The Maserati Levante S brings a high-octane thrill to the SUV scene, as a test drive in the Arabian desert proves
It’s a cold and rainy autumn day when I leave London. As I board the plane, I know that in little under seven hours I will be arriving in Dubai and heading deep into the desert for a Maserati-fuelled escape. Needless to say, I’m excited.
With the recent explosion of luxury SUVs on the automotive scene, it was only natural that a highly revered brand like Maserati would find a way to inject its Italian heritage into this ever-evolving group. First launched in 2016, the Levante is quickly becoming one of its best-selling vehicles. So, to further this evolution, Maserati introduced the Levante S – and where more unusual to test it than the desert.
As I leave the airport, I’m hit by a wall of heat. It’s 36°C and my skin pimples with pleasure. Soon I am an hour out of the city with the all-new Levante S, my steed for the day. It is with delight that I depress the brake pedal, press the ignition button and hear the Ferrari-produced 430bph V6 engine erupt. It burbles gently as I begin to drive, and a wide smile is firmly installed on my face.
The acceleration and response is sublime, and I drive along lonesome desert roads with nothing but sand dunes and camels for company. I’m off to Jebel Maleihah, commonly called Fossil Rock, to test the Levante’s off-road capabilities.
As a vehicle made primarily for city streets, to discover the Levante can perform in serious off-road conditions is staggering
It may be a Maserati, and it may be a luxury SUV, but don’t let its façade fool you. This is one capable machine. I take traction control off, toggle into manual, select Deep Sand/Snow Detection (DSD) mode and move slowly forwards onto the dunes. The Levante grips the soft sand beneath and propels me forward. It’s fantastic. As the dunes begin to gain elevation, the incline gets steeper and steeper, and with a firm yet controlled foot on the throttle, the 2.2-ton SUV glides up the climbs.
I’m surprised. As a vehicle made primarily for city streets (and likely never to leave them in daily life), to know that the Levante can perform in serious off-road conditions is staggering. Its styling is distinctive too, with an air of the Porsche Cayenne about it. Offered in two finishes – GranLusso, focused on comfort and luxury; or GranSport, focused on driver engagement – there’s scope for a variety of drivers.
Fossil Rock juts out of the desert like a jagged blade, and before long I’m nearing the summit. Here, the sand becomes looser and altogether more fun. As I slide to and fro, careering up dunes and sliding sideways down them, I’m more relaxed than I’ve been in months. The Levante S drives along a fine line: it’s a beautiful luxury SUV and performs flawlessly on the road, but also has enough technology and grunt to take you into the wilderness.
The desert offers some of the hardest conditions for a vehicle to handle. Traction is nigh on impossible and the power-to-weight ratio must be precise to avoid burying yourself in the dunes. Maserati made a statement by choosing such a harsh environment to showcase the Levante’s abilities, and demonstrated its investment in ergonomic technology. Famed for its sports cars and grand tourers, the marque has gallantly entered the SUV realm.
Petrol 600V6, twin-turbo, gasoline direct injection
10.9 litres per 100km