The Maserati Levante brings sportscar luxury to SUVs

Cruising at 110km/h in relative comfort with ski gear on board is nothing new for most families.

Except that most families aren't tucked up in a Maserati.

Only a few years ago, the thought of taking one of Modena's finest to the slopes would have been for the slightly kooky or the highly adventurous – or a summer pastime.

After all, Maserati is best known for cars that are quick on snaking backroads or race tracks; GT cruisers that mix Italian performance and style with a dose of practicality.

Certainly not for off-roaders.

A change of face

Until now. Enter the Levante, Maserati's first SUV.

Like almost all car makers (except Ferrari and McLaren) Maserati has jumped aboard the high-riding wagon trend; to be fair, it's more than a trend, with SUVs set to outsell traditional passenger cars for the first time in 2017. Like the Porsche SUVs the $140K-plus Levante is outselling the sports cars that define the brand.

The Levante doesn't mess with the formula: unique body sitting higher off the road and with space aplenty inside.

Targeting the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Range Rover Sport, the Levante was initially to be built off a Jeep architecture and emerge from an American factory.

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But the stoppers were put on that and the Levante became (mostly) its own machine from Maserati's Italian base.

Fuel for thought

It was a couple of hundred kays into the drive that I flicked through the trip computer readout on the detailed display between the tacho and speedo.

Having another 650km of estimated range is something very un-Maserati – and not bad for a car that weighs upwards of two tonnes and comfortably fits a family of four and all their cold weather gear.

It meant I could make it to our wintery destination – and back – without having to refuel.

Claimed fuel use for the Levante is 7.2 litres per 100km, although throw some city traffic and windy roads into the mix and ours was using 7.6L/100km.

But, of course, most people aren't shopping a Maserati to save money at the bowser.

Powering up

It's typically about the performance and the sound.

For now, the Levante is only available with a diesel engine.

It's the same basic 3.0-litre V6 turbo used in the Grand Cherokee, although Maserati has tickled it to eke another 18kW, for 202kW in total. Stout, but a long way from ballistic.

Ultimately it's the 600Nm that gives the engine its character.

That said, it's muscly rather than Maserati-like, even if engineers have dialled up a fruitier exhaust note, something more noticeable below 60 or 70km/h rather than at freeway speeds. That beefed-up sound only comes if you push the button to activate some flaps in the exhaust.

Changing direction

Corners are a big part of life in a Levante.

Heading up into the mountains it's clear Maserati has put plenty of effort into how it handles bends.

It kicks off with the tyres, which in the case of our Luxury model were sizeable 20-inch Pirellis.

There's loads of mid-corner grip, which ups confidence levels – and the fun factor.

The suspension, which is height adjustable via air chambers at each corner, tends towards firm, but it's not uncomfortable in regular driving.

The advantage is its impressively resilient to leaning in bends, so maintains its composure, allowing you to lean more heavily on those tyres.

Welcome party

If you're looking to make a grand entrance the Levante has you covered. The lashings of chrome and distinctive grille team with the curvaceous design to stand out from the SUV crowd.

Sure, flash SUVs are common. But the freshness of the Maserati – and, no doubt, the trident badge - means rolling up to the slopes in the Levante makes an impression.

There's specialness outside the badge, too, like the pillarless (frameless) doors that bring some coupe thinking to an SUV.

And, of course, the classic Maserati touches, such as the trio of vents above each front wheel.

One of the coolest features, though, is that of the air suspension lowering the body by 45mm when parked, making for more graceful exits.

Tone it down

It's a shame the attention to detail doesn't carry through to some parts of the interior.

The switchgear for the ventilation, for example, is plasticky, as is the cupholder. At least with the latter there's a classy gloss door with a chrome touch pad to cover up the splash of cheapness.

Other parts absolutely live up to the badge; the stitched leather dash and brushed metal touches, for example, and the elegant velour-like roof lining.

There's also an interesting mix of classic and modern. The oval-shaped trident clock above the 8.4-inch touchscreen is a nice touch and the front seats are fantastic; wonderfully cossetting and comfy and with loads of support.

The chunky steering wheel reinforces you're driving something substantial while there's also no shortage of places to charge portable devices.

All of which adds up to a comfortable – and stylish – way to head to the slopes.

What do you think of the new trend of sportscars embracing the SUV? Share your thoughts in the comments below.