When the four Maserati brothers founded the iconic sports car maker that bears their name over 100 years ago it was to build competition cars, a job they tackled with considerable success.

Alfieri Maserati himself won the 1926 Targa Florio race in Sicily in one of their cars and from that time on, the Bologna factory built a worldwide performance reputation. Maserati even won a couple of Indy 500 races in the US in the early 1940s and there were numerous Grand Prix victories.

But in their wildest dreams, the brothers could not have imagined that the famous trident badge, inspired by the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna, would one day grace the nose of a vehicle anything remotely like the Levante SUV. After all, back in the 1920s, rugged, practical, vehicles were strictly the domain of the military or farmers and the SUV class was decades away from making its debut.

Nowadays, SUVs and crossovers have become so popular; luxury carmakers that once turned their noses up at building one have enthusiastically joined the rush to get in on the act. In fact, there are more than a few high-end makers that might not have survived without an SUV in their lineup.

It’s not been easy for pure sports car makers like Maserati to get an SUV into the marketplace, but the Italian company has managed to create a product that captures the firm’s performance image rather well. The Levante has a kind of voluptuous, predatory, look about it and certainly looks very sporty from every angle. Topping it all off are full-LED Matrix headlights either side of the somewhat traditional Maserati grille. There are five versions, Levante, Levante S, Levante Diesel, Levante GTS and Levante Trofeo with the latter being the performance flagship this article focuses on. Top models use a V-8 engine and there are V-6s lower down the range.

Maserati is, of course, part of the Fiat Chrysler group that also encompasses Ferrari (although Ferrari is autonomous) and if you visit the engine factory in Maranello, you’ll see Maserati engines rolling along the same assembly line as Ferrari powerplants. The Trofeo has a twin-turbo 3.8-litre V-8 with a Ferrari-like exhaust note which develops an impressive 590-horsepower, enough to place this Maserati up with the most potent SUVs out there. Naturally, the rig features four-wheel drive and power reaches the road, or trail, via an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission.

The suspension has been tuned to handle the power and make the most of it safely on winding roads. This is one of those rare SUVs that is fully capable of lapping a demanding track as quickly as a sports saloon of equivalent horsepower. Like so many of today’s SUVs, the Levante has a suite of electronic safety aids to make the vehicle as stable as possible under stress.

Expectedly, the interior is a fine piece of work, but with the country’s reputation for standout design and fine leatherwork, Italy seem to offer something special when it comes to luxury ambience in vehicles. It’s not just a matter of fastidiously crafted interior trim and components. There’s a harmony in how it all goes together to create a very pleasant environment for driver and passengers. The Trofeo has some unique touches like embroidered Maserati tridents on the supportive, neatly quilted, seats.

There’s a nice flow to the way the dash is laid out and at the centre of the panel is a generously sized touch screen to take care of satnav, sound system and other duties. Maserati got off to a good start in the SUV field, launching the Levante at a time when rivals in the premium sports car field were still at the planning stage. Another year or two may see several makers join the fray with SUVs but for now, if you must have a storied Italian off-roader, the Levante is out there on its own.

ENGINE: 590-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 (Trofeo) plus V-6 and diesel options.

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive.

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h 4-seconds (Trofeo).

TOP SPEED: 299 km/h (Trofeo).

I LIKED: Great design effort that manages to maintain lots of Maserati sports car DNA. An interior ambience that Italian designers do so well. Great performance and faster than most rivals in its class.

I DIDN’T LIKE: Some evidence that Fiat Chrysler components from lesser vehicles were used in various areas, though this does help keep prices within reason.

MARKET ALTERNATIVES: Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Cayenne, BMW X5, Range Rover Sport, Mercedes-AMG GLE S 63.

WHO DRIVES ONE? Italian car fans that have been waiting for an SUV with a famous nameplate plus performance that would almost match that of their sports car. Many owners are likely to be people with a Maserati, Ferrari or Lamborghini sports car in the garage.


PRICE AND AVAILABILITY: Available now starting at €101.200 euros (Trofeo is €196.900).