FIRST DRIVE | Piloting the exclusive Maserati Levante Trofeo SUV on Jozi's open highways


• New Levante Trofeo launched in SA

• Most powerful in any Maserati, ever

• Levante Maserati's best-selling model

It has been said that "sport utility vehicle" is a misnomer of note because these large, heavy and luxurious vehicles, which often lack sufficient ground clearance, are usually neither sporty, nor particularly utilitarian.

On the sporty side, there are a few notable exceptions - models such as the Porsche Cayenne and the Lamborghini Urus. And now there is a new kid on the block - the Maserati Levante Trofeo.

The Trofeo is the souped-up version of the regular Levante, Maserati's best-selling model in South Africa.

In Trofeo guise, the Levante gains the most powerful engine in a Maserati yet; a 3.8-litre Twin Turbo V8 motor that delivers 439kW of peak power at 6250rpm and 730Nm of peak torque between 2500 and 5000rpm, endowing the Levante with a 0-100km/h acceleration of 3.9 seconds!

Against reckoned contenders, how would you rate the Levante Trofeo's performance? Email us.

Maserati Levante Trofeo

2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo. Image: Maserati Media

Tuned for performance

But all that power means little if you don't have a chassis to match, and driving it I found the Trofeo's handling to be more than a match for its performance. I wasn't able to put it through its paces on a track, but even on public roads, it was easy to forget that I was driving a full-size SUV and not a much smaller sports car. The Trofeo's chassis is tuned for performance, but it strikes the perfect balance between that and everyday driving.

With adjustable suspension, you can adapt the undercarriage to suit the road surface. If you're driving on some mild gravel, increase the ground clearance, "normal height" for when you hit the highway, or a ground-hugging height for when you drive it in anger, compliments of its new Corsa driving mode. In Corsa mode, the Trofeo also gets launch control for when you want to mix it up with the track-day crowd.

READ | Maserati SA shares news on its all-new MC20 super sports car, 2020 plans

After switching it to Corsa mode, which is exclusive to the Trofeo, and flooring the pedal from standstill, the Levante took off like the proverbial scalded cat. Traction control, while restrained in this mode, is still noticeable as it countered the engine's threat to overcome the wide tyres' grip. Corsa mode provides faster gear shifting, lower air suspension height levels, sportier damping and optimised all-wheel-drive settings. 

Maserati Levante Trofeo

2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo. Image: Maserati Media

Lap of luxury

The driving experience came as a surprise, in the sense that the Trofeo adapted seamlessly to what was asked of it. Taking it slow through Joburg's midday traffic (reduced as it may be due to the lockdown), the Levante felt like a luxury car: docile, compliant and cushioning, with the trademark Maserati snarl barely audible inside the insulated cockpit.

It was only when I shifted down with the steering-mounted shift paddles and pressed the accelerator with intent, that I could hear the V8 flexing its considerable muscle, forcing me to keep a keen eye on the speedometer to stay on the sane side of the speed limit. 

However, when I briefly ventured into the naughtier side, the Trofeo remained stable and composed. And seated in the lap of luxury, you barely realise that you're on the wrong side of the speed limit. 

Maserati Levante Trofeo

2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo. Image: Maserati Media

Impressive cabin

The cabin features sculpted sport seats clad in full-grain Pieno Fiore leather, a 1 280W 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system and an 8.4-inch capacitive touch screen that operates like a tablet that recognises drag, scroll, swipe and rotate gestures. The system includes digital radio, Bluetooth and satellite navigation, and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Before driving it, I didn't know what to expect from what is essentially the love child of a supercar and an off-road vehicle. I certainly wasn't prepared for what I experienced: a car that seemed to intuitively transition between a softroader, a luxury sedan and a sports car, prompted by little more than my thoughts and the amount of foot pressure on the accelerator. 

With the Trofeo, Maserati has firmly injected the "sport" into the SUV moniker and in the process, created a much more practical take on the GT category of yesteryear.

Maserati Levante Trofeo
2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo. Image: Maserati Media
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