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IT was bright and breezy in Langkawi when we arrived to drive the Maserati Levante, courtesy of Naza Italia.

IT was bright and breezy in Langkawi when we arrived to drive the Maserati Levante, courtesy of Naza Italia.

The driving locations with their scenic and charming beaches, mountains and smooth roads are simply perfect for the Levante.

The petrol-powered Maserati Levante is available in two variants; the Levante and the sportier Levante S.

We had the opportunity to drive the latter, which is fitted with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6. It is the same engine as the base Levante but has been tuned to produce higher outputs at 430hp and 580Nm of torque.

Power is transferred to all four wheels via Maserati’s Q4 all-wheel drive system and rear limited slip differential. It can do zero to 100kph in just 5.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 264kph.

The Levante has been around for a couple of years now, but the 2019 model received multiple updates here and there.

For instance, the car is now offered in GranLusso and GranSport trims, undergone redesigned front and rear bumpers and gets revised gearshift lever.

The adjacent drive mode cluster is made more user-friendly. No more M button to make way for the Off-Road mode button.

Depending on whether you opted for the GranSport or GranLusso trim, the Naza Italia-specced Levante is equipped with bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, 21-inch Helios wheels, red brake callipers, powered tailgate, soft closing doors, 8.4-inch touchscreen display for the Maserati Touch Control Plus (MTC Plus) infotainment unit, leather upholstery, satellite navigation, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitor and a dual-zone climate control system.

THE DRIVE

If you visit Maserati website, there is a section where you can listen to the sound clip sample of each models listed. That’s because the exhaust note is what defines Maserati. More on this later.

I had a pretty high expectation for the Levante because not only it is the first sport utility vehicle (SUV) from Maserati, it also uses a Ferrari engine.

Well technically, no Ferrari uses a 3.0-litre V6 for now, but the engine rolled out of the same factory in Maranello, so that’s something very special.

At low speeds, the Levante S was very composed and solid, although there were some clunks in gear changes at low engine speed.

Cruising through kampung streets in the island, the size felt quite apparent; it’s wider than a Q7 and just as wide as the new Cayenne.

For the driving modes on the centre console, there’s Sport, ICE (Increased Control and Efficiency) and Off-Road.

I find that Sport mode should always be engaged whenever you are on paved roads. This is because the Sport mode opens up the exhaust flaps and plays one of the best internal combustion music one can find on any SUV out there today.

The sensation I get the moment I started to apply throttle and lifting it off is spine-tingling. There’s deep induction note, and then pop and cracks later. It encouraged me to accelerate and upshifting as much as I could and downshift later to immerse myself in the orchestra.

The ZF 8-speed automatic can be smooth and quick enough when needed.

Body control is excellent, too.

During a hill climb to the peak of Gunung Raya, the Skyhook adaptive dampers did a great job in managing the weight shifting of the car along the twisty road.

I suspect the Levante can really bite sporty hatchbacks like the Golf GTi and Civic Type-R here. Mind you, the Levante S is a two-tonne car.

Power delivery is quite punchy and strong. The 580Nm pulls the Levante S from the lower rev range and the 430hp peaks just nicely at the upper range.

But turn off the Sport mode, and the Levante S can be a calm cruiser with an acceptable level of ride comfort.

I did not get to try the Off-Road mode, but basically it alters the drivetrain and suspension for undulating surfaces.

The adaptive air suspension can also be adjusted to four different heights via a toggle. Comfort and practicality wise, the Levante S is a lovely car to drive and to be driven in.

The front seats are not the most comfortable ones, but it provides sufficient support and displays a high level of quality and craftsmanship. The infotainment system was also easy to use and responsive.

Few downsides of the Levante S, however, are the ergonomics of the left-hand shift paddle and signal/light stalk.

The paddle is kind of obstructive in which I had to further rotate my left hand so that my fingers can reach the left-hand signal/light stalk.

Another one is the legroom that is pretty cruel to the middle rear passenger.

THE SOUND

Engine note has become an important brand statement and “vital in expressing a car’s character and the company’s emphasis on performance”, says Nicola Boari, Ferrari’s head of product marketing.

That is certainly true as the Levante has such a distinctive sound that you appreciate, you would never get tired of in this day and age where some carmakers mimic the sound of their cars through the audio system.

It also embodies Italian efforts in putting their passion into their product thus giving it unique soul and character.

VERDICT

The Maserati Levante S met my expectations; it was unmistakably Maserati, carries the brand’s ethos and can set its driver apart from the normal crowd.

It can deliver emotional drives but also has the everyday practicality of an SUV.

The Levante S starts from RM788,800 and Naza Italia will get you three years of standard warranty coverage with unlimited mileage plus a Maserati Premium Service Plus package.

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