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Review: 2019 Maserati Levante GTS is an SUV packed with a Ferrari V-8 engine that delivers on speed

Key Points
  • Maserati's first SUV offers a Ferrari-sourced V-8 with 550 horsepower.
  • With a 181-mph top speed and fantastic handling, it lives up to the Maserati name.
  • As we have come to expect from Maserati, the interior isn't up to the standards of the class. It isn't bad, but buyers who want to maximize luxury should look elsewhere.
2019 Masarati Levante GTS
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The ongoing shift to SUVs from sedans and coupes has presented a problem for storied sports car manufacturers like Maserati. SUVs, while practical, tend to handle and perform worse than their sedans. To survive in today's finicky market, a crossover is almost a necessary offering.

Maserati solved their issue in a unique way: stick a roaring Ferrari V-8 engine under the hood, spend a lot of time on the suspension and hope customers won't fault you for building a crossover. While it doesn't have the best interior, the Levante GTS lives up to the driving experience that a Maserati badge promises.

The Good

The main thing that separates the GTS from lesser Levantes is the Ferrari-sourced, 550-horsepower V-8 under the hood. For even more money, you can get the Levante Trofeo, which offers a 590-horsepower tune of the same engine, but the $136,790 tester we had didn't feel like it needed more power.

Aside from the fire-breathing and sonorous motor, the GTS also packs adaptive suspension that can make the ride softer or more dynamic on a moment's notice. Couple that with some of the best steering of any SUV on sale today and it's easy to find yourself taking the long way home.

Stomp on the gas and the Levante sprints its way to 60 in four seconds, but isn't nearly out of steam. Given enough space, the GTS can do a staggering 181 mph. It's effortlessly stable at absurd speeds and feels built for high-speed cruising.

2019 Masarati Levante GTS
Mack Hogan | CNBC

But while other fantastic-driving SUVs like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio sacrifice road manners for a fun experience, the Levante is perfectly comfortable for city cruising. It handles rough streets well, never harshly, with a surprisingly quiet cabin given the ferocity of the motor.

As for a value proposition, the Levante GTS fares quite well. It — along with its sedan sibling, the Maserati Quattroporte GTS — is the cheapest way to get s Ferrari engine in a new car. You'll have to spend over $200,000 to get a Ferrari Portofino, a fair bit more than the $119,980 entrance point of the Levante GTS.

It also fares well against its main rival, the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. It offers more power and standard equipment than the Porsche while costing about $5,000 less.

The Bad

Sitting in a Levante, it isn't hard to see how they saved that money. The interior is nice enough, but there are cars costing half as much that wow you more.

Part of the problem is the eerie familiarity of some pieces of the cabin, plucked from far cheaper Fiat Chrysler products. The important bits are all bespoke, but I can't shake the feeling that the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio offered a more special interior. For $136,790, our tester should have felt more premium.

2019 Masarati Levante GTS
Mack Hogan | CNBC

The value argument is also weakened by fuel economy that we could only describe as "brutal." The Levante is rated for 14 miles per gallon in the city and 18 mpg on the highway, but spirited driving brought our average to about 13 mpg. It's what you expect from a Ferrari-powered SUV, but we think it's worth noting.

Finally, we wish it were a bit louder. That may sound antithetical to a luxury SUV, but the Levante GTS doesn't have the set-your-ears-on-fire exhaust note you might expect from a Ferrari engine. Even the V-6 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio was more rowdy. Trofeo models get a different exhaust setup, but you shouldn't have to go that far to get a great-sounding SUV.

How We'd Option It

The $119,980 standard-issue Levante comes reasonably well equipped. We'd suggest the $1,590 driver assistance package to get Maserati's semi-autonomous driver assistance system, plus the thumping Bowers & Wilkins stereo for $1,990.

2019 Masarati Levante GTS
Mack Hogan | CNBC

As with most high-end brands, Maserati offers a lot of paint, wheel and upholstery options to suit your personal taste. Customization notwithstanding, a Levante GTS with these options will cost $123,560. That's a hefty pile of cash, but still less than a Cayenne Turbo with no options.

Final Thoughts

If your main goal is to get the most luxurious SUV around, the Maserati isn't the SUV for you. Despite their premium roots, Maserati products have never excelled in that category.

Instead, the Levante GTS is fit for the buyer who isn't willing to sacrifice fun or excitement to get the practicality they need for life. It's not just one of the best-driving SUVs on the planet, it's better than a lot of sports sedans.

Rating:

Exterior: 3

Interior: 2.5

Driving Experience: 5

Value: 5

Price as tested: $136,790

2019 Masarati Levante GTS
Mack Hogan | CNBC