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Here’s What I Think of the Maserati Levante

I recently had the chance to drive a fairly basic version of the new Maserati Levante, which is Maserati’s new crossover that’s constantly being advertised with large-print, neon-written lease deals on your local bus bench. I came away from the experience thinking the following: The Levante is better than I thought. But I still wouldn’t buy it. And today I’m going to explain why.

To start, allow me to tell you about the Levante. Maserati just came out with it last year, and they offer two trim levels. There’s a base model, which starts around $75,000, and then there’s an "S" version, which starts around $86,500. I drove the base model around Southern California for a week courtesy of Turo, which is this service that lets you rent other peoples’ interesting cars instead of normal, boring airport rental cars. The Levante certainly qualifies as an interesting car.

I chose the base model largely because that’s basically what everyone chooses, since Maserati is heavily pushing lease deals on this thing, and the base model (obviously) has the best lease deal. The one I drove was equipped like a lease special, too: small wheels, no rear parking sensors and no modern safety features like forward-collision warning, or lane-keep assist, or adaptive cruise control. The sticker price was just over $80,000.

And, indeed, this is the primary reason I wouldn’t buy it, as I mentioned above: It’s just insanely expensive. Maserati is no longer a hugely aspirational brand known for making fine Italian sports cars; instead, it’s the kind of thing your neighbor leases when his 530i goes back to BMW. But they’re still pricing these cars as if the Maserati brand name is stronger than ever. For the $82,000 sticker price of the Levante I drove, you get everything I just mentioned — small wheels, no rear parking sensors and no modern safety features like forward-collision warning, or lane-keep assist, or adaptive cruise control — and also a 340-horsepower V6. For the record, a V8-powered BMW X5 starts at $74,800, it has most of that stuff, and it has 445 hp. It lacks only the Maserati badge.

And it isn’t just the equipment that has me thinking the Levante is overpriced — it’s also the interior. No, the interior is nowhere near as bad as the 2015 Ghibli I reviewed (and skewered) last year. But it still could use some major improvement, from the Chrysler turn-signal stalks to the Chrysler window switches to the various other cheap Chrysler switchgear throughout the cabin. For $82,000, I’d also expect some nice contrast stitching on the seats and dashboard, but the Levante has none. It just doesn’t feel like an $82,000 place to spend time.

All of this probably makes you wonder: Well then why did you say, up above, that the Levante is better than you thought? The answer is simple: Because it drives really well.

Really really well, in fact. Yes, the Levante has just 345 hp, but it feels stronger than that — not quite like a V8, but not as far off as you might expect. More importantly, midrange power — highway-passing power, which is what most people really need — is excellent, and the sound is great, so you always think you’re accelerating quickly, even if you aren’t.

But acceleration is nothing compared to handling, which is truly a dream. I believe, and I suspect this will be controversial, that the Levante is the best-handling SUV, short of the really crazy, $100,000-plus high-performance stuff like the BMW X5 M and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Compared to its $80,000 rivals, the Levante is more athletic than all of them — including the Porsche Cayenne S. I truly wasn’t expecting that. It’s rewarding to drive, steering is predictable, body lean is minimal, and it feels like it’s ready to dig in and carve some corners with you, no matter how fast you push it into a bend in the road or up a highway on-ramp. It’s actually good.

But then you look down, and you remember it all: the cheap materials, the Chrysler signal stalk and the fact that you’ve spent almost ninety grand for a car and it won’t beep to let you know you’re about to hit something, which the Toyota RAV4 now does … standard. On all models. The Levante is simply too expensive to buy new, and I strongly suggest instead waiting a few years and picking up a used one for forty-some thousand dollars, where it will truly be an excellent value. Or, maybe take advantage of one of those lease deals you see advertised on your local highway billboard. Get it cheap enough, and you can really start to tune out those Chrysler switches. Find a Maserati Levante for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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