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The new Maserati Levante GT Hybrid which replaces the diesel model is now on sale in SA. Picture: SUPPLIED
The new Maserati Levante GT Hybrid which replaces the diesel model is now on sale in SA. Picture: SUPPLIED

To some, the Levante SUV is a Maserati at odds with the Italian brand’s 107-year history that’s dominated by sleek two-seaters, including Grand Prix racers. Being a petrol four-cylinder Maserati the new Levante GT Hybrid that’s gone on sale in SA is even less redolent of the marque, but perhaps not as sacrilegious as the diesel model it replaces.

It’s a new way of savouring the brand thus perhaps requiring new methodology to get under its skin. The principal action on our first drive was to put its nomenclature out of mind and allow the passing world to salivate at the prospect of an exotic brand SUV headlined by mature, restrained but punchy styling.

At 5,003mm long, 1,968mm wide and 1,679mm high it has a presence on the roads. Individualisation from the Maserati Fuoriserie programme gave our Grigio Evoluzione (grey) test unit 21-inch Anteo black alloy wheels and Blu classic brake calipers and carbon fibre door handles. It looked fabulous.       

From the driver's seat the car is designed to ape the luxury SUV recipe and you catch views of its ample but sloping bonnet. The dials, screens and push buttons are all very much premium in look and feel, more so the metal flappy paddles. New cabin introductions in the hybrid include hybrid specific graphics, an updated Stellantis infotainment hub and a Bowers & Wilkins sound system.

Where the Levante differs with most of its modern day rivals, which include the slightly cheaper BMW X5 45e and similarly priced Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, is the cleaner, less congested graphics, information and features beamed through the driver’s information binnacle.

This may rank it out of date in the eyes of modernists and for its price you can also get the roaring Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.

You can style a Levante to your heart's content but our test unit featured the safer black interior option. Picture: SUPPLIED
You can style a Levante to your heart's content but our test unit featured the safer black interior option. Picture: SUPPLIED

It's quite spacious and practical for families, though its 580l boot is some way off the 700l average in the sector. It may not have the same space but it has a powered tailgate.

When it comes to picking an engine for the Levante, deep-pocketed enthusiasts will suggest sticking with the more expensive V8 Trofeo, or one of the two Modena models with V6 motors. But there’s a good reason to try the new Levante with a turbocharged 2.0l four-cylinder motor working in tandem with a 48V system of a belt starter generator, battery, eBooster and a DC converter for a total system output of 243kW and 450Nm.

The Levante GT’s hybrid system deviates from the norm in that there’s no electric-only drive mode. Instead the starter generator recovers energy during braking and deceleration and charges the battery in the boot, which in turn powers the engine's eBooster which backs up the turbocharger to sustain power output at low rpm, with a pronounced extra shove when Sport mode is activated.  

Fast acceleration is achieved in this mode too, which Maserati rates as six seconds from 0 to 100km/h and a top speed of 240km/h, which isn’t slouchy. The Levante GT markets fuel parsimony more and on the drive, mostly in the Eco mode it averaged 13.1l/100km, which is a  good score — but is it a fun drive?

On the roads and in any damper setting the Levante GT Hybrid is smooth. The Q4 suspension with a diff-lock is adaptable for height, firmness and torque distribution between the axles and there's enough of a handle on sports car-like agility, or some mild off-road driving, though we’d question the logic to take such an expensive car into the wilderness.

The steering’s not the sharpest but there’s good composure and agility for such a big car on fast or slow bends and though the noise is subdued the four pipes emit some “Vrrr-phaa” noises in Sport mode as you rifle through the eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Down any road you simply forget you’re in a Maserati but rather in a satisfyingly competent luxury SUV which is fast, suave, practical and — importantly — frugal. The dessert is a welcome blend of handsome looks and Maserati badges.

Pricing starts from R2,088,000 with a four or five-year extended warranty, and optionally the new Extra10 warranty programme that extends the coverage of power train components — engine, gearbox, transmission — until the car turns 10 years old.

There's a spicy enough soundtrack from its four-cylinder motor through quad tailpipes. Picture: SUPPLIED
There's a spicy enough soundtrack from its four-cylinder motor through quad tailpipes. Picture: SUPPLIED
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