It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was driving the V6 powered Maserati Levante through the Australian countryside. It was uniquely styled, extremely comfortable, went hard, and above all, it made you feel something. A year on from that drive, I’m seeing a lot more of the Italian Luxury SUV’s on the road, demonstrating that the proof really is in the pudding.
This sales achievement hasn’t been through marketing gimmicks or mass advertising, the Levante’s success had been mostly down to good old fashion word of mouth (and maybe even the occasional nudge from a Man of Many article). Whatever way you look at it, the Levante has brought a staggering amount of new customers to the Maserati brand, and it has been the tip of the Trident in Maserati’s financial revival.
Never one for resting on their laurels, Maserati didn’t think it felt right having one of their models without a couple of V8 variants, and I’m certainly not going to argue. The project started when some Maserati engineers took it upon themselves to make a secret V8 Levante skunkworks project a few years ago to push the limits of the overall package. The car showed promise, the engineers revealed the mule to management, and before you could say “otto cilindri”, the Maserati Levante GTS and Trofeo were born.
When I first heard rumours of power increases over 150hp, and sub-four-second 0 – 100 times, I had little doubts about the performance of the new models. But being the generous guy that I am, I thought I better fly to Italy and test out the new Levante GTS and Trofeo on home soil, just in case.
I arrived at Modena’s Piazza Roma early on a warm summer morning. Opposite the imposing Military Academy of Modena was an equally commanding line-up of V8 powered Maserati bravado. The new Levante GTS and Trofeo models sat boldly with bonnets popped and nostrils flared. As an engine was fired up, A few locals peeked out through shutters like some kind of Spaghetti western had just begun. So, like any competent cowboy, I took a moment to stare down the other gunslingers and see what they were packing.
The Maserati Levante GTS was the first Trident I locked eyes with. The updated body features a new front fascia for improved breathing and aerodynamics, while the rear bumper gets some subtle staunch. Everything looks a little lower, more aggressive, and with those quad exhaust tips showing face, a little more intimidating.
The front grille has been chromed to add a little lux to the beast, and the body-coloured door handles, splitter and rear spoiler maintain a cohesive colour landscape. Rounding off the exterior upgrades are black piano inserts and a GTS badge, delicately balancing that fine line between luxury and performance.
But if the GTS is luxurious, then the Trofeo is just sheer decadence. High-gloss carbon fibre scatters the exterior whenever it can. The lower splitter, side bezels, skirts, rear extractor, and engine cover all receive the lightweight weave treatment, and it wears it well. Even the cylinder heads and intake manifolds have been painted red, proving that someone still cares about details under the hood.
A special “Saetta” Trofeo logo sits proudly on the c-pillar like a piece of bespoke jewellery contrasting politely with the unflinching 22” forged aluminium wheels. As the name suggests, the Trofeo is a very tailored package, and will likely end up in the hands of a very tailored owner.
Step inside the cabin of the V8 siblings and you’ll find a banquet of fine materials. The sports seats on the GTS have been upholstered in soft leather and can be selected in black, red, tan or beige. The Trofeo features premium full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather (optional on the GTS) with contrast stitching and the “Trofeo” logo sits on the headrests like a threaded crown.
The Maserati Touch Control Plus system (which is Apple Carplay and Android Auto compatible) delivers its entertainment via a 900W, 14 speaker Harmon Kardon system on the GTS, and a 1,280W, 17 speaker Bowers & Wilkins system on the Trofeo. As you can start to sense, the difference between the two models isn’t worlds apart, rather a subtle one-upmanship in the details department.
Apparently, these details weren’t going unnoticed, and as the locals started to multiply, Maserati punched in some coordinates on my navigation and said: “See you there!”.
“There” happened to be Aeroporto di Modena, and it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t there for air-bound activities. One of Maserati’s Master driving instructors jumped in the passenger seat and navigated my GTS to the end of the runway. From what I understood of our broken conversation, he wanted me to blast the 543hp beast down the runway and pull up before we ran out of tarmac.
Based on his chuckle off the line, I’d say I got the translation right. 0–100 km/h vanished in 4.2 seconds and the torque monster (730Nm) would have kept pulling all the way to 292 km/h if it wasn’t for short-ish runway and an increasingly short driving instructor.
“Now let us try the Trofeo”, he said with an evil grin. As we swapped Levante’s and headed back to the runway, I was informed that the engine in the Trofeo is the second most powerful Maserati ever produced, only falling short of the V12 powered MC12 Supercar. It was then I realised that launch control was less of a gimmick and more of a necessity on the 590hp SUV. Corsa Mode? Si. Full Brake? Si. Double shift down? Si.
With my foot flat to the floor, the V8 started to swell like an ocean storm, and once I released the brake pedal, the Trofeo accelerated with the force of a tidal wave. The ZF speed gearbox was working overtime to propel the car from 0-100 in 3.9 seconds and it was more than happy to keep pulling. Just like the GTS, the short runway prevented me from kissing the top speed (304 km/h), but the Ferrari co-developed engine was worth opening up for the engine roar alone.
With some local Modenese food in my belly, I was given the afternoon off to drive the Levante GTS through the Italian countryside. The air-sprung suspension had been tuned effectively well to cope with the extra 60kg over the V6 model, squatting a tad firmer on entry and feeling a whisker more planted through the corners.
Weight distribution is still 50:50 and the V8 hides its marginal weight increase with ease, while the Q4 all-wheel-drive system continues to deliver a rewarding rear-wheel bias distribution to its limited-slip differential. The brakes have been beefed up to handle the extra power and weight, doing a great job at gripping those 380mm drilled rotors, with minimal fade over an hour of spirited driving through the hills outside of Maranello.
When some manufacturers drop a big engine in a car, it’s a case of the suit wearing the man rather than the other way around. Not with the GTS. As a luxury item with raw character, the new Maserati GTS is in a class of its own. Beautifully crafted. Distinctively Styled. Ferociously Powered. As the Trofeo will wear a fair price increase over the GTS (approximately 25%), it won’t make sense from a spec sheet proposition. But if you’re chasing something rare and a little more bespoke, it only has to make sense to you.
As I hand over the keys at the famous Opera 02 vineyard, processing my V8 Maserati withdrawals, I know that life post-Modena will never quite be the same.
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