For a renowned maker of fast Italian cars, Maserati seems to move relatively slowly. This new V6-engined Levante SUV is the latest model in a leisurely launch calendar, and marks the first time the ‘base model’ of the company’s high-riding vehicle can be bought in the UK without a diesel engine. This is both good and bad news, for while diesel’s demonification has led to many premium brands dropping it like a hot stone (Bentley and Porsche among them), the hard truth is that diesel power is especially well-suited to lugging around the typical supersized SUV. To offset this, plenty of power is required from a petrol unit, with the corresponding hit in economy.

That probably won’t trouble potential customers. The Levante’s V6 slots beneath the range’s upcoming pair of V8-engined flagships (with a power unit built by Ferrari, no less), and here offers up 430bhp in GranSport trim. The first thing it claws back from its diesel sibling is a sonic signature unlike any other; you’re not going to be making any subtle entrances or exits using this car, thanks to an orchestral stab of an exhaust system. While you’re waking the neighbours, you can sample a very finely crafted contemporary automobile, one that competes sufficiently well with its burgeoning class while still retaining an aura of difference (‘exclusivity’ probably isn’t the right word).

An SUV is all but essential for a luxury manufacturer. Porsche’s Cayenne showed the way, distilling sports car DNA into the bigger, bulkier and brasher Cayenne. Everyone else has followed suit. Lamborghini’s Urus re-shaped the perception of the brand, as did the Rolls-Royce Cullinan, while Jaguar and Bentley are increasingly dependent on the sales garnered by the F-PACE and Bentayga respectively. Aston Martin’s DBX is mere months away from its unveiling and the long-running rumours of a Ferrari competitor are getting louder.

Maserati Levante Vulcano controls

The Levante arrived in Maserati’s line-up in 2016, effectively doubling sales and bringing in customers who weren’t especially taken by the wilfully eccentric Quattroporte (still one of the most evocative names in motoring) and the ageing GranTurismo. As a first attempt at translating the famous Trident-badged styling to a larger, taller car, the Levante is a decent effort.

Maseratis have always walked the line between awkward and sublime, using the latter to their advantage thanks to the involvement of iconic design houses like Bertone and Pininfarina. Whereas the latter had a hand in the GranTurismo – one of the reason it’s still fresh after 12 years – the Levante was done in-house. Suffice to say the team didn’t quite master what is a difficult brief; it’s a shame Maserati didn’t take more inspiration from a heritage rich with eccentricity. The Vulcano edition, shown here, is a limited edition of 150 cars with a rich red leather interior that is a pointed nod towards interiors of old.

Maserati Levante Vulcano wheel

But then an SUV is a conservative choice, a ‘sports’ car for those with responsibilities and requirements that two seats and two doors can’t cater for. These days, a whole generation of sporting car owners have only ever really experienced the SUV, so attempting to make a car of this ilk handle like a sleek coupe is futile. The Levante needs to handle and accelerate with aplomb, and thanks to the power at hand this is never a problem.

It has to be said that the Levante still retains a lingering aura of Maserati magic, for the very best motoring brands have an impressively slow half life, fading away only after decades. But however big, brash and supremely capable the Levante may be, its most defiant point of difference is that it’s a step behind, not ahead, of the curve. That it still succeeds as a desirable machine is testament to Maserati’s enduring appeal. §