2019 Maserati Levante growls Italian but luxury SUV misfires

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A friend has commented for years that older Mercedes-Benz station wagons are contradictory automobiles. The stately sedans offered as utilitarian family vacation haulers? It isn’t right.

Some enthusiasts in more recent times have echoed similar thoughts about Bentley, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari (pending) offering sport utility vehicles. Why compromise the wondrous ways of cruising down the highway in a sedan of refined performance and overt plushness?

The 2019 Maserati Levante SUV showcases its Italian legacy but also falls short with its plastic components.

Like other top-line automakers, Mercedes-Benz never uses the word “station” in describing its wagons. But Maserati, a niche seller, has no issue calling the third-year Levante an SUV. The acronym translates into sales.

The ever-present family haulers come in econoboxes. And they’re offered as half-million-dollar creations with hand-selected wood trims and headliners adorned with filament lighting shaped like constellations. For better or worse, SUVs rule the marketplace.

Maserati joined the trend three model years ago when the Levante was unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show in March 2016. For 2019, the SUV is offered in additional trims and with updated infotainment and steering systems. Among four variants, a V8 engine is now also available with as much as 590 horsepower.

The standard Levante is plenty to handle. It’s equipped with a 3.0-liter V6 with 424 horsepower in the turbo-charged S Gransport trim. Like its stablemates, it’s propelled with an eight-speed automatic transmission and has all-wheel drive. Handling is superior, with cornering, maneuvering in traffic and braking all showcasing Maserati’s grand persona. Gas mileage is 15 miles per gallon in city driving, 21 miles per gallon on the freeway.

The Levante powers down the road with Maserati’s legendary growl. It’s handsome, with the SUV design more a high-standing, contoured wagon, rather than a traditionally styled SUV. The distinctive Maserati script and trident logo are as attractive as any manufacturer’s signature.

Acceleration is quick enough but there’s a sustained lag. It adds to a few other oddities that don’t match the carmaker’s long pedigree of panache and power. The upgraded interior features high-quality leather upholstery and a heated leather steering wheel, but there’s also a good supply of plastic. Switches and knobs aren’t well-designed and don’t exactly define luxury.

The Levante is named after the strong easterly winds of the western Mediterranean Sea and the southern coasts of France and Spain. Maserati embellished the definition in its marketing of the vehicle with the slogan: “Levante is a wind that blows across the Mediterranean, transforming from benign calm to gale force in an instant.”

It’s great imagery, but it doesn’t define Maserati’s youngest iteration. The expanded definition of Levante details the wind is often accompanied by local low clouds, fog, haze and sometimes light rain.

Maserati and other manufacturers place the push-button starter left and low under the steering wheel. It’s tradition, but inconvenient. The turn signal indicator rests behind the large left shifter paddle and is hard to reach. Discounting the ever-increasing hordes of drivers who never use turn indicators, what equipment is used most often, a turn signal or a paddle shifter? Which one should more readily available?

The Levante is at its best with what should be expected for a vehicle with a base price of just under $92,000. Adaptive Bi-Xenon headlamps and highway assist are included, but the soft door closing feature is $590. The Bowers & Wilkins sound system has few industry equals, and it should be superior for $1,990. The leather adornments cost $2,990. The 21-inch wheels add $2,200. The exterior Mica paint is another $925, the yellow brake calipers run $300.

The new Levante, as tested, is yours for $104,835. For the money, Maserati should leave the growl and take the plastic.

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