This a traditionally Italian engine, filled to its crackle red cam covers with character. Yes there’s a sports exhaust with an active valve that opens in Sport mode for the full operatic effect, but even then the sound is cultured and just the right side of noisy - there’s none of the ostentatious bombast you get with Range Rover Sport and Jaguar F-Pace SVRs. It snarls and howls under load, then cracks, pops and burbles on the overrun. It’s glorious tenor never more than a right foot flex away.
Peak torque comes in at just 2,500rpm, but there’s a decent chunk of it below even this crank speed, meaning the Trofeo covers ground at a fair old lick, easily feeling as fast as Porsche Cayenne Coupe Turbo. It’s the sort of effortless, lag-free urge you expect from turbocharged engines these days, but while the torque curve is flat, the V8’s performance still builds excitingly, crescendoing with a snarling rush of revs over the last 1,000rpm or so.
Happily, the engine is mated to the familiar eight-speed ZF auto, which delivers smooth and crisp shifts in auto mode, yet reacts quickly to the long steering column-mounted paddles - Maserati claims that in Corsa mode the changes take just 150milliseconds.
Corsa also puts the chassis in its sharpest configuration, with the air springs lowered by 35mm and stiffened by about 20 percent. The Q4 transmission is also primed to stay in rear-wheel drive mode for longer, the ESP is relaxed, throttle is sharpened and the exhaust flaps are fully opened.
Even in its firmest configuration the Levante copes well with some of the torn and ragged tarmac we encounter - this is a more forgiving setting than the Cayenne’s Sport+ mode. Yes this means the Maserati doesn’t quite have its German rival’s cast iron control in extremis, but the trade off is more approachable handling.
It’s still a big car, and the mass eventually tells, but driven as briskly as you dare over give-and-take roads the Trofeo is surprisingly entertaining. The algorithm enhanced ESP subtly braking individual wheels (it’s almost imperceptible) to rotate the car into a corner and quell understeer, while the Skyhook adaptive dampers give the Levante the feeling it’s breathing with the road, rather than pummeling it into submission.
Push really hard and the Maserati struggles a little, getting a touch floaty over big bumps and rolling onto its outside rear wheel when really loaded up. However, in the wet conditions we experienced it’s possible to edge the tail out on the exit of slower corners if you’re greedy with the throttle. The rest of the time the Levante simply digs in and goes, the transmission quickly and seamlessly firing torque forward for a rapid corner exit. You have to be precise and neat - this isn’t a car that likes to have it’s attitude shifted mid-corner - but there are real rewards to be had here.
Arguably the weakest link in the dynamic make up is the steering, which quick and precise enough, but suffers from slightly artificial weighting and feedback in Sport and Corsa - it’s feels more natural in Comfort. Speaking of which, knock everything back to its quietest and softest and the Levante is a composed and comfortable cruiser, those air springs adding just the right amount of waft to proceedings.
The rest of the package is as before, which means the Maserati just trails the German competition for overall quality, with some of the plastics and switchgear still feeling a bit FCA hand-me-down and the touchscreen infotainment looking and operating like a unit that’s a generation behind the best. Yet the first rate leather, that exposed carbon fibre weave trim and the impressive finish all help lift the ambience - the Levante still feels a bit special. It’s roomy enough too, even if the rising waistline and smaller rear windows do make the rear feel a little gloomy. Bright red trim like our test car’s is a must.