As the number of SUV derivatives continues to explode, we find ourselves considering new models that slice the segment ever thinner. High-performance SUVs have been a thing for years now, and sloped-roof SUV “coupes” are becoming a thing, whether we like it or not. Now, the Italians have—inadvertently, I fear—invented yet another SUV subclass with the 2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo: the SUV GT.
Readers will be familiar with grand touring cars, or GTs, which are big, comfortable coupes and sedans with equally big engines designed to transport the well-heeled owner across continents as quickly as decorum allows. Fast as they may be, they’re not sports cars per se (though they do generally handle well). Their suspensions are softer, all the better to soak up rough roads and float down the highway. The “Trofeo,” which literally translates to trophy and is the most expensive and highest-performing Levante model, suggests Maserati didn’t set out to create an SUV GT category but rather a straight high-performance SUV. What they built, though, is an SUV GT.
Maserati isn’t the first to do it. Think back to our various high-performance SUV comparisons, and you could categorize entrants like the Land Rover Range Rover Sport SVR, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, and Bentley Bentayga Speed as SUV GTs rather than straight performance SUVs. Sure, they’re all very fast and have very nice interiors and cushy rides, but they just don’t handle like the class-leading super SUVs from Porsche, BMW, Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG, and Alfa Romeo. This doesn’t make the Levante Trofeo or any of the others bad cars, but they’re just not the high-riding supercars they’re marketed as. Rather, they’re high-riding GTs.
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The differentiator is in the suspension. Compare the Levante Trofeo to a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and the Trofeo feels heavier and less in control of its body motions. On its own, though, the Trofeo is delightful to drive quickly rather than all-out. There’s a lot of travel in the Trofeo’s suspension, but it’s been used to give the vehicle a plush ride over even the worst roads. Even with big wheels and skinny tire sidewalls, very little disturbs the occupants, even in the adaptive dampers’ sportiest setting.
The trade off, though, is in the handling. The steering is quick and precise—if not a bit numb for a sporty SUV—but compared to the raciest super SUVs, the Levante Trofeo has a lot of body roll. I like some body roll, so long as it’s well-controlled and intentional because it makes the driving experience more visceral. The Trofeo, though, sticks a toe over the line, and as a result, it feels top-heavy when you throw it at a corner hard. If it’s a bumpy corner, you’ll also get a lot of vertical motion, as the suspension squats down to take the hit from both the ground and gravity before springing back up. It never feels out of control or beyond the vehicle’s ability, but it does feel like it wasn’t meant to be driven quite so hard.
The brakes send the same message. The big steelies— no, you can’t get carbon-ceramics, not even as an option—have the power to haul this thing down, but the pedal is longer and softer than you’d expect from a super SUV. Again, more like a GT. They can hang you even when you’re driving the Trofeo harder than it prefers, but the pedal gets longer as the brakes get hotter. Push even harder, and the brake pads do start to smoke .
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With 590 hp at your beck and call, hot brakes are an easy condition to provoke. The Ferrari-built twin-turbo V-8 clearly benefits from Ferrari tuning, as it exhibits the same boost-control behavior as Ferrari sports cars. By carefully metering turbo boost, the computer straightens out the power delivery, so you get one long rush of seemingly endless power instead of a lag and a big surge all at once. The Trofeo is always ready to rear back and lunge at the horizon, no matter the situation when you put your foot down. Very GT.
When you do, might we recommend putting the windows down as well? Maserati has a knack for exhaust notes, even with turbochargers stuffing up the works. Even so, the Trofeo sounds better from outside the car than in, where a lot of turbo noise climbs all over the exhaust note. That said, it all still sounds wonderful for a turbocharged V-8, but more combustion and less compression would sound even prettier. Mercedes-AMG remains the master when it comes to turbocharged exhaust notes.
We have no such nits to pick with the transmission. The ZF-designed eight-speed automatic shifts as quickly and smoothly as any competitor’s transmission, and Maserati has it programmed correctly. It’s so good that you don’t ever need to touch the big, beautiful shift paddles, though they’re lovely to rest your fingertips on. The computer always selects the right gear, doubly so if you put it into its Sport or Corsa modes. The latter of which requires pressing the Sport button, then pressing and holding it a second time to confirm you really want it. In some vehicles, “sport” modes will still back off and lazily jump to the highest gear anytime you ease up on the throttle, but not this one. If you want Corsa (“race” in Italian), you get Corsa.
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If only that button were a little nicer to press—or any of them, really. The interior of the Levante Trofeo isn’t particularly special for an expensive luxury SUV. All the carbon fiber trim in the world can’t hide all the bits lifted from the Dodge parts bin, ranging from buttons, switches, and dials to screens and software. We can give the software a pass because parent company FCA’s Uconnect system is generally excellent, but the rest isn’t up to snuff, and it’s all been dropped into a very conservative design that’s quickly aging next to the latest from Porsche and Mercedes. It’s fine; it’s just not special, and you can definitely buy special in this class of vehicle.
If Maserati sees fit to spice up the interior design on the next go around, we’d suggest they also update the front seats while they’re at it. They’re comfortable as befits a GT, but they’re like big lounge chairs, and you kind of wonder if they didn’t get these from Dodge, too. The seatback is wide, and there’s no way to adjust the side bolsters, so the only way to stop yourself sliding around in them is to brace yourself with your left leg before you corner.
We wouldn’t harp on it so hard were it not for the Levante Trofeo’s price tag. At $151,485 to start, it’s $22,000 more expensive than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo, which is in no way confused about how sporty it really is. And that’s the 2020 model year pricing. Go back a year, and Maserati wanted just an Andrew Jackson shy of $170,000 for a 2019 model. No brand in Maserati’s league charges anywhere close to $150,000 to start on a two-row, mid-size super SUV. Not Porsche, not Mercedes, not Land Rover—no one. The only way to spend more money on a super SUV is with Bentley or Lamborghini, and the Trofeo is neither sporty enough to keep up with an Urus nor sufficiently luxurious to keep up with a Bentayga. That Maserati dropped the price by $19,000 in one year suggests they were having a lot of trouble selling them at the higher price, and it’s no surprise if that’s the case.
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If we hurt the ones we love, hopefully it’s because we reasonably expect more from them and are disappointed when they underdeliver. The Levante Trofeo isn’t a bad car; it’s just not a great super SUV. Rather, it’s a great SUV GT, whether it was intended to be or not. But it’s also an overpriced one, and that’s harder to forgive. The Levante has been around for a couple years now, which means a mid-cycle refresh is in the works. Let’s hope the next one Maserati delivers better reflects both what the company is capable of and the price tag.
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