It’s not often you get the chance to drive a Maserati, so when the invitation lands in your inbox, you tend to jump at it. Even more so when the invitation gives you access to three models, including the first UK drive of the mad Levante V8 Trofeo.
So hush-hush was the drive that it was held at the the ultra-secret Millbrook Proving Ground, the UK’s leading vehicle testing facility. It’s one of these places where, when you turn up, the camera on your mobile phone is taped-up for security.
The Levante is Maserati’s four-wheel-drive SUV. Three years after it was launched in Grand Lusso and Grand Sport V6 format, new into the showrooms are the monstrously powerful Ferrari V8-powered GTS and Trofeo. Whisper it: both cost over £100k.
And while the Trofeo is the range-topper, with its tuned-up engine, the GTS is a marginally softer option, and costs around £20,000 less. But before we get to the barnstorming V8 Trofeo, we’re going offroad. No, honestly: we’re going mudplugging in a Maserati.
First-up is a V6 Grand Lusso. If there’s such a thing as an ‘entry-level’ model, this is it. Ok, it’ll still set you back £71,800, but there’s no denying the Maserati, and especially the interior, oozes Italian style and class. There’s acres of leather; everything you touch has an undeniable high quality feel; and pride of place atop the central fascia sits the famous oblong ‘Maser’ clock.
But; mudplugging. Really? As it turns out, yes. Definitely. Raise the air suspension to its highest level, push a few buttons which switch on numerous bits of hidden technical wizardry, and the Levante coped with everything that was thrown at it. Not only was there mud — fields and fields of it — but also severely undulating log sections which demonstrated the chassis and suspension’s impressive articulation, and a 60 per cent slope which perfectly demonstrated the Levante’s hill descent control. I enjoyed the thrill of heading over the edge and having a windscreen full of nothing but sky so much I did it twice.
All mightily impressive. Quite whether any Levante owner would actually ever seriously think about embarking on such an exercise with their own car is questionable. But there’s no denying it’s impressive and reassuring for them to know it can cope with more than the odd raised kerb at the supermarket, or grassy slope at the gymkhana.
Maserati Levante Trofeo
Price: £124,900 Engine: 3.8-litre, V8, twin-turbo, petrol Power: 574bhp Torque: 568lb/ft Transmission: Eight-speed-automatic, all-wheel-drive Top speed: 186mph 0-62mph: 4.1 seconds Economy: 13.2-13.7mpg CO2 emissions: 302-299g/km (NEDC)
What’s it like on the road?
Next-up was the Levante S with 424bhp and 428lb/ft. For this I left the security of Millbrook and headed out on to public roads. A true, proper illustration of how the Levante copes with the everyday needs of the ‘average’ driver.
The Maserati is not small. Yet even on narrow, winding B-roads it manages to never feel big from behind the wheel. Competent in everything it does, the Levante certainly has significant presence. In all honesty, if you think back to what the last Maserati you saw on the road, the likelihood is it was a Levante.
Back into the secure grounds of Millbrook, it was time to fire up the rip-snorting V8 Trofeo. The halo model in the Levante line-up has taken a while to arrive. Why? Well since its launch in 2016, Maserati has sold 55,000 of the SUV; the model makes up 52 per cent of sales for the brand. So, with the V6 Grand Lusso and Grand Sport doing so well, why rush a V8?
But what about that V8?
But the wait’s been worthwhile. Fire up the engine and without question this is an angrier, more raucous thing than the V6. Squeezed under the bonnet is a re-engineered 3.8-litre twin-turbo engine, sourced from Ferrari and already seen in the Quattroporte GTS.
Also fitted to the Levante GTS, where it delivers 523bhp, in the Trofeo the V8 delivers even more power and grunt, with 574bhp and 568lb/ft of torque under your right foot. To put that into perspective, it’s around 100bhp more than the Levante S and now the most powerful production Maserati ever.
First — and just because I could — it was off to the one-mile sprint. Launch control on; brake on; full beans with the right foot; lift my left foot off the brake … and wow! Pinned back into the supportive leather seat, there then followed an exercise in focusing on the road ahead, while also watching the numbers on the speedo increase.
By the time we reached the 3/4-mile mark — the marker for hitting the brakes before the straight becomes a steeply banked right-hand turn — the speedo was reading 158mph. Yup, I’ll take that.
So, it’s pretty good then?
Heading then out on to the demanding ‘mountain course’ — a testing mixture of fast, flowing corners, hairpin bends and searing undulations — the big V8 punched its way explosively round the route. On longer bends it exhibits a calming poise, while when the need arises it can be eye-waveringly grippy and powerful. And that package is mated to an impressive eight-speed auto gearbox which is incredibly decisive and intuitive.
There’s also paddleshift behind the steering wheel. So sharp and immediate are the changes that from the passenger seat it’s near impossible to differentiate manual shifts from Corsa-mode automatic ones.
Keep the ZF ‘box in auto mode, floor your right foot and the acceleration is immediate. There’s no hesitation from the technology. The instant response is so fast it’s almost as if the Trofeo is hardwired into your thought processes.
It’s also completely undaunted by corners; the range-topping Levante is capable of catapulting itself out of bends at an alarming pace.
But with the bigger V8, isn’t it heavier?
Despite its bigger V8, the Trofeo is only 60kg heavier than the V6. Sitting on its impressive 22-inch alloys, the car’s suspension has been tweaked with engineers recalibrating the air springs and Sports Skyhook damping systems.
Maserati believes most Trofeo drivers will have their car in Corsa mode for 90 per cent of the time. And that’s a good thing as it not only drops the car by 35mm, but it also gives more aggressive gear changes, provides a sharper throttle response and stiffens the ride.
Like the GTS, the Trofeo will spend most of its life in time in a quasi-rear-wheel-drive, safe in the knowledge that the torque-vectoring tech will instantly kick in when required.
In fact, that’s not exactly accurate. While most tech is reactive — responding in the blink of an eye to grip levels as they change — Maserati says its system is preventative. Constantly monitoring factors such as brake pressure, steering angle and corner entry-speed, the technology is able to predict any possible losses of grip and stop them from ever happening. Think of it as a very safe Big Brother who’s always, caringly, watching over you.
In this rarefied world of supercar SUVs, the big V8-powered Maserati Levante Trofeo struts its stuff, even when it’s parked, thanks to its new, smarter and larger front grille flanked by full LED adaptive headlights, new vents on the bonnet, and those imposing rims.
There’s no denying any Levante is worth considering if you’re lucky enough to be in the market for such a luxury, mudplugging supercar. Yes the 3.6-litre V6 models are way more than adequate for everyday driving — and in the PCP world, you can have a V6 Levante from £325 a month on finance — but it’s the lure of the big V8s which will attract most attention. And unquestionably, top of the list will be the Levante Trofeo; the King of the Maseratis.