I’m going to be brutally honest up-front, in order to set the context as best I can for the end. So please, bear with me.
Until quite recently, I was neither here nor there with regard to my love for the Maserati brand. Watching a documentary helped, but it didn’t transform my opinion.
I enjoy viewing their wares, listening to the way they sound, and understanding what they stood for. I’d admire their cars, out of respect, or lust, I’m not quite sure.
But I found myself often asking the question, “Would I spend Maserati money on a Maserati?”. The answer nine times out of 10 was no, no I wouldn’t.
The more I stewed on it, the more I saw the brand as an overloved underachiever, which rode on the coat-tails of Italian romanticism and its association with the prancing horse.
A compilation of its greatest hits, be it the 250 F, Tipo 61, even the 3200GT, is up there in terms of quality. But I feel as if these bangers are deeply offset by clangers such as the whole Biturbo saga and, controversially, the fifth-generation Quattroporte, too.
Hits and misses. More of the latter, though.
Maybe I didn’t get it? Maybe I’m not susceptible to said Italian romance?
In order to understand what was going on, I picked my brain savagely as to why I felt that way. I came to the conclusion that other European brands, those from a particular region that isn’t Italy, had invaded my mind and sewn seeds of uber rationality. Attempts at leveraging my thoughts and opinions by bombarding, and then overwhelming, me with numbers, figures, and other ridiculous claims such as high-strength steel this and composite material that.
Pointlessness from a press release that means nothing when commuting to work or dropping off your friend after dinner. Or how it makes you feel, for that matter. You can’t put that into numbers.
The 2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo, in about 10 minutes, delicately and beautifully unpicked all of those bad notions. It did away with a need to search for cool facts and figures to add substance to its claims. It grounded me back solidly where I belonged, free from data and numbers, and feeling good. Assessing with a clear mind and a newly invigorated heart.
It all began when the cover was whipped off my new, temporary set of wheels – a Levante Trofeo Launch Edition, finished in the gorgeous, yet insanely exclusive, Giallo Modenese. In order to pick this hue, you must first opt for the Launch Edition, of which there are 100 cars globally. Only then may you have permission to choose this three-layer yellow.
It’s almost a crime that this paintwork is not available on the wider Levante range, even as a five-figure option. It just looks so sensational, and we need more cars on the road that are this expressive.
But as we’ll come to learn, this is no ordinary SUV. It’s no ordinary car for that matter. So, it's deserving of such exotic colours unable to be found elsewhere.
The Trofeo version takes the best of what Maserati has come to learn, adds in some smarts from Ferrari, and puts it all together in the form of one of the most powerful road cars it has ever built.
If anything, there’s no more fitting tribute to the modern Maserati than a performance SUV. I know that statement will trigger moans and groans across our readership, but please, hang on a second.
The Levante was, and still is, a saving grace for the brand. It’s continuing to be a sales winner globally for the trident, especially in key markets such as America and China. That also makes it a great money-making exercise, which is something the brand needs success with, having been centimetres from bankruptcy five times in the past.
The Levante is probably a sizable reason as to why the lights are still on over in Modena. I can’t think of a more fitting model to be decorated with the Trofeo treatment. It’s quite the program, too. There are many comprehensive changes that a regular Levante goes through in order to wear the special Saetta logo on its C-pillar.
Firstly, the front end is unique. A new front bumper, with deep, wide apertures has been introduced. It’s been shod with pretty carbon-fibre bits, too, for good measure. The lightweight composite material is carried on along the lower sills, and then the rear, underscoring the whole treatment quite subtly.
It’s a nice subtlety that Maserati pulls off well with this package. It works hand-in-hand with the loud paintwork to not clash or interfere with it. The aforementioned Maserati logo on the C-pillar now features the word Trofeo, which is unlike any other Maserati badge to date. The rear Levante logo now has a bold underline, which signifies that this is no regular version. These are details that only a trainspotter would pick up, or only those diehard fans.
Or maybe only those in the know. Either way, these subtle gestures are a nice touch. Romantic ones that are starting to rub off on me. There’s no arguing that it’s a statement-maker overall. Inside, things are a little different, however. It gets back to more of a traditional theme of exotic materials and craft, as opposed to high-tech sorcery.
There’s a regular set of dials with a small LCD screen in the middle. The steering wheel looks rather simple with a few basic-looking buttons, which are equally as basic in the way they feel. Its centre stack features an 8.4-inch touchscreen, with an interface that wouldn’t look out of date at a flashback Friday event.
Regardless of these dated notions, the materials beneath them are exquisite. The best in the world, in fact.
Firstly, the Pieno Fiore leather extensively used throughout the cabin is simply the best money can buy. It’s a natural material that retains durability while being incredibly supple. It also smells very, very expensive. You can smell it from outside the car, if the windows are down.
Apparently, the beasts where this leather comes from reside far up in the hills of Italy, free from mosquitos and sharp fences. It’s the only way to get such untainted hide, I’m told.
Layered on top of exotic material, on the hard surfaces, is an uncoated carbon fibre. It’s textural, rough feeling, almost sharp in areas, where the weave is a little untidy. A great contrast to the leather, it’s used far from sparingly all over the centre console, doors and dash.
You can park the simplicity, or traditional nature of the cabin, given the lengths Maserati has gone to speak its brand truths throughout the cabin.
After all, the speedo is legible, the infotainment system features Apple CarPlay plus Android Auto, and the audio system is top shelf. Bowers and Wilkins, 17-speakers, 1280-watt, sort of top shelf.
Sure, there's no digital instrument cluster, no 12.0-inch infotainment system, or no onboard personal assistant that responds to "Hey, Maserati!" commands.
