The Levante S’s rolling chassis and adaptively damped air suspension give it good grip levels, respectable body control and steering that can, at times, be encouragingly tactile – but between them they create only just enough sporting purpose and handling poise to lift the car above the dynamic level of the average big SUV.

It says plenty about the investment going into this segment right now that a car that’s only been on the market since 2016 in any form can so quickly fall behind the class’s prevailing standards for things like bump absorption, ride dexterity, mid-corner stability and throttle-on handling balance. In some of those ways, the Levante doesn’t miss the mark by much. And yet the simple truth is that, having driven a Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Velar or Audi Q8 with a bit of enthusiasm, you’d be unlikely to be too impressed by the way in which the Levante S conducts itself on a testing cross-country road. It does not feel lighter, smaller, keener or more agile than its key rivals, and it doesn’t quite entice you to adopt a quicker stride like some do.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
The Levante’s slightly clumsy, fidgety suspension reminded me of the way heavy, air-sprung cars used to ride a decade or more ago. I hope very much the forthcoming V8 versions get a thoroughly overhauled system

The car’s air suspension, which continually adjusts its ride height based on your speed, sets out to provide a laid-back sense of compliance when left in comfort mode with limited success (which we’ll come on to). It comes at the cost of some lateral body control, however, making the car feel a little flighty over bumps, and more prone to roll than you expect it to be when cornering quickly. Switch to sport mode on the car’s Skyhook dampers and body control improves along with steering weight (which is quite light initially), although the ride becomes notably less supple and settled, and gets brittle at times.

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The upshot is that while a blend of control weight, handling precision, body control and ride compliance well-suited to UK roads may well be there to be conjured from the Levante’s various systems and mechanicals, you can’t quite get access to it with the car tuned as it is. Moreover, the suspension modes that the Levante does provide don’t serve it as well as they should.

A good-sized bump or ridge hitting the loaded side of the Levante S’s axles midway through a hard-charged corner is all it takes to demonstrate that the car isn’t the most dynamically sophisticated luxury SUV of its kind. The car’s ride becomes a bit wooden and brittle when thus interrogated, lacking the ability to keep its body upright while retaining much dexterity in reserve.

The car’s medium-paced steering means it takes more physical input to get it turned into tighter bends than you might expect to put in. Although it’s got decent outright lateral control when in sport mode and sticks to a line well enough on a balanced throttle, the car’s limited-slip differential for its rear axle doesn’t make for a particularly poised or adjustable attitude from apex to exit. Pour on power mid-corner with the electronic stability control deactivated and the Levante gently understeers.

COMFORT AND ISOLATION

Given the Levante’s shortfalls in relation to its athletic abilities, we hoped it would win back favour by playing the role of cosseting, relaxing long-distance tourer in a more convincing fashion. This was not quite so. The fidgeting sense of restiveness that hassled its primary and secondary rides plays its part, but so too does a handful of other foibles.

The Levante’s ability to isolate its passengers from the outside world, for instance, is far from outstanding. While tyre roar is noticeable at motorway speeds, it’s engine noise that serves to be a greater source of fatigue; settle the Levante into a 70mph cruise and the V6’s mellifluous growl is replaced by a persistent drone. Under these conditions, our sound gear measured the Levante’s cabin noise at 68dB – one decibel louder than the Range Rover Sport SVR and its famously raucous 5.0-litre supercharged V8.

Adjustability in the seat base, steering column and even pedal box does see the Levante claw back a few marks for comfort, but still fails to entirely mask a driving position that never quite feels natural.

The steering wheel, for instance, is surprisingly large (although GranSport models get a smaller one) and its squared-off rim didn’t sit comfortably in every tester’s hands. The footwell is uncommonly narrow, and there’s a particularly pronounced right-handed offset for the pedals, leaving little space to rest your left foot. And while the seats offer ample lateral bracing, some testers experienced difficulty finding a suitable amount of lumbar support.

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