Driven: Maserati Levante S

“My Maserati does 185. I lost my license, now I don’t drive.” Fortunately, these are the lyrics to a classic ’70s rock song and not biographical facts. The rebellious, bad boy Maserati spirit still lives on today. As a sign of the times, its contemporary manifestation takes the form of a stylish and powerful SUV, the Levante.

As expected from an Italian automaker, the Levante is a sleek SUV with a gaping grille, vent holes, and a curved character line below a sharply raked rear window. Italian style abounds inside as well, where sumptuous, two-tone leather envelops the dash, side panels and seats. A panoramic sunroof above both seat rows lets in lots of light, and a heated, electrically adjustable steering wheel and dual automatic climate control provide year-round comfort. An air conditioned storage area in the front armrest ensures your Snickers won’t melt, even on a hot St. Louis day.

Other than the hard button controls for the ventilation system, most other systems operate through the 7-inch touchscreen that displays navigation, audio, phone and vehicle settings. Concentric knobs between the front seats control volume and also can be used to manipulate the screen. Rear seat leg room is surprisingly plentiful, but two passengers would be more comfortable than three. Behind the 60/40 foldable rear seat that includes a long object pass through, there’s decent cargo room, but the slope of the rear hatch limits the height of objects that can be carried. A nice, small, covered area in back provides plenty of safe, secure storage.

Of course, being a Maserati, the Levante is also a kick to drive. Perhaps its most distinctive feature is its sonorous exhaust note, which can be enhanced by pushing a sport button on the center console to open the exhaust. It’s a fabulous sound that will turn heads and ears. Try that in a Tesla. Pressing the button a second time stiffens up the suspension and steering to give the Levante a sportier feel, and it pays off with pool table-flat cornering in tight curves.

Combined with good brakes, a stiff yet comfortable suspension, and gobs of power from the 430-horsepower, twin turbo, V6 engine in the S version, the Levante is fun to drive for an SUV, though power steering seemed a bit overboosted. The only other issue is the 8-speed automatic transmission, which seemed to be reluctant to upshift sometimes. It’s possible that it was trying to adapt to my driving style, which can be a bit aggressive. Using the paddle shifters to shift manually alleviated the problem. Under hard acceleration, the engine pops when shifts are done manually, creating an attractive sound. The auto shut-off when you come to a stop can be annoying but can be defeated. An active air suspension provides five ride heights depending on need or preference. Front and rear parking sensors, blind spot detection and a reverse camera aid parking ease, but automatic emergency braking is an option; it should be standard on a $90,000-plus vehicle.

According to a sales executive at Jim Butler Italia, “The Levante represents a real value compared to other vehicles in its class; you get Italian style and flair for less money than its German competition. It looks different, sounds different and has its own performance personality.”

technicals: maserati levante s
>> base: $86,000, including delivery
>> as driven with options: $96,400

gas mileage
>> 14 city
>> 19 highway

>> front engine; all-wheel drive
>> 3.0-litre, twin turbo, V6 engine
>> 424 horsepower
>> 8-speed automatic transmission