CAPE TOWN – In a world where the luxury SUV often proves king, the Maserati Levante hasn’t enjoyed quite as much success as one might have expected. In fact, due to a lack of demand, the Italian brand was forced to halt production shortly after its launch. When we tested the Levante 3,0 Diesel back in 2017, we noted the SUV was going to be a tough sell against other offerings in the segment, chiefly thanks to price.

With an oil-burner under the bonnet, we found our initial experience in the Levante somewhat underwhelming. So, we were keen to give it another go what with the twin-turbopetrol 3,0-litre V6 derivative now available in South Africa.

Badged as the Levante 350, this variant's engine delivers 257 kW and 500 N.m of torque to all four wheels though an eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic transmission. While this seems a healthy dose of oomph for an SUV this size, it’s worth noting the Levante weighs in at around 2,4 tonnes. As a result, this output translates to a claimed 0-100 km/h time of 6,0 seconds and a top speed of 251 km/h. If it’s more performance you’re looking for then we'd suggest looking to the Levante S, which uses an uprated version of this engine.

At start-up, the petrol engine makes its presence clear with a very characterful idle note that's somewhat louder than I was expecting. It's certainly easy on the ear, although still fairly subdued at lower revs (as you'd expect in a luxury SUV). If you want a more aggressive soundtrack, the Levante 350 features a dedicated “sport” mode.

I also immediately felt this powertrain was a far better fit with the Levante than the turbodiesel. It’s a lot more responsive, communicates better with the ZF transmission and manages the SUV’s hefty weight quite impressively. Thanks to its twin-turbo setup, the engine doesn’t suffer from much lag, which makes the throttle feel quite responsive. In the aforementioned sport mode, the transmission's workings are also altered; each time you dip shift up or down, a forceful kick can be felt through the seat.

Through the bends, the Levante proves more composed than one might expect (considering its heft), which makes it a satisfying SUV to belt around. It inspires plenty of confidence thanks to immense grip provided by the Q4 all-wheel-drive system (with a rear limited-slip differential) and the Pirelli P-Zero tyres (265/50 R19). The ride is commendable, too, thanks in part to the standard active air suspension setup.

Add the engine’s responsive nature to the chassis’ dynamic composure and you're left with a driving experience that’s overall quite satisfactory. For added entertainment, the metal column-mounted paddle-shifters deliver a pleasing mechanical "click" when pressed. An improvement worth noting is the gear selector that frustrated us in the 3,0 Diesel; the redesigned leather-wrapped selector mimics the feel of the one used in the Alfa Romeo Giulia and Stelvio, resulting in an easier and more accurate action. That said, the cabin still features a mite too many buttons and switches (chiefly on the centre console).

While the Levante is still likely to struggle against the competition largely thanks to its price, it’s refreshing that a more rounded option has been added to the range. Despite this version playing the role of entry-level model, it's easily the more satisfying drive of the two.



FAST FACTS

Model: Maserati Levante 350
Price: R1 549 900
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, twin-turbopetrol
Power: 257 kW
Torque: 500 N.m
0-100 km/h: 6,0 seconds
Top Speed: 251 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 10,7 L/100 km
CO2: 249 g/km
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Maintenance Plan: Five-year/100 000 km