Despite being Maserati’s best-selling model, you may have dismissed the Levante as not being a “proper” Maserati. It compares favourably to most SUVs in the looks department thanks to its subtle, elegant styling. The trident that’s affixed to its wide grille tells the world you have taste, flair and an independent streak. But there was little lead in its pencil. The V6 engine didn’t honour the sportiness of the badge. A real Maserati demands a thrusting V8 – and, at last, it’s here.
In fact, like full-grain leather-lined Routemasters sitting on 21-inch rims, two have arrived at the same time. The GTS packs 530bhp, putting the Range Rover Sport SVR in the shade. But if you want to embarrass Porsche Cayenne Turbo owners (though Cayenne owners may be oblivious to the concept of shame) then you need the range-topping Levante Trofeo.
Its glorious Ferrari-built 580bhp 3.8 twin-turbo was worth the wait. At 7,000rpm it sounds like Luciano Pavarotti scoffing piping hot soup – it makes an urgent tenor howl – and it spits flames on the overrun. The audio is so much more operatic than the try-hard bombast you get with SVR-ed Jaguar Land Rovers.
It’s classier to behold too. It’s been at the muscle supplements, but its suit is cut to hide a lot of the brawn. There are bigger air intakes, a lower splitter, heat-extracting gashes on the bonnet and naked carbon detailing, but not too much. The rear of this car was the stylistic weak point. Nothing about it identified it as a Maserati – it could have been a Kia. Now, though, new bumpers and quad exhausts make it appear wider and meatier. There isn’t a Trofeo badge on the boot; instead, its “Saetta” logo is on the C-pillars and embroidered into the headrests. It looks like an aristocratic family crest.
It is the engine that does the talking. With 580bhp, this is the most powerful production Maserati ever. (We don’t count the MC12 hypercar in this, for only 50 were built.) The Trofeo is also the first SUV in the world to boast launch control. Zero to 62 takes 4.1 seconds, which is 0.4 seconds quicker than the Range Rover Sport SVR and Jaguar F-Pace SVR. The Cayenne Turbo is a mite quicker, at 3.9 seconds. The Maserati blasts past all of them at the top end: 186mph. That puts it into missile lock territory with the much more expensive (albeit better equipped) Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga Speed. Frustratingly, the Trofeo is faster in the US and China – 590bhp – due to European emissions regulations. More horsepower after Brexit? Put that on the side of your bus, Boris.
Yet the Trofeo is no bargain. At £124,900 it may be less than the uber-exotic high-siders, but it’s a whole Skoda Karoq more than the Range Rover (£101,810) and Porsche (£101,155). The Levante GTS, incidentally, is £104,900 and has the Brit covered, not so much the speedy German.
At just £75,335 the F-Pace SVR is a no-brainer. The Jag is the most chuckable of all the cars in this category and on a twisty mountain pass we’d put our bets on it. Is it right to compare them in this way, though? These cars are so close on performance, but their characters are different. The Jaguar is like a really good gourmet burger that hits the spot; hunger is taken care of and there’s change left in your pocket. The Maserati is more delicate, intense, sophisticated and inspiring, like a Massimo Bottura dish; the memory will stay with you a lot longer.
In Comfort mode it rides, well, extremely comfortably. Put it in Corsa mode and the chef reaches for the chilli powder. The air suspension sinks 35mm lower and stiffens, the V8 bristles with a hotter engine map, the brilliant 8-speed Alfa Q4-derived ZF box tightens up and the throttle pedal gets anxious. Manual is engaged and Maserati’s big chunky paddles are a joy.
The steering gets extra weight and the stability aids are cut back, though they don’t switch off completely. The all-wheel-drive sends 100 per cent of the power to the rear most of the time, but goes 50/50 when needed. Algorithm-enhanced ESP brakes individual wheels to help turn in under-load and quell understeer. The handling is sturdy rather than thrilling; the F-Pace rotates into corners with greater verve and confidence, but the Maserati’s Maranello-born powerplant gives it a more instant kick out of the corners.
What we have here is a handsome and practical prestige family car with a (slightly detuned) Ferrari 488 motor under the bonnet and a romantic symbol on the grille. Like much of the produce of Modena, that’s a salivating recipe. Ninety per cent of Levante buyers are said to be new to the brand. If they choose the Trofeo they’ll own a proper Maserati.