LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA—I hate to use the Jekyll and Hyde metaphor in a car review, because it’s just such an overused trope. But try as I might—and I promise you, I have been trying—I just can’t come up with a better way to describe the Maserati Levante Trofeo. (This might have something to do with the way the Levante scrambled my brains when driven in full-on Hyde mode.)
For those unfamiliar, the Levante Trofeo is the top-of-the-line version of Maserati’s SUV, and what sets it apart from other Levantes is the Ferrari-built 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-8 under its hood. Actually, that’s a fib—the Levante GTS gets the same V-8, but with “only” 550 horsepower instead of the Trofeo’s 590 horsepower. The engine is a close relative of the 3.9-liter V-8 found in the Ferrari 488 Pista, SF90 Stradale, and the F8 Tributo that stole my heart a few weeks back.
For those whose eyes just glazed over, allow me to repeat the two salient phrases in the previous paragraph: Ferrari twin-turbo V-8. Five-hundred ninety horsepower.
And if you think such a glorious engine is wasted in a family-friendly SUV, then you clearly aren’t familiar with Maserati.
Ferrari Power for a Maserati SUV
For starters, it’s quick. Like, seriously quick. Seriously, amazingly, astoundingly quick. Maser claims a 3.7-second 0-60 time, but those numbers never tell the real story, which is this: The Levante Trofeo frickin’ flies. The way it accelerates defies reality. They used to have to split atoms to make things move this fast.
And the soundtrack? Oh, sweet insert-the-name-of-your-favorite-deity-here, does it sound amazing. Though, to be honest, it took me a while to warm to the noises coming from the Trofeo’s V-8. I’m a big fan of the V-6 used in the Ghibli and lesser Levantes, which has an exhaust that snaps, crackles, and pops as if an arsonist snuck into a fireworks factory. The Levante Trofeo’s voice seems to come more from the intake and engine itself than its exhaust, and it’s a soulful wail, a mechanical opera of the sort that Italians do best. I blasted through the canyons with the windows down, and the echoes off the rock walls made it sound as if I was trackside at a vintage Ferrari race.
As for that blasting through the canyons, the Levante Trofeo is surprisingly good in the turns, and not just good-for-an-SUV. The one caveat is that you must, must, must switch the suspension to Sport mode, otherwise the Levante will wallow up and down on its air springs like an old Ford Country Squire wagon. Tie that suspension down, though, and you’re in for the SUV ride of your life. The Levante grips tenuously, keeps body motions in check, and blasts out of the corners like a rocket. When I read the spec sheet and saw that it weights nearly 5,000 pounds, I could hardly believe it—the Levante sure as hell doesn’t drive like a two-and-a-half ton SUV. We don’t know yet how a Ferrari SUV would drive, but I sure as hell hope it’ll be pretty similar to the Levante Trofeo.
So that’s the evil side of its personality, and it’s the best damn Mr. Hyde I’ve driven in ages.
The Jekyll Side of the Maserati Levante Trofeo
But what of Dr. Jekyll? Yes, the Levante Trofeo does that well. Perhaps a bit too well.
For one thing, there’s the styling. It’s subtle, to be sure—racy, maybe, but a bit generic. Certainly not in-your-face-badass like a Mercedes GLE63 AMG or a BMW X5 M. The reverse-facing hood scoops are my favorite detail; they face towards the cabin, letting you see into them from inside, which is cool. But the curb appeal is limited. My neighbors figured I must be driving something special, and when I told them it was a Maserati, they responded with equal parts of surprise and delight. It was the surprise that was the problem, I think: The shape is too tame for a Maserati. When you’re a $150,000 super-SUV, there is such a thing as being too subtle.
I would level that same accusation at the interior. Nearly everything in the Levante Trofeo’s cabin is wrapped in leather, black with red stitching in the case of my test vehicle, or slathered with (optional) carbon-fiber. The problem is that the other trim pieces were made from plastic of a rather chintzy order, not unlike what I’d expect to find in a Fiat 500. Perhaps if my test car had the optional bright-red interior I might have felt differently, but I just didn’t get that best-of-the-best sensation that one experiences in a high-end Mercedes. Screens are limited to a square-ish one for the infotainment system and a small-ish one between the gauges, and the level of infotainment technology is about what you’d expect in a Toyota. (Or perhaps I should say a Dodge, as the software is essentially a reskin of Chrysler’s UConnect.)
Is the Maserati Levante Trofeo Too Subtle?
The driving experience in Jekyll mode is every bit as good as in Hyde mode, and for all the right (and opposite) reasons: The Levante Trofeo is quiet, comfortable, and relaxed, as understated as a proper English butler. My wife Robin and I spent our first day with the Trofeo taking a distraught friend to the beach, and aside from the ability to pass slow 18-wheelers on two-lane back roads at a single bound, there was nothing to indicate what a monster this thing becomes when whipped up. I suppose that’s a good thing, but it’s also a problem. I hate to keep bringing up Mercedes, but witness the GLE63 AMG. It’s just as smooth and comfortable as the Levante Trofeo when driven calmly, but at least it gives you some indication of the hell-hound waiting within.
As a car fanatic, I know I should appreciate the pure elegance of the Maserati Levante Trofeo’s split personality. But I have to put myself in the mindset of someone buying this car (a difficult thing to do on the salary of an automotive journalist), and I have to wonder if the target buyer wants something this purely elegant. I see a fair number of Ghiblis and Quattroportes here in SoCal, and I think part of their success is that they’ve got attitude—not too much, not too little, but attitude. The Levante Trofeo might be playing its proverbial cards just a little too close to the proverbial vest.
It would be a shame if the Levante Trofeo’s subtlety hides its true abilities, because unlike other supposedly-sporty SUVs I can name, the Maserati is an outstanding family hauler and an outstanding performance SUV, powered by an astounding engine with a pedigree that no German automaker can top. In terms of its Italian heritage, it’s as authentic as Luciano Pavarotti. This is an SUV that need apologize to no one. Its split personality is an amazing thing to behold—but I wish it were a little more Hyde and a little less Jekyll.
|2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo Specifications|
|ENGINE||: 3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/590 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 538 lb-ft @ 2,500 – 5,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||21/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||176.0 x 87.3 x 47.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||191 mph|