Maserati’s path to electrification has been well documented, but because of Covid delays, it still has some tricks up its sleeve when it comes to good old-fashioned, high-horsepower V8s. This Trofeo version of the Levante SUV is a perfect case in point.
Given Maserati’s history as a performance car manufacturer, you could argue that this is the specification the Levante should have been launched with from the start, with 582bhp of twin-turbocharged V8 grunt developed by Ferrari under its hood.
The accounts department would probably argue the point, noting that the regular V6 Levante rocketed to the top of the company’s sales charts in less than three years, accounting for 52 per cent of its total sales as its best-selling model yet.
On the fast track
The V8 Trofeo is a niche in the range and, at Dh649,000 ($176,718), is priced accordingly above the V6 and hybrid models, so only fans of old-school V8s would be on my side.
Initially launched in July 2019, the Trofeo was a victim of the Covid-induced supply bottleneck in 2020, but has now landed and can still claim to be the third fastest full-sized SUV behind the Lamborghini Urus and the Jeep Cherokee Trackhawk.
To be fair, Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo Coupe claims a faster 0 to 100 kilometres per hour time at 3.3 seconds over the Trofeo’s still-rapid 3.9 seconds, but it’s the cut-down version of the Porsche and not the mainstream Cayenne.
Still, the Trofeo’s 304kph top speed claim puts it right at the top and surpasses many sports coupes while still seating five and capable of mildly heading off-road. With its 55cm forged aluminium alloy wheels (the largest yet fitted to a Maserati and strapped to low-profile Continental SportContact 6 tyres), mild is the operative word when it comes to off-roading.
At its international launch pre-Covid, The National was given access to an unused airstrip in Italy to test its top speed and found its road and track performance virtually matched the numbers in the company’s specs box.
Obstacles no bar
With the addition of Maserati’s Integrated Vehicle Control (IVC) available on the Levante for the first time, the Trofeo now offers Sport and Corsa (track) modes in addition to its off-road settings.
Engaging Corsa speeds up the gear changes, lowers the air suspension by 75mm, offers a stiffer ride and alters the all-wheel drive settings, sending up to 100 per cent of its power to the rear wheels.
In this setting and with launch control engaged, we achieved 3.9 seconds to 100kph down the runway and just on 300kph before applying the giant 380mm, drilled, six-piston aluminium monobloc brake calipers up front and the 330mm ventilated drilled discs with floating calipers at the rear.
Even after several huge stops, there was never any fade nor was there any sign of a long pedal after a few launch control runs down the airstrip.
To put its performance into perspective, Maserati won the 2005 World Endurance Championship with its six-litre V12 MC12 supercar that was a re-skinned Ferrari Enzo. Built for racing, just 62 examples of these two-seaters were made primarily for competition and now change hands at close to $3 million if ever one goes on sale.
The Levante Trofeo, with its 3.8-litre engine borrowed from the Quattroporte and Ferrari 488 and running through an eight-speed automatic transmission, is only marginally slower than the MC12 race car that claimed 40 wins and six GT championships around the world. It develops 31 fewer horsepower, meaning its specific power of 154bhp/litre surpasses that of its LeMans-winning sibling’s 103bhp/litre, yet carries all the comforts of a luxury, full-sized SUV.
The Trofeo is 60 kilograms heavier than the V6 Levante S, but Maserati still managed to shave 250kg from the initial weight from the V8 engine through using bespoke pistons, conrods, an oil pump and a crankshaft, as well as a new sump that lets the front driveshafts run through it for better ground clearance. The added weight is easily offset by the extra 158bhp it develops over the V6.
Using the Trofeo’s variable ride height – it has six settings available offering 175mm of ground clearance in Corsa mode to 210mm in the off-road setting – it had enough ground clearance to clear several large obstacles. Its downhill-assist, meanwhile, removed the panic of steep descents on loose sand with its ABS working its magic independently on each wheel to avoid locking.
Looks like luxury
The few giveaway signs that this is the performance version of the Levante is a black piano finish to the grille, a lower front splitter, bonnet vents, body-coloured door handles, and red highlights for the faux air inlets on the front guards and a red strip through the trident badge.
It also has full matrix LED headlights that provide 20 per cent more visibility over standard Bi-Xenon lights. The car uses a digital camera behind the rear-view mirror, which allows the driver to keep the high beam on without dazzling oncoming vehicles.
A 1,280-watt, 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium surround sound system is standard inside and is mated to digital radio and Bluetooth, and supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Additionally, there are a few other minor tweaks over the regular Levante S trim, including a matte carbon fibre weave on the dash and paddle shifters, as well as an 21cm capacitive touchscreen that recognises drag, scroll, swipe and rotate gestures.
The Levante Trofeo goes against the current thinking of where the industry is going with downsizing and electrification, but it stands as the model in the Maserati range that is most likely to put a smile on your face when you hit the start button.