2022 Maserati Levante Trofeo Road Test | Paint the town red

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- It’s a transitional moment for Maserati and many of its contemporaries. We’re on the precipice of an electric future that is taking shape but not yet reality. Until that day comes, we’re taking our final laps in things like the 580-horsepower Levante Trofeo.

Dripping in attitude, sharp design and packing an engine that sounds ready for Imola, this Levante recalls everything Maserati has done well over its 108-year history, which predates Ferrari by three decades. Except for the sport utility body style, this vehicle could have been built by Maserati in almost any era.

In 2022, however, it’s not a template. Maserati will replace the Ferrari-built V8, like the one under the hood of my test vehicle, with its in-house Nettuno V6, a 600-hp twin-turbo engine that is Maserati’s biggest engine project in decades. Ultimately the brand will go all-electric.

In the here and now, the Levante Trofeo is an attention-getting vehicle. Even more awe-inducing than the engine, the $17,000 Rosso Magma paint looks like it should come with a parole officer. It's available through the Fuoriserie Corse customization program and is by far the most expensive option on this 2022 Levante Trofeo, which stickers for $173,550. It almost appears iridescent in some lighting. Other add-ons include carbon-fiber paddle shifters ($450), painted 22-inch staggered wheels ($400) and gloss black brake calipers ($500). Being the Trofeo trim, it’s already loaded with the best features from the Modena and GT variants.

This is our first taste of the Levante since Maserati reshuffled the trim lineup for 2021. It wears the updated Maserati emblem and Trident, and Trofeo is spelled out in a script that has a vaguely 1980s vibe. Otherwise, this is the Levante we’ve known for several years.

It arrived on a bright and unusually cold spring morning, the booming bass of the exhaust note reverberating through my neighborhood. From the back, it cuts a bit of a Porsche silhouette, but up front the shark teeth grille leaves no doubt this is of Italian origin, specifically Maserati. It recalls things like the Alfieri concept, Tipo 60 Birdcage, and for a deep cut, the 1950s A6GCS racer. While the design up front borders on ostentatious, things are more measured in the back, where the roof slopes gently into the curvaceous fenders. Maserati also gets the details right. The LED taillights have an eyelash shape. The green, white and red of the Italian flag subtly mark the B-pillar. The long, creased hood has angled vents signaling the power that’s underneath. It’s a complete design execution.

I set out for a drive through the northern edge of suburban Detroit, making my way through the residential areas before finding myself near the Stellantis headquarters in Auburn Hills, not far from Maserati’s North American offices, which relocated here in 2017. I loop the perimeter and get back on the expressway. The Trofeo is the hot rod of the Levante range and its defining trait is the twin-turbo V8. In addition to the copious horsepower, it serves up 538 pound-feet of torque and enables sprints to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. It teams well with the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, smoothly yet quickly moving through the gears during hard acceleration. The eight cylinders channel their anger through the quad exhaust, which produces a guttural sound that has a bark, a rumble and thoroughly Italian resonance.

The active air suspension has ‘Skyhook’ shock absorbers for a sportier ride, and Maserati offers up one of the more aggressive driving setups in this segment. I felt my stomach twist as I cued up Sport mode and hit a curvy on-ramp to merge onto Interstate 75. The chassis flexed and I felt the 5,070-pound people hauler lean before the road straightened and I accelerated into late morning rush hour traffic. The steering offers more feedback in Sport mode, but is actually lighter when cruising around town. The brakes are direct and impressively scrub speed, which is helpful when you're driving a bright red Italian SUV. Punch up Corsa mode, which is only available on the Trofeo, and you get the stiffest ride, loudest exhaust note and most athletic driving experience, while the electronic stability and traction controls are tempered.

The Rosso Magma paint belies a comparatively subdued interior. It’s tastefully set up in black and gray with carbon-fiber accents and red stitching. The dashboard uses buttons from other Stellantis products, and the infotainment system is fine. It works, but a larger, more colorful screen -- like the one offered in many Ram and Jeep products -- would help Maserati keep up. It’s functional as an SUV, with a large cargo hold under that hatch and room for a car seat in the second row. After my morning test, I used the Levante Trofeo for errands and soccer practice, which is why you buy a crossover and why Maserati sells one.

The Levante Trofeo plays on its design, raw Ferrari power and the notion that a Maserati is a lot less common than a BMW or a Porsche. Until Ferrari’s crossover gets here, it’s the Levante or the Lamborghini Urus (starting at $218,000) if you want a midsize Italian SUV. That said, the BMW X6 M (600 hp for $109,600 MSRP), the Porsche Cayenne Turbo Coupe (541 hp for $139,500), and Jaguar F-Pace SVR (550 hp, $84,600) are better values -- which is an odd statement. You need to really want a Maserati and have near-generational wealth to support that desire.

Still, I came away impressed after a long weekend in the Levante Trofeo. Yes, some of the interior bits don’t match the price tag and the drive character can be a bit harsh; now you have been so advised. In that way, it’s similar to the F-Pace SVR that I drove a couple of months ago. There are some compromises, but it’s also exceptional in some ways. There are no other Italian SUVs with traditional styling and Ferrari V8 power. Lamborghini’s angular Urus is trying to be a supercar, and Ferrari doesn’t have its own ute ready yet. We don't know how Maserati's electric future will play out, but for now vehicles, like the Levante Trofeo play to the company's strengths. Style and power go a long way, as this raucous SUV demonstrates.

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