The eternal wisdom of James Brown echoed in my mind as I eased myself into the Levante. In the world of luxury cars, you pay the cost to be the boss. Look at me, a Maserati says; you know what you see. Quite. Designed for the people who want to be a bad mutha while also being a good mother, Maserati’s passenger-friendly foray into the world of SUVs in 2016 set out to square sports car performance with the practicality of a luxury barge; a car to fit all of the original Maserati Brothers (Alfieri, Bindo, Carlo, Ettore and Ernesto, in case you were wondering), while thrilling them at the same time…

Maserati Levante

The Levante certainly looks impressive at first approach – the Maserati grille is an unmistakeable visual cue, and the distinctive Maserati design language has been transplanted to a vehicle which, while sharing a platform with the Ghibli and the Quattroporte, is very much its own car. With such theatre on the outside, the interior is a slight letdown. Sure, the Zegna silk weave of the GranLusso spec cossets your buttocks most attentively, there’s tan leather everywhere, and the branded analogue clock on the dashboard reminds you you’re in a Maserati. But that’s exactly it – I’m in a Maserati, yet the general impression is of safe-bet competence rather than glorious excess. It feels a bit of a missed opportunity to create something you’d want to tell your nonna about. 

Maserati interior

On the road, the Levante S is a graceful rather than savage interpretation of what a luxury Italian SUV should be. It’s an interesting study in contrasts. The Ferrari-developed 3.0 litre twin-turbo 424bhp V6 is a lot of engine. When you put your foot down, you make very brisk progress – just with less visceral thrill than the hungry front grille promises. The engine sounds great when the valves open above 3000rpm; however at that point, you wish you had a bit less plush interior to soak up the sound. I didn’t really use Sport mode much; the Levante clearly isn’t meant to be thrashed, and isn’t engineered like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio to intimidate. So my bout in this car was curious – feeling like I was in a very competent SUV, but constantly looking at the Maserati logo and thinking, “…should it be doing more?”. 

Maserati interior

I can understand Maserati’s challenge from a marketing and production standpoint. Sure, you want to bring the essence of 1914 Bologna – the thrusting, performance focussed car company –  to the world. But you also don’t want your brave foray into sports utility vehicles to become as ubiquitous as Bolognese. Maserati has a storied, at times tragic history. It’s a company frequently suffering from global economic trends, yet making exquisite cars of historical import while constantly facing the challenge of, well, actually selling cars profitably to everyday customers in a rapidly changing market. It’s not an easy gig. But that is what a car company is supposed to do. 

Maserati MC
A Maserati GranTurismo MC. The Italian Aston?

Throughout my drive I felt that there was another car inside this one wanting to leap out and grab me, look into my eyes and say, – come with me if you want to live dangerously. The idiom of an SUV means there’s really no need to drive this Maserati like a Maserati should be driven. To me, a Maserati should be like an Italian Aston Martin – a car full of power and poise to leap across continents in, but also excite the bambini with every naughty roar and crackle of the exhaust. Maseratis should be the bad decisions you love to make. The Levante, however, comfortably gets all the fundamentals right, without too much fuss. I know it’s absurd, but if the Levante is to be a bad decision in grand Maserati tradition, it’s just slightly too good to be bad…