The alternative experience the Trofeo offers isn't any worse. It's sitting on the finest cowhide known to man, listening to a Ferrari V8, with your family in tow. It's different. Arguably better, depending on what you're seeking.
There’s decent room, too, might I add. Both the first and second rows are accommodating, with multiple USB ports, heated seats front and rear, as well as ample head and knee height. Boot space is also good at 580L, but not class-leading by any stretch, though not so far off a Lamborghini Urus at 616L.
It does everything you need it to do, quite well, too. It just isn’t presented in the same fashion as the equally expensive Bentley Bentayga or Urus. The cabin is celebrated for its materials and craft, not for its fandangles or bells and whistles.
All that romance, and we haven’t even started on its pièce de résistance – that 441kW/730Nm twin-turbo V8.
Built by Ferrari, for Maserati, it’s the highest-output engine to date with an interesting roll call of stats: highest-specific output (kW/litre), highest production output (limited/bespoke cars not included), highest V8 output – it sits just under the small-batch 463kW 6.0-litre V12 MC12 for power, but produces more torque (652Nm in the MC12).
Maserati has taken the regular version of the engine, as found in the GTS model, and gone as far as it could with it. The crankcase is actually a different casting, as is the actual crankshaft itself. The oiling system has been beefed up to both lube and cool the hi-po unit as best as possible.
There are new rods in the bottom end topped with new pistons, which all sit underneath a highly revised cylinder head that contains an expensive valvetrain. All of that mumbo jumbo provides air to a pair of also-new turbochargers, all of which creates the big power figures mentioned earlier.
To signify their efforts, a wrinkle-red finish has been applied to the engine coverings, which is protected by a shield of carbon fibre. The engine itself looks fast. A few onlookers caught me gazing at it, as I had the bonnet open for filming, and all shared the same sentiment with regard to how the engine looked in the bay.
Elegantly fast. Which is a nice way to sum up its performance free from superlatives.
Once fired up in either Sport or Trofeo-exclusive Corsa mode, it emits a trebly sound. High-tech yet supercar sounding, its free-spinning nature produces a particular tone that’s highly susceptible to RPM changes. Its pitch shifts rapidly with each subtle stab of the throttle pedal.
Once locked in drive, the ZF eight-speed transmission gets all of those Italian ponies to the rear wheels initially, feeding the front when required. It feels rear-drive, and on tight turns you can feel the diff binding a little due to its aggressive locking nature.
There’s little to no slop in any component of the driveline. You feel incredibly connected to the machine that’s generating the power. It’s toey, keen to go, and super snappy.
And once going, it’s mega fast. 0–100km/h is absolutely belted in just 3.9 seconds, and it’ll go on to achieve speeds greater than 300km/h. Power comes on strong and hard, but never unwieldy. It doesn’t squabble around for grip or lurch under strain from such force.
There’s just this sheer relentlessness that’s suffixed by a warbly burble as the transmission fires through the gears ever so rapidly. It’s intoxicating, and makes your gut feel a little light at times. The 2170kg kerb weight basically goes out the window, feeling as if it sheds its weight when the pedal is buried deep into the floor mat.
It’s the sort of powertrain you expect for a car of this cost and pedigree. You can’t draw comparisons to BMW’s S63 V8 that’s found in the BMW M5 and soon to arrive in the X5 M. The Maserati’s V8 feels a tier above in every regard.
I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best engines found in a performance SUV. Except with regard to fuel consumption. Those Italian horses have quite the appetite.
Combined, the official figure is 13.5 litres per 100km and urban is 18.8L/100km. On test, I struggled to get it below 18.5L/100km. That figure would sharply rise into the late 20s if you continued to accelerate briskly as well as downshift early. It’s hard to avoid doing that in a car that sounds this pleasant.
Ride and handling are taken care of by a system that sounds like it was named after a James Bond gadget. Maserati’s adaptive suspension strategy is called Skyhook, and in this particular car it employs air suspension to do the heavy lifting.
With a height variance of 75mm, it features five height modes, with the lowest setting only accessible in Corsa mode. I wouldn’t bother with the sport damping program; Skyhook has things relatively sorted in its regular mode. It becomes a bit too brittle on our roads in its firmest setting.
In that normal mode, the ride is exceptional. It applies some form of magic in order to manage the mass when you begin to throw it about. It manages damping and height actively as you drive, which gives a real sensation of firm grounding. The large 22-inch wheels do not upset it at all, but they are forged in construction so they're extremely light despite their size.
This is an exciting car – from what I now see as an equally exciting brand.
I said before that I didn’t much care for Maserati. That’s because I was too arrogant to look past superfluous things that other brands had taught me to focus on and care about. Sometimes only when you embrace something for what it stands for, do you truly see the merit in its objective.
At $395,000 before on-roads as tested, it isn’t something many will ever afford. Given the rarity, it's also something that even those with the means to buy it won't get the opportunity to do so, either.
There’s no point trying to whittle down its value by assessing it on rational things. There is a point, however, to discover that if you could afford it, would owning it make you feel good?
My gosh, does it ever. You can’t help but feel overcome with joy every time that Ferrari-assembled engine kicks into life. The feel of the interior, the sheer quality of the material you’re sitting on. The fact you can include your family in the ride, too. It's selfless, not selfish.
I understand Maserati now. I’m a fan. A convert.
It’s taken a while to get there, but this car is properly exotic, rare, and special. Anyone lucky enough to own one will wax lyrical about its triumphs to all that care to listen.
If this is Maserati doing its thing, let’s hope it continues to do so for another 100 years.