Wheel Life

By Steve Siler –

Improved Access

For 2018, Maserati’s freshened, entry-level sport sedan is joined by Maserati’s first-ever SUV.

For more than a century, luxury carmakers got on well enough selling their goods to the well-heeled, slicing their respective sausages in one, two, and sometimes three sizes, and maybe tossing in a sexy sports car model to add some shimmer to its shine. Then this millennium happened, and the aristocracy developed a thirst for SUVs, too, sending every luxury automaker from Lexus to Lamborghini scrambling to quench it. Among the latest entrées comes from Maserati, the 104-year-old Italian performance car brand positioned between Alfa Romeo and Ferrari within Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ global brand hierarchy. Maserati’s curvy new Levante SUV was crafted from the proverbial rib of its mid-sized Ghibli sedan and shares much of the Ghibli’s mechanical bits, while both models are offered in new GranLusso and GranSport trim levels. Similar but not the same, the freshened-for-2018 Ghibli and Levante both make Maserati’s performance and luxury attainable starting around $75K, thus opening two proverbial doors to the Maserati brand.

 

2018 MASERATI LEVANTE
(BASE PRICE RANGE: $75,300—$92,000)
The Levante is to Maserati what the Cayenne was to Porsche back in 2003: a first-time effort to reproduce a storied brand’s sporting mojo in mid-size SUV form. But unlike Porsche’s awkward-looking first-generation Cayenne, which proved that the Porsche 911’s iconic styling elements might not, in fact, work so well in tall SUV proportions, the Levante SUV looks damn fine in Maserati’s Italian couture.

Indeed, while the Levante’s furrowed brow, hexagonal grille, curvalicious contours, and distinct side window shapes were curated over many years on lowslung Maserati sedans, they look equally natural on its taller body. Like every Maserati, the Levante has a disproportionately large lower body compared to its upper body, contributing to its decidedly athletic look that’s made even sportier with the GranSport’s red brake calipers, rear spoiler, black wheels and darkened trim. Lest anyone liken it to your neighbor’s Grand Cherokee, the Levante’s exquisite door handles, exhaust pipes, fender portholes and glistening Trident logos assert its eminence. Details matter, especially in chrome.

Like the Cayenne, the Levante takes performance seriously, though it doesn’t cohere as masterfully as with the Porsche. The standard 345-horsepower turbocharged V-6 is plenty powerful, and the Levante S’s Ferrari-built (!) V-6 corrals 424 ponies under the Levante’s long hood, yet even the S occasionally exhibits annoying turbo lag. It brakes with authority and steers with acuity, and the air suspension’s firmest setting lets it corner confidently up to about 9/10 of its limits. Beyond that, it becomes a nose-heavy handful.

Certainly, few Levantes will be driven that hard by their owners, and around town, the Levante does everything a lux-u-vee ought to sans complaint, making delightful sounds all the while. Still, if you’re a true Maseratisto, you might expect that plus Porsche-baiting performance, especially from a Levante S GranSport with every performance option—and a $104K sticker.

At least the clean, businesslike cabin brought the spoils, including buttery black leather, red stitching, terrific GranSport-exclusive sport seats, sparklingly clear Bowers & Wilkins speakers and more, without resorting to frippery. The GranLusso has an even higher luxe quotient, trading the racier look for warmer décor, especially with its available Ermenegildo —Zegna silk upholstery. Like the Ghibli, however, every Levante uses Chryslersourced switches, stalks, and buttons—which is like finding Velveeta in your
billionaire friend’s kitchen. The cheap stuff is more discreetly integrated in the Levante than the Ghibli—the Velveeta’s still there, only it’s stashed in the refrigerator versus left on the counter—and hence, takes little away from its uniquely Italian-feeling driving experience.

 

2018 MASERATI GHIBLI
(BASE PRICE RANGE: $74,300—$88,000)
With its four doors, trunk and ground-hugging suspension, the Ghibli may technically be a sedan, but ever since the junior Maserati first appeared in 2014 looking for all the pasta in Italy like a Quattroporte left in the dryer too long, I’ve proffered that the Ghibli is effectively a coupe. Its evocative and curvaceous body, with its frameless windows and low roof, are all in line with sporty, high-end coupe design. And its back seat is rather snug by sedan standards, but it’s darn generous among coupes. A new-for-2018 grille design doesn’t make it look any more coupe-like, but it does add some sex appeal, a coupe specialty if ever there was one. Looking back a few years, the last time Maserati offered a Ghibli was 1973, and it was—you guessed it— a coupe.

As a Maserati, the Ghibli must perform well, and indeed, performance is the Ghibli’s best quality. The Ghibli’s turbocharged V-6 engines produce 350 and 430 horsepower in base and “S” models, respectively, a few ponies greater than in commensurate Levantes. Being both lower and lighter, the Ghibli puts on a more satisfying hustle whilst making the same great sounds, even in non-S form, as was my test car.

Also like the Levante, the Ghibli is offered in base form, or one can upgrade to the more decadent GranLusso or zestier GranSport models. All feature Maserati’s excellent new touchscreen infotainment system with dual knurled concentric control dials. My GranLusso tester featured open-pore wood and acres of dizzyingly aromatic leather. Unfortunately, the 2018 updates didn’t effectively remedy the Ghibli’s most glaring and longstanding source of criticism: inconsistent material quality, with some pieces epitomizing Italian craftsmanship and other bits unworthy of a Fisher Price toy.

Even worse, some of the most egregious cheapness is found in very conspicuous places—the awful defroster vents in the front corner of the driver and passenger side windows come to mind—and it’s the sort of stuff that borders on appalling in the higher trim levels. Whether or not that is tolerable may hinge upon on how emotional one gets about sexy styling, performance, and character, all of which the Ghibli—and every Maserati I’ve ever driven—delivers in spades.

To test drive one of the models reviewed here, visit Rick Case Maserati • Alfa
Romeo, 3500 Weston Rd., Davie, 855.286.9728; visit rickcasemaserati.com.

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