► New V8-powered Levante driven in Italy
► £100,000 and upwards
► Trofeo is the most powerful production Maser'
Name the last new Maserati you saw on the road? Chances it’s the Levante, the first SUV from the brand, and one that’s somewhat ubiquitous in 2019. It’s been a huge seller for the Trident – but Maserati’s not finished with its cash cow yet. Three years after launch it’s introducing a further two trims: the GTS and Trofeo.
Both sit above the current Grand Lusso and Grand Sport models, both cost over £100k, and both have a stonking Ferrari V8-powered drivetrain in common. The differences are minimal. The Trofeo is the range-topping, tuned-up SUV, while the GTS is slightly softer option, and costs around £20,000 less.
Are the Trofeo and GTS new cars?
No, just a couple of new trims – but very important ones. So why the wait? Take a look at Maserati’s sales figures and it’s clear why we’re only just seeing a V8 Levante.
Things are going well – very well, actually. Since its launch in 2016, Maserati has sold 55,000 of the SUV, with the model making up 52% of sales for the brand. And with the Grand Lusso and Grand Sport doing so well – what’s the rush?
To keep the sales momentum going the range has been refreshed with the addition of these two new V8 models – sowe’re sitting Levante Trofeo in the centre of Modena, Italy. On the inside, this is very much Levante – from the oblong clock, to the wall-to-wall cow hide – but fire up the engine and this is more raucous, angrier thing than the V6 currently on sale.
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Specifically, we’re listening to a re-engineered 3.8-litre twin-turbo engine, sourced from Ferrari and already seen in the Quattroporte GTS. It uses a 90-degree V helped along by forced induction, while updated camshafts, valves, and mapping give it an extra boost.
In the GTS it’s capable of 523bhp, while in the Trofeo we’re driving here, it’s tuned to a higher 574bhp and 568 lb ft of torque. That’s a leap of around 100bhp more than the Levante S, and makes the Trofeo the most powerful production Maserati ever.
And yes we’ve asked, the MC12 supercar doesn’t really count – and even if it did, the Levante Trofeo would still have the better power-to-weight ratio. Another small issue – the European Trofeo is also around 10bhp down compared to other markets – you can blame Euro6 emissions rules for that.
How does the Levante Trofeo drive?
On idle it’s more refined than we expect, but put the Trofeo’s V8 to work, and it gives a terrific eight-cylinder bark. Maserati lets us do some launch-control ‘tests’ at a local airfield, and the Levante is as fast – albeit in a straight-line – and as loud as you’d hope for.
An airfield is one thing, but the misty mountain roads of Modena are quite another. And although we aren’t able to push as much as we like – thanks to thick layer of fog – it’s evident the V8 is a massive highlight of this car. Power delivery is smooth, while torque is nicely balanced across the rev-range and it means the Maser’ has punch on twisty corner exits, and poise on longer bends.
The V8 looks promising on paper, and an impressive eight-speed ‘box means its performance actually makes it to the road. The transmission in the Levante is more decisive and intuitive than you’d expect.
Shifts come as fast as you can click the SUV’s over-sized paddles – which seem to be upside-down, as we keep reaching for them and tapping air – and in the passenger seat it’s hard to differentiate manual shifts from Corsa-mode automatic ones. Such is the speed at which the ZF makes its decisions.
Put your foot to the floor in auto-mode and this isn’t a car that ‘ums’ and ‘ahhs’ before dropping down a cog. It’s immediate, direct and really lets you control the V8’s on paper performance.
And one more thing, although the Trofeo has a sizable chunk of power in hand to the GTS, it’s hard to notice in practice, with both SUVs able to drag themselves out of corners at alarming pace.
What about the Trofeo and GTS chassis?
The suspension in the Trofeo is basically carried over from the standard Levante, and that means a double-wishbone front and Multi-Link rear suspension on 22-inch rims. But fear not, the Trofeo only gains 60kg over the V6, and Maserati’s engineers have recalibrated the air springs and Sports Skyhook damping systems for the extra weight and power increase.
Trofeos will likely spend 90% of their time in Corsa mode. It drops the car by 35mm, stiffens the ride, provides a sharper throttle response and gives more aggressive gear changes. The GTS makes do with a softer Sport mode, but the difference is negligible.
Both Levantes spend most of their time in a quasi-rear-wheel-drive, but like most cars these days they’re full of torque-vectoring tech. However, where most tech is reactive – quickly responding to grip levels as they change – Maserati says its system is preventative.
New software looks at factors such as steering angle, corner entry-speed and brake pressure to predict possible losses of grip, and stop them from ever happening. Think Minority Report meets traction control, and you’re pretty much there.
Steering could be more precise, but in a car of this size and one not primarily designed for track-action – it performs well. And what about ESP? It keeps the Levante stable on corner exits, and predictable when carrying optimistic entry speeds. There were no nasty surprises of understeer, and we were very optimistic about the car’s ability to get through tightening, sweeping corners.
All good, then – although not really. Turn the engine off for a moment, take a look around the cabin, and you find an interior that wasn’t premium in 2016 – let alone 2019. The high-end materials and craftsmanship are here, but the cutting-edge infotainment and premium design are not. It’s really not what you’d expect at this price.
It’s the same story on the outside of the car, too. The Trofeo – and GTS to an extent – gets a healthy dose of steroids, and at the front at least, things are improved. Vents have sprouted on the bonnet, and a smart, larger grille with double-pinstripes is flanked by full LED adaptive headlights.
Because this is a performance model, you also find bits of carbonfibre dotted around the car – the splitter, side skits and side blades are made of the stuff.
At the rear, however, you’ll still find the same materials, but this time used in a more conservative, dated design. Simply put, while the front of the Levante is sharp and aggressive, the rear has the same issue as the interior; it looks in need of some sharper strokes.
Maserati Levante Trofeo: verdict
So, what to make of the Levante Trofeo and GTS? First of all, it’s far harder to separate the two than you’d expect. The GTS gives away around 50bhp to the Trofeo, but in practice it’s just as much fun as the range-topper. And with a premium of around £20,000 over the GTS, Maserati buyers will really need to decide how much they want the extra Trofeo topping.
Maserati expects that a good chunk of possible Grand Sport customers will opt for the Trofeo and GTS given the choice, and we suspect the Trofeo may be the top-seller of the new V8s. Most buyers gaze to the top of the price list and point at the range-topper anyway, right?
Either way, these V8-powered Maseratis represent a cooler, more unusual choice over the far more obvious competition. Their styling is unlike anything else, but the Trofeo and GTS’ main strengths lie with a surprisingly good drivetrain – from the V8 all the way through to the ZF ‘box and AWD system.
But there’s only so much charm and character can do when parked alongside extremely well-executed competitors from Mercedes, Porsche and Volkswagen. That’s when the Levante's shortcomings are most obvious.
With an all-new Levante platform on the way – with room for electrification – we’re hoping Maserati can keep the character and dynamics of the current car, but sharpen things up everywhere else for an increasingly competitive market.