I tested the ultra-fast Maserati SUV, which rockets to 62mph in 4.1 seconds

Maserati SUV
It’s the first time Maserati's elegant Levante has been offered with a V8 engine

Ferrari is working on its first sports utility vehicle - an outrageously speedy plug-in hybrid, acclaimed as the world’s fastest SUV. Unfortunately, Project Purosange, as it's called, won’t be realised until 2022, so if that’s just too long a wait, fellow Italian car-maker Maserati might have the answer.

The company’s new Levante GTS and Trofeo models feature a V8 petrol engine built just around the corner, at Ferrari’s famous Maranello headquarters. The 3.8-litre twin-turbo is the same unit already fitted in Maserati’s sporty Quattroporte GTS saloon, but this time it’s squeezed to produce an extra 58bhp.

It’s the first time the elegant Levante has been offered with a V8, producing the kind of performance to put it almost neck and neck with some of the world’s fastest SUVs. The Bentley Bentayga Speed and Lamborghini Urus have been slugging it out over that particular mantle for months.

Levante is already Maserati’s best-selling model ever. Launched in 2016 with a modest diesel engine and then enhanced with a V6 petrol, the Italian SUV has since sold 53,000 worldwide. What the range has lacked is a high-performance engine to make it stand out from the crowd.  

The Trofeo needs just 4.1 seconds to rocket to 62mph

Announced at the Geneva Motor Show in March, the latest V8 Trofeo made its road debut at last week’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. Here in Italy, I’m driving the family five-seater around the foothills of Emilia-Romagna in a manner normally reserved for outlandish supercars.

And it’s no coincidence our chosen route is a devilishly twisty hillside just south of Modena (a road often used by Ferrari). Touring these hairpins in any 186mph V8 would be like scooting down a helter-skelter, but this car is supported by orchestral fireworks worthy of the Last Night of the Proms; the most powerful production Maserati ever, it’s indecently noisy through the sleepy villages and hamlets. Long-suffering locals must be longing for the day when silent electric hypercars become de rigueur.

Maserati already boasts enough sporting DNA to embolden any model and this new, high-riding edition is no different. Across country, the V8 is almost as engaging as a supercar – plus you can fit three children and a dog in the back if required (just don’t forget a sick bag).

Three V8 versions are available. The 522bhp GTS is £104,900, while the Trofeo opens at £124,000. The Trofeo Launch Edition is limited to just 50 examples in Europe and comes in three flamboyantly-named colours, a typical practice for Italian supercars. At £159,900 it’s just a few options short of a Lamborghini Urus, but has already sold out. 

Inside, the Levante is a leather-clad cabin of luxury

Technology is the key to Maserati’s new V8, with a sporty ‘Corsa’ driving mode and a launch control function. The latter will frighten unknowing Porsche 911s owners away from the traffic lights. Trofeo needs just 4.1 seconds to rocket to 62mph, or about the same time it takes to say "Maserati Integrated Vehicle Control System" – the technical wizardry that helps keeps Levante and driver on the straight and narrow at high speed.

Trimming down the more potent Levante has involved fitting the Trofeo model with a vented aluminium bonnet, 21-inch forged aluminium wheels and assorted carbon body parts. The Maserati SUV was already one of the prettiest on the market but these trinkets further add to its visual appeal.

The rise of the SUV has been one of the luxury car industry's biggest stories in recent years

Inside, Levante is a leather-clad cabin of luxury, one that feels solid, stylish and expensive. The diving position is well thought out with straightforward controls, although the 8.4-inch touchscreen is less intuitive. The backseat will take three at a squeeze – the middle passenger sits less comfortably on a raised perch.

Similarly, the boot is a compromise. The large floor area loses some of its practically thanks to a low, sloping roof line. The same feature also eats into rear headroom but does give the Maserati a more agreeable profile.

High performance SUVs are now a must-have in any premium brand fleet. The new Levante V8s are likely to prove more than a match for the highly-praised Jaguar SVR and assorted Mercedes-AMG variants.

Given Levante has four-wheel drive, decent ground clearance and can even manage proper off-road stuff, Maserati could be surfing the crest of the super-SUV explosion with this engaging, Ferrari-powered firecracker.

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