PONTIAC, Michigan — Forget any notions of Maserati as a sort of Italian Aston Martin. The new 2019 Maserati Levante GTS is aimed squarely at the Cayenne Turbo and the marque is going after Porsche in terms of performance and in volume.
The Levante GTS comes with the $170,000 Levante Trofeo’s Ferrari-built twin-turbo 3.8-liter V-8, in this case tuned to 550 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 538 pound-feet at 2,500-5,000 rpm. Though the GTS’s mill is 40 horsepower shy of the Trofeo’s, its manufacturer’s estimated 0-60 mph time of 4.0-seconds flat is just 0.3-seconds slower and its top speed of 181 mph is only about 6 mph lower than the figures Maserati stated for the Trofeo when it premiered in March at the 2018 New York auto show.
In addition to an 8.6 pounds-per-horsepower weight/power ratio, the GTS comes with a performance-tuned chassis and Q4 Intelligent All-Wheel-Drive with a limited-slip rear differential. For the 2019 model year, all Maserati Levantes also get a “sport-oriented” facelift centering on the lower front fascia and rear bumper, a new gearshift lever design with shorter travel and better functionality, available full-matrix LED headlights and available full-grain “Pieno-Fiore” natural leather interiors.
The Levante GTS comes with a full premium leather upholstery, sports pedals and Harman Kardon Audio 14-speaker hi-fi system with a subwoofer.
“Most people think every Maserati starts at $120,000,” Fiat Chrysler’s Maserati-Alfa Romeo chief, Tim Kuniskis, said in an interview at an embargoed preview of the Levante GTS here late last month. “They don’t realize Levante starts at $75 (thousand). You’ve got a $75,000 Levante, you’ve got an $85,000 S and then you’ve got this massive gap up to $170 (thousand, for the Maserati Levante Trofeo). You guys probably looked at that and said, ‘he’s got something else coming in the middle.’ … So this car is at $120, which is dead on where the Cayenne Turbo is— Cayenne Turbo is $125,000. So now I think we have a good walk, $75, 85, to the $120 GTS, up to the ($170,000 Levante Trofeo).”
So what’s it like out there?
Our first drive was limited to three laps of the tight, light sports car-friendly M1 Concours, in a lead-follow formation, on a very rainy Wednesday. The lead-follow leader suggested we leave the GTS’s dynamic control system in “comfort” and we’re happy we did. The Levante was soft and compliant enough around the mostly third-gear 1.5-mile circuit to avoid the big-wheel muscle car feel of such competitors like the aforementioned Cayenne Turbo that over-compensate for high centers of gravity with extra-wide rubber and teeth-chattering damping despite riding on optional 21-inch wheels and tires; 20s are standard, and there’s also a new forged 22-inch wheel option.
The laps went by quickly and uneventfully, with moderate yaw but no notable understeer. You will feel its heft at turn-in. The eight-speed ZF automatic was in sport mode, though after the first hot lap we learned to paddle down from third into second gear ourselves. The twin-turbo V-8 pulls strongly on this racecourse, though we’ll need a longer drive to say much more. There was no sliding or oversteer, even on the slick track, and everything was held in check with predictable, nicely weighted steering. In this setting, there was no indication that the front wheels were working to do anything but steer. This clearly is a rear-wheel-drive-biased SUV.
Before the laps in the Maserati Levante GTS, we tried an Alfa Romeo Stelvio for practice. In the Stelvio’s sport mode, and in a similar lead-follow running about the same speeds, the Alfa was far looser than the Maserati, proving willing to slide its rear tires out in a very catchable manner especially n the tight right-left at the beginning of the circuit.
This is important, not just as a contrast between the two SUVs, but also because it hints at how Maserati’s upcoming Porsche Macan-fighter might ride, as it will ride on the same Giorgio platform that underpins the Stelvio. Maserati announced the new, smaller SUV at Fiat Chrysler’s latest Five Year Plan on June 1, with no timeline other than it will premier by the 2022 model year.
“That’s a really interesting question, that I won’t answer, but it’s an interesting question,” Kuniskis said, answering a question about the platform during an interview at the Alfa-Maserati program. “But if you had a platform that had the proven ability to beat the main competitor as a starting point, maybe, and then you could add another USP (unique selling proposition) that couldn’t be copied by anybody, being it uses Ferrari powertrains, now I’ve got a good go-to-market strategy, right?”
2019 Maserati Levante GTS Specifications
|ENGINE||3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/550 hp @ 6,250 rpm, 538 lb-ft @ 2,500-5,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||12/18 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||197.6 x 77.4 x 66.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|TOP SPEED||181 mph|