As we navigated the hairpin curves en route to the peak of Gunung Raya in Langkawi, a blanket of mist suddenly settled on our path, giving a foretaste of the chill ahead. This, as many horror-movie screenwriters will attest, was the perfect moment to write in the sighting of a silhouette that billows and moves with unnerving quiet. In our case, it was a crew of five. As stiff wind herded the clouds across the foreboding sky and eased our visibility, what finally came to view was a family of dusky leaf monkeys scurrying away. We patted the dashboard of our Maserati with relief — grateful for the car’s responsiveness that made us stop in time — as the engine roared back to life.
The experience of manoeuvring the twisting climbs or slippery slopes of a mountain could zip by like a blur, since the utmost focus is not to careen off the track. But the Levante S flips that idea on its head, as its weighted steering instils confidence in one to steal glimpses of the passing scenery in a way not possible when you are focused on the road. The front suspension with adjustable Air Springs cushions bumps and tweaks the car’s ride height based on your speed, making the ride less flighty. Catered for the chronically risk-averse, this SUV descended from a storied Italian lineage affords you the luxury to sit back in uncompromised pampering. And when was the last time you did just that?
Langkawi roads are digressive in character: Some rarely point to a specific location; some branch out like veins. Having said that, the Levante S steers effortlessly around narrow lanes and less-polite traffic despite the fuss (kapchais wandering nonchalantly into adjoining lanes) and furore (disgruntled motorists who make way or attempt to overtake you. Hah, nice try.). Give the Maserati a straight path, however, and it will propel itself with as much vim and vigour as you dare deploy, without feeling that the twin-turbo V6 engine is working particularly hard for its speed. The pedals are well placed for snappy shifting; the grippy fabric seats hold you squarely in place — albeit a little too snugly like a baseball glove — even when a blind curve presents itself.
These are just some of the features that bolster the reputation of the Levante, named after a warm, easterly wind that blows in the western Mediterranean Sea down to the Strait of Gibraltar. As its Latin etymology, which means “to rise” indicates, this first-ever SUV of the Trident family unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March 2016 harnesses the ability to change from benign calm to gale force in a split second. Graceful lines are balanced with a muscular form that does not punish the ride quality too badly, giving you ample thrill when it hits its stride at triple-digit speeds. The Italian world for adventure is avventura. But really, it may as well be Levante.
But first, let’s bring everyone up to speed. When Maserati charged into the red-hot SUV race, it did not try to hide its ambitions at all — the Modena-based marque was out to get its German contemporaries with Italian swagger and sensibilities. Its weapon of choice? The trident, of course, touted by a luxury-dripping Levante built more for ego-crushing than family-hauling. In the restyled Levante S, we piloted across the island — from the gravelly path heading to Tanjung Rhu to the battered roads along Perdana Quay Light House. The SUV’s suave coupé lines and unmistakable grille, which pays homage to historic Maserati cars like the Tipo 60 Birdcage, could be recognised even from a mile away.
In this refreshed iteration, the automaker has cast the spotlight on the rear light, which flaunts a sinuously boomerang shape first introduced in the late 1990s by Giugiaro with the 3200 GT. The design is emphasised by a new light cluster, produced with state-of-the-art 3K injection moulding technology that gives it a three-colour lens: black around the edge, red in the middle and clear in the bottom part. In the front, an updated grille, available in chrome for the GranLusso trim and Black Piano for the GranSport, sets an imposing tone with tuning fork design.
In Maserati lingo, its two trims — GranLusso and GranSport — suggest not just identity but the personality of the car. Should you choose the former for your Levante S, you will find a series of elegant chrome inserts in the front fascia, body colour rear spoiler and the signature GranLusso on the fenders, all propped on 21in Anteo wheels. The more aggressive GranSport on the other hand is defined by two aerodynamic wings that provide stability, with a muscular rear and lower extractor embracing the four exhaust tips. The trim is also discernible by the GranSport badges on the front fenders, red brake callipers and the definitive 21in wheels in either Helios or Anteo.
You could drive the Levante S sedately, or even unostentatiously, except it may feel as if you had turned up at a lavish festa without checking the dress code. Befitting the nameplate that serves as an avatar of Italian aesthetics to the world, Maserati dandifies the interior with Ermenegildo Zegna leather fitting (only if you choose the GranLusso), which further accentuates a new 8.4in central display and instrument cluster. Gunning for a contemporary look, the central screen with improved resolutions, graphics and visual effect is now frameless, with almost all the surrounding bezels removed. Eagle-eyed petrolheads will notice the subtle but sophisticated change to the instrument cluster, which now includes a large rev counter and speedometer on either side of a 7in TFT display.
Maserati has also added the Active Driving Assist — an evolution of its Highway Assist intended for use on any well-maintained road at speeds up to 145kmph — to the Levante’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which we, alas, had little opportunity to experience since our drive was limited to just the island. Even so, it is evident that Maserati refuses to put a price tag on passenger safety as its Adaptive Cruise Control, when activated, reduces driver fatigue and keeps the car centred in its lane. Just pay heed to the steering, which takes more physical input than expected to turn at tighter bends.
A flawless champ, this is not. But the Levante S suggests an intuitive driving experience of certain gentility, beckoning one to partake in its joie de vivre even if you are the kind who approaches cars with clinical caution. It is also a sprightly machinery that has a curious effect of slowing traffic around it — people idling by will not be able resist a double take, or a peep into their bank account. After all, this is an SUV in a “coupé” body that goes around with a racing pedigree. What a time to be alive.
The Maserati Levante S is available in Blu Passione, Blu Emozione and Grigio Maratea at RM808,800 inclusive of full specifications and options. See here for more details.
This article first appeared on Mar 28, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.