BY MARK KEAST

Put a nice, red velvety Christmas bow on this one – the 2019 Maserati Levante luxury SUV melds sinewy brawn with an intense beauty, an elite-level motoring experience that’s several notches above other vehicles in the luxury SUV category.

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Charisma is also a part of the calculation. Several times over a three-day period strangers made comments about the Levante I drove around Toronto, out to Scarborough, and into Hamilton, or asked me questions about it. The Levante is a conversation-starter. At a Christmas party, family members gathered around, and asked me to start it up. The 3.8-litre Twin Turbo V8 engine under the hood is a luxury car fireside chat all on its own. I think it’s also because a lot of people don’t know that Maserati makes an SUV. They think the Italian luxury vehicle manufacturer only focuses on ultra-fast sports cars. And they do make ultra-fast sports cars. Head to their site to see the stable – Quattroporte, GranTurismo, and GT Convertible.

At the New York Autoshow. Image source: Maserati

When talking SUVs, the Levante is on another level entirely. On their site, they refer to the vehicle as, “The Maserati of SUVS,” knowing the Maserati brand is so strong that auto enthusiasts will just assume it ranks above or two above Land Rover, Lexus, or Audi, and the like, when talking performance, aesthetics and luxury touch points. The pricing reflects that – $155,540 was the cost of the one I drove.

How do you measure brawn? The engine, developed by Maserati Powertrain in partnership with Ferrari at the Ferrari factory in Maranello, Italy, features 530 horsepower, with a acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 4.3 seconds, and a top speed of 291 km/h, is a good place to start. A highway drive west from downtown Toronto, to Hamilton, for a Christmas-time dinner, during the middle of a December snow squall, in minus-10 degree temperature, navigating the stops and starts, and open stretches of rush hour traffic, was a litmus test. This time of the year, on Canadian roads, the challenge is very much changing weather patterns and difficult road conditions. How many pot holes heading west on the QEW can you count on two hands? Maserati tested the vehicle over a two-year period to prep for that.

Much like the Porsche Macan, this is an SUV that runs like a sportscar. Talk about thrill-seeking. The muscular Twin Turbo V8 was until recently, reserved for the Quattroporte GTS. Now drivers of the Levante get to enjoy the benefits of that power.

Image source: Maserati

Stability is another component of the brawn we speak about – the road-holding ability, front and rear suspension, and dexterity of a vehicle that size (5,020 millimetres, or 502 centimetres, in length), enabled in part by the Levante’s Q4 Intelligent AWD, the low centre of gravity the chassis provides, and the weight balance between front and rear axle.

Levante GTS “One-of-One” for NBA star Ray Allen, revealed at the New York Autoshow. Image source: Maserati

Ray Allen Levante. Image source: Maserati

Ray Allen Levante. Image source: Maserati

Style and beauty? A shell that is state-of-the-art, sleek, sophisticated, infused with the Maserati sportscar DNA, the latest incarnation of the latest Maserati restyling programme (mainly focused on the lower front fascia and the rear bumper), in tandem with the GranTurismo and Ghibli GranSport, is what defines it . The front grille features double vertical bars and chromed perimeter, lower honeycomb mesh grille, the side air intakes in the lower fascia are bolder, and the rear end looks wider and more muscular. “Aggressive” and “confident” are other words that come to mind when taking a sideview snapshot of the Levante, parked in a family member’s driveway.

The only challenge was figuring out the touch control tablet, where the driver has control over things like digital radio, satellite navigation and the vehicle’s operating systems like the seats, Bluetooth and climate control. I found that to be a little complicated. But that’s quibbling. The longer you own the vehicle, the less that’s an issue. What really struck me, the moment I entered the vehicle for the first time, was the seating – strong, sculpted and sporty, in full premium leather. The Levante I drove came with full-grain Pieno Fiore natural leather, in red – a $1,490 extra. Pay attention to the stitching, on the door panels as well, for an education on true luxury touch points.

The list of details inside the cabin – led by the distinctive Maserati clock dial and a 900 W, 14-speaker Harman Kardon Premium Sound System – are too numerous to mention, but rest assured the Levante delivers based on it’s price point. Yes, you are paying for the name as well. But the Maserati Levante breaks the monotony. It gets people talking. And what’s the matter with a little attention?

Image source: Maserati

Image source: Maserati

Image source: Maserati

SHOP: ALL THINGS MASERATI

One Laser Engraved Black Fit Maserati Mirror Stainless Steel License Plate Frame Holder Front Or Rear Bracket Steel Screw Cap

Maserati Travel Mug

Maserati Hat Black

2 PCS Genuine Leather Car Neck Pillow Breathable Auto Head Neck Rest Cushion Relax Neck Support Headrest Comfortable Soft Pillows for Maserati – Black (Maserati)

Maserati Fashion Watch