Newly appointed Maserati-Alfa global boss Tim Kuniskis’ marching orders for the trident brand are basically to produce an Italianate answer to every Porsche except the 718s. Our mouths are watering for the 911-fighting aluminum space-frame Alfieri and an as yet unnamed Macan-fighter, but for now, the brand is rounding out its roster of Cayenne-killers. Maserati cedes low ground to the $61,660 base Cayenne, opening with a Cayenne S–matching Levante bid of $77,475 and topping out at the Levante Trofeo’s very Turbo S–like $171,475. The gaping hole between the Levante S’ $88,475 and that Trofeo is now filled by the Cayenne Turbo–aligned $121,475 Levante GTS.
As with the Cayenne Turbo, motivation comes from a 550-hp twin-turbocharged V-8 engine, though at 538 lb-ft, Maserati’s Ferrari-built 3.8-liter trails Zuffenhausen’s spanking-new 4.0-liter by 29 lb-ft. This engine becomes the “base” V-8 offering in the Levante, with the top-dog Trofeo rated at 590 hp and equivalent peak torque. (Porsche has yet to announce Turbo S figures, but the current one makes 570 hp and 590 lb-ft.)
The Levante V-8s represent a significant engineering revision of the 523-hp variant of this engine in the Quattroporte. New hardware includes twin-scroll turbos, camshafts, pistons, connecting rods, and even the crankshaft. The crankcase had to be redesigned to allow a halfshaft to pass through it in this first all-wheel-drive application of the V-8. Fun fact: The V-8’s cams are driven off the rear of the crankshaft to prevent crank-twist from altering the cam timing.
Maserati claims the Levante GTS will hit 60 mph in 4.0 seconds en route to a 181-mph top speed, while Porsche says its new Cayenne Turbo will hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and top out at 177 mph. The Maserati team is unconcerned about these numbers deficits, because its vehicles are not expected to win drag races and set ’Ring-lap records. (SRT and Alfa have drawn those FCA straws.) Rather, they are designed to make owners feel special and transport them in a grander style.
Toward that end, buyers can customize the Levante by selecting among myriad options packages and millions of possible color combinations of the exterior, brake calipers, and interior upholstery, steering wheel, dash trim, headlining, carpet, and stitching. A $5,000 murdered-out Nerissimo (super black) package, and a $3,000 fully adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-centering, and traffic-sign recognition are added for 2019. Inside, many of the options available on the V-6 Levante are standard on the GTS, like full premium leather, aluminum pedals, illuminated door sills, and a 900-watt, 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system. Similarly, many standard Trofeo features are optional on GTS, like full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather, four-zone climate control, and carbon-fiber shift paddles. Outside, the GTS can be distinguished by its more aggressive lower front fascia, blacked-out grille bars, and body-color rear spoiler, door handles, and lower molding (the Trofeo adds loads of carbon fiber, which can be ordered on a GTS).
Chassis reinforcements to manage the V-8’s added performance start with custom tuning of the Integrated Vehicle Control software that calls the shots with the standard adaptive air springs and Skyhook adaptive shocks, the variable torque-distributing transfer case (100 percent goes to the rear until a wheel slips), and the antilock brakes that also provide virtual torque vectoring across the mechanical rear limited-slip differential. The brakes carry over from the Levante S—six-piston monobloc front and sliding-piston rear Brembo calipers chomping vented and drilled discs measuring 15 inches in front and 13 inches in the back. Wheel and tire choices start with 20s and include 21- or 22-inch wheels. Among the V-8s, only Trofeo models get a Corsa driving mode button, but only GTS models are rated to tow a trailer (5,900 pounds max).
Maserati unveiled the Levante GTS at Champion Motor Speedway located inside suburban Detroit’s M1 Concourse car’ntry club. It rained all day, but this isn’t a numbers car anyway, remember? How special did it make me feel, while chasing a Ghibli around this 1.5-mile course? My ears were my happiest sensory receptors. Ferrari V-8s sound exciting in a shrieking, bodice-ripping violent sort of way. Offset every other crank throw in that same basic engine for Maserati duty, however, and you end up with an equally stirring but more mellifluous song—still sung in the tenor range to exultant effect, accentuated by the transmission’s eagerness to grab lower gears with matched-rev shifts. Less of the joy sneaks past the turbos in Porsche’s 4.0-liter V-8, leaving it sounding more like a numbers engine.
Apart from the engine note, I’d wager that anyone riding shotgun on this track wearing eyeshades and earplugs in both a Levante GTS and a Cayenne Turbo would have trouble differentiating the two based on performance feel. Skyhook maintains a remarkably even keel during hard cornering and braking; this glorious powertrain made quick work of sending torque to the front axle in these conditions, clawing out of corners in whatever direction the wheel was pointed, and the IVC performed confidently during a momentary hydroplaning incident. Beyond that, there’s not much we’re prepared to commit to based on this sodden drive. We promise to pit a GTS against a Cayenne Turbo somewhere dry in the very near future to assess their respective proclivity to perform and pamper.
|2019 Maserati Levante GTS|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.8L/550-hp/538-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,800 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||197.6 x 77.4 x 66.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||12/18/14 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||281/187 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.37 lb/mile|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Fall 2018|