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Maserati Levante - A grand touring SUV

The automotive world turned on its head a few years ago with a shift from manufacturing cars to SUVs. There's much that endears the SUV to the consumer; the tall riding position allowing a commanding view of the traffic ahead, a voluminous cabin and enough luggage space to fit whatever it is you have to haul about. They're not the most fuel efficient things but hey, nothing's perfect.

It did come as somewhat of a shock when the sports car manufacturers of the world jumped on this bandwagon. Lamborghini was the first to do so back in the 80's with the introduction of the LM001, a vehicle that clearly had its eye on the lucrative Middle Eastern market. It was a novelty at the time and at the price it commanded, it was a something of a unicorn. It was certainly never intended for the mass market.

Then Porsche followed more recently with the Cayenne. When it became the German automaker's best selling vehicle, the rest of the performance car manufacturers sat up and took notice. Today, every automaker has an SUV or two in their line. Even Rolls Royce and Ferrari have not been immune to the trend. 

Maserati has long been one of the most esteemed brands in motoring. Their heritage dates back to the earliest days of automotive history and is one of the marques that have made their name in racing and producing automobiles of the highest performance on the market. 

We were fortunate that the Philippine distributor, Modena Motorsports, Inc., saw fit to loan us Maserati's entry in the SUV wars, the Levante 350 for a proper test drive to see if a SUV was worthy of the Maserati badge.

The Maserati Levante 350 is powered by a 3.0 liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 that produces a modest 350 horsepower. It's not a small vehicle at a smidge over 5 meters long with a wheelbase that spans over 3 meters in length. Not overly large for an SUV but it's certainly not small for this class.

The Levante is handsome as SUVs come. It shares the face of its siblings in Maserati's lineup with an imposing grill with the signature trident in its dominant place in the grill's center. In profile the Levante isn't as slab sided as other SUVs. Its body lines show the curves of other Maseratis, if in a more subtle less conspicuous manner. Its Italian DNA comes through quite nicely; this is a very good looking vehicle.

As one would expect from a brand like Maserati, the interior is opulently appointed with swaths of leather covering almost every interior surface. As with most vehicles in the digital age, there are electronic systems governing just about everything in the vehicle including tire pressure sensors. We love how, in spite of all the tech on offer here, Maserati has seen fit to include a gorgeous analog clock by Bulgari in the center of the dashboard.

From a practical standpoint, most of the adjustments are easy to make and once made, are instantly felt in the vehicle's performance. We took it to the newly renovated Zamora Championship Course at Puerto Azul to test its ability to haul golf bags and to put its performance capabilities to the test on the private roads on the property.

If there was one thing that could have done better, it was the Levante's luggage capacity. For a vehicle this large, it frankly came as a surprise that we couldn't just toss our golf bags into the boot and be on our way. Three golf bags need to be thoughtfully arranged in the boot. A fourth will take some doing. Not quite what we were expecting.

Beyond that there were no disappointments. 

For spirited driving on our less than ideal roads, we found it best to leave the suspension in the comfort setting with the engine in sport mode. This gives you all the performance you want with enough compliance in the suspension to handle most road irregularities.

If you're of the opinion that 350-horsepower simply isn't enough, the Levante comes with a 400-horsepower variant of the same engine. Others versions of the Levante are available with V8s for even more power, but in practical situations on our roads, we found the 350-horse version more than adequate. Diesel and hybrid versions of the Levante are also available from Modena Motorsports if fuel economy is a priority.

Since we only had one Saturday with the Levante, we decided to take a leisurely drive through the interior of Cavite to see how practical it would be to live with. We started in the outskirts of Tagaytay, drove down through Amadeo across to Indang then down to Naic where we stopped for lunch at Lolo Claro's, home of the best fried chicken in the province.

It was remarkable how little attention the Levante drew to itself. Depending on your point of view, that could be good or bad. If you're the sort that demands attention, the Levante isn't for you. On the other hand, we found it extremely comforting to be able to travel incognito in as luxurious a vehicle as the Levante.

Because of the Levante's size, we had concerns about its ability to navigate the narrow back roads of the province, but our fears were unfounded. The Levante did extremely well here and even with the engine left in standard mode, it easily catapulted us past slow moving traffic when called on to do so. 

After a wonderful lunch, we proceeded to the neighboring town of Maragondon and traveled back to the greater Tagaytay area through Alfonso, Indang and Amadeo. Stopping for coffee at Kaffe Belardo in Amadeo, we had a chance to go over our impressions of this short drive with the Levante over a couple of cups of excellent coffee.

Maserati's got a lot of competition for the Levante. Mercedes Benz, BMW and Lexus are its prime competition in its size and price brackets. All have similar amounts of power and luxury, but Maserati's trump card is its style and presence. The German SUVs might have more tech behind them but as an overall package, the Levante is hard to fault. The build quality is above reproach. It's certainly the most attractive and the most dynamic of the bunch. You'd have to go up considerably in price to find something that will rival its aesthetics and dynamic capabilities. If (and that's a big IF) we were shopping around for a vehicle in this class, the Levante would certainly have the edge.

The Levante left quite an impression on us. Apart from our concerns regarding its ability to accommodate golf bags, the Levante is the quintessential luxury SUV. Being a Maserati, gives it a cache the other brands just don't have. It is luxurious to a fault, with enough toys to satisfy the most tech-savvy among us. It's fast. We need more time and a racetrack to properly evaluate its performance capabilities, but that really isn't what the Levante was designed for. It was designed to move its occupants in complete luxury at speed in utter comfort and it fills this design brief impeccably.

We are suitably impressed.