This is the maddest, baddest and fastest Maserati Levante SUV a (not inconsiderable) sum of money can buy.
With the thirst for high-end, high-performance off-roaders showing no sign of being slaked, it was only a matter of time before Maserati, already late to the SUV party, jumped on the bandwagon with a rival to the likes of the Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo and Range Rover Sport SVR.
In what promises to be one of the quickest four-by-fours around when it lobs early next year, the Levante Trofeo gets a Ferrari-built 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 with some Maserati extras – new camshafts and valves, redesigned cylinder heads, pistons and rods, a tweaked ECU and a pair of twin-scroll turbochargers. It’s the same engine as in the Levante GTS, and it produces a healthy 441kW and 730Nm.
To cope with the extra power, the chassis gets a new ‘Aero 2’ mode for the air suspension that lowers the ride height 35mm.
There’s also a new Corsa driving mode that stiffens the springs and dampers, as well as loosening the ESP’s grip a little, sharpening the throttle and putting the eight-speed automatic gearbox on high alert.
As with the GTS, the Q4 four-wheel drive essentially runs in rear-wheel drive most of the time, only sending torque forward when it senses slip. Maximum torque split front to rear is 50/50.
Adding to the Trofeo’s credentials as a ‘proper driver’s car’ is a mechanical limited-slip differential for the rear axle.
Our test car also came with vast 22-inch forged alloy wheels wrapped in specially developed Continental rubber, 265s at the front and steamroller 295s at the rear.
Externally, the Trofeo is marked out by those huge wheels and some bonnet vents, plus a smattering of carbonfibre aerodynamic additions, while inside you’ll find a pair of high-backed sports seats and yet more carbonfibre, this time finished in a tasteful naked weave. The soft leather on the seats and dashboard is first-rate, so it’s a shame some of the plastics and switchgear aren’t quite up to the $297K price tag.
Peak torque comes in at just 2500rpm, but there’s a decent chunk below that, so the Trofeo feels easily as fast as a Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo. It’s the sort of effortless, lag-free urge you expect from turbocharged engines these days, but while the torque curve is flat, the V8’s performance still builds excitingly, crescendoing with a snarling rush of revs over the last 1000rpm or so.
Push really hard and it gets a touch floaty over big bumps and rolls onto its outside rear, but generally it simply digs in and goes. Arguably the weakest link is the steering, which feels more natural in Comfort. That’s when the Levante becomes a composed and comfortable cruiser, those air springs adding just the right amount of waft to proceedings.
2019 MASERATI LEVANTE TROFEO SPECS
Engine: 3799cc V8, DOHC, 32v, twin-turbo
Power: 441kW @ 6250rpm
Torque: 730Nm @ 2500-5000rpm
0-100km/h: 3.9sec (claimed)
Price: $297,000 + ORC
Like: Ferrari V8 performance and sound; quality leather; air-spring suspension
Dislike: Cheap plastics and switchgear; artificial-feeling steering; dated infotainment
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars