2019 Maserati Levante Trofeo First Drive: Cayenne Hunter

With 550 hp, an exotic exhaust note, and impressive handling, the Maserati Levante GTS feels plenty capable of taking on the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. But Maserati didn’t stop there. Knowing a new Cayenne Turbo S is on the way, engineers cranked up the sportiness even further to create the Levante Trofeo.

Like the GTS, the Trofeo uses a 3.8-liter, Ferrari-built, twin-turbo V-8. And although you still get the same 538 lb-ft of torque, this version’s been tuned to make 590 hp. According to Maserati, that extra 40 hp is enough to knock 0.2 seconds off its 0-60 time and increase top speed by 6 mph. That means 60 mph arrives in 3.8 seconds and you’ll top out at 187 mph.

In addition to sportier, more aggressive styling, Maserati also added a racier drive mode. The aptly named Corsa mode stiffens the suspension, lowers the ride height, sends less power to the front wheels, reduces electronic intervention, speeds up gear shifts, and adds launch control. Exactly the kind of changes we’re looking for.

Oh, and it gives you a louder exhaust note. A glorious exhaust note. One that probably deserves to be turned up even further than it already is in Corsa mode. Who cares if you wake up the neighbors? The Levante Trofeo sounds better than sleep.

As the numbers suggest, the Levante Trofeo can scoot, too. It doesn’t feel scary or uncontrollable, but when you step on the accelerator, it really gets up and goes. The Cayenne Turbo S will probably be quicker, but it also won’t have a Ferrari V-8. Advantage: Maserati.

Thankfully, there’s more to the Trofeo than its engine. It’s also legitimately fun to drive. Weighing in at just under 4,800 pounds, the Levante is probably too large to enjoy on a track, but on a winding mountain road, none of that matters. It feels perfectly at home there, carving up curves like it’s much smaller than it really is.

And even though some cars feel about the same regardless of which drive mode they’re in, that’s not the case with the Levante. Corsa mode delivers a sharper, more responsive driving experience that the GTS can’t match even in its sportiest setting. It’s not a night and day difference, but it is noticeable.

When it’s time to head home, though, you can still switch back to Normal mode and enjoy a quiet, comfortable cruise down the highway. Well, you can if you opt for the no-cost 21-inch wheel option. On the standard 22s, the Trofeo suffers from a stiff ride and too much road noise. Switching to smaller wheels (mostly) fixes the issue.

Other than that, the Trofeo does make a great cruiser, due in part to its impressive number of standard features. LED headlights, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, forward collision warning, a surround-view camera system, and blind-spot monitoring are all included, as are heated and ventilated seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system. So while the Trofeo gets plenty of performance and appearance upgrades, it also comes with many of the options you’d have to pay extra for on the GTS.

Then again, since it starts at $171,475 including destination, the Trofeo better offer more than 40 more horsepower and a sportier drive mode. Yes, you read that correctly. Even though the GTS already costs $121,475, you have to spend an extra $50,000 to get the Trofeo.

But although it would be easy to dismiss the Trofeo as overpriced, I’m not so sure it is. When the new Cayenne Turbo S goes on sale, it will likely cost about the same as the Trofeo. In fact, the Porsche may even cost more when comparably equipped. The 575-hp Range Rover Sport SVR, on the other hand, costs a good bit less but doesn’t handle as well.

What really causes me to question the Levante Trofeo is its cabin. No matter how soft the Pieno Fiore leather feels or how satisfying the clink of the aluminum shift paddle sounds, the interior still comes up short. It’s not just because Maserati went back to the Chrysler parts bucket a few too many times, either.

The cabin simply lacks the kind of design flair you’d expect from an Italian crossover with a Ferrari engine and such an invigorating exhaust note. It’s nice enough, but without the badges, would anyone recognize it as a Maserati? Probably not.

Of course, that’s not the kind of thing that can be changed when adding a new trim level. But considering how much emotion Maserati infused into the Trofeo’s sheetmetal, exhaust note, and driving experience, it was disappointing to open the door and be greeted with an interior that’s so conventional.

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