons to engage sport mode for the throttle and firm and lower the air suspension and this big machine fairly flies, accompanied by the sort of exhaust note that stops young boys in their tracks.

You'll thank goodness your speed is displayed clearly on a chunky digital readout, for you'll be astonished at the figure shown as you proceed with serious intent and the eight speed automatic gearbox hangs on to the ratios as you duck into the corners.

There's an off-road setting on offer but I'd guess the proportion of Levante owners who get their big alloy wheels mucky is too modest to measure.

Rather, this is a car to enjoy on the road. It comes in two trim levels; GranLusso uses luxury silk or leather and wood trim to bring out your inner sybarite, helped by power adjusted seats, Harmon Kardon sound and, newly, doors that close themselves softly in the last new millimetres.

Choose an identically priced (£76,995) GranSport and it swaps wood for carbon trim, adds gearshift paddles and furnishes the exterior with bigger alloys, red brake calipers and a black radiator grille.

Either version could not be more Italian if it tried, but one of them feels more extrovertly Latin in temperament, if a bit thirsty with it.

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