We’re all well aware of the SUV mania that’s swept across the nation and indeed the world in recent years, and it’s become such a big thing that even the sports car manufacturers can’t ignore it any longer.
Porsche was the first to break ranks, and it now makes more high-riding SUVs than sports cars. Jaguar has joined the fray, too, unveiling the F- and E-Pace models, while Lamborghini and Aston Martin have promised to bring out 4x4s in the next few years.
With that in mind, it makes sense that Maserati should also throw its hat into the ring. After all, sister company Jeep has bags off-road know-how.
Maserati, however, seems to have largely ignored Jeep’s expertise and instead struck out on its own. The Cayenne-rivalling Levante, therefore, is based on the four-wheel-drive versions of the Ghibli saloon. Maserati has simply fitted a new, spacious body and jacked it up a little bit.
The result is certainly easy on the eye. The rakish tailgate and narrow ‘eyes’ of the headlights give it a sporty look, while muscular rear haunches work well with the trapezoidal grille that has become a feature of modern Maseratis.
Inside, there’s a mix of old- and new-world design, with the timeless wood and leather trim sitting alongside a big central touchscreen housing all the infotainment systems. We’re particular fans of the clock that sits atop the dashboard, adding an extra modicum of class to proceedings.
It’s roomy, too, although it doesn’t always feel that way. The big seats give it a cosy feel, but there’s plenty of space in the back and the boot is more than big enough for a dog or a family’s weekend luggage.
Perhaps that’s no surprise, though, given that the Levante is a surprisingly large car. When it was announced, the general consensus was that it would be an Audi Q5-sized car, but at just over five metres in length, it’s turned out to be good six inches longer than a Range Rover Sport.
Surprisingly, though, it doesn’t feel that big on the road. It feels bulkier than any other Maserati, of course, and there’s a fair bit of lean in the corners, but the steering is good and it feels impressively well balanced. It has heaps of grip, too, and the big 273bhp diesel V6 up front gives it ample grunt.
On the road, then, it’s every bit as good to drive as the Range Rover Sport, but when you take it off the beaten track, things start to go awry.
Maserati freely admits that the Levante is more of a practical shooting brake with a bit of ground clearance than an out-and-out 4×4, and that’s immediately evident when you ask it to deal with anything more challenging than wet grass.
In fairness, the Levante copes with everything customers are likely to throw at it – muddy fields, snow, farm tracks and even a bit of light rock crawling can all be traversed with a little care – but it just doesn’t feel as effortless as a Range Rover.
The Maserati’s big bonus, though, is its price tag. Where the basic Range Rover Sport will set you back £61,315 and the cheapest 3.0-litre V6 diesel will cost around £65,000, the Levante comes in at just over £56,000 – almost £9,000 less than the equivalent Range Rover Sport.
It isn’t even like you get a poverty-spec car for your money, either. Okay, plenty of customers will want the GranLusso or GranSport variants, which add £6,000 to the price tag and offer you some aesthetic touches (and, in the case of the GranSport, sports seats) but basic cars still get electrically adjustable leather seats, satellite navigation, climate control and all the other usual suspects.
We won’t pretend it’s the complete SUV, but it’s still a credible player and immensely characterful and likeable. Okay, so you have marginally less power and less off-road capability than a Range Rover Sport, but the Levante makes up for that with charm and style that the Land Rover can’t hope to match.
Although the Levante might not be the car we’d recommend in this class, it might just be the one we’d buy.