Maserati's first SUV is easy on the eye, exceptionally spacious and immaculately finished
Lovely Levante The Levante is Maserati's maiden foray into sport utility vehicles. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Maserati has made its maiden foray into sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with the Levante. Going by its sturdy build quality, fine finishing (nobody does leather like the Italians) and generous use of luxury materials, Maserati is likely to go places with this car.

The Levante is generously equipped. Air suspension with active damping and variable ride height, automatic hill descent and intelligent four-wheel-drive are some of the standard-issue goodies you will find.

The Sport Pack version (tested here) has more, including adaptive cruise control, rear spoiler, huge shift paddles, brushed stainless- steel pedals, larger 20-inch wheels, red wheel callipers and surround-view camera.

One of the car's key rivals is Porsche's Cayenne. The Levante is longer and wider, with a more generous wheelbase (3,004mm versus 2,895mm). It also sits lower, but is heavier.

Despite the weight, the Levante is quicker on paper than the Cayenne Diesel, thanks to its beefier engine, and also has a slightly higher peak velocity.

In practice, the Maserati does not feel any quicker.

It feels like a proper luxe barge - smooth, comfortable and superbly insulated from the outside world. At the wheel, you will not hear a hint of its diesel engine. Instead, a lovely exhaust note permeates in Sport mode.

Sport mode remains the best way to enjoy the car. Besides providing aural delight, this mode makes for a lighter and more responsive throttle. In normal default drive mode, the car can still be driven fairly briskly, but it takes significantly more effort on your part. Either way, you will notice the car is often not going as fast as the speedometer indicates.

For its size, the car is adequately agile, even though you would probably rank it closer to something like the large and comfortable Range Rover than the sportily tuned Porsche Cayenne.

Although its steering is well-weighted and precise, it could do with more tautness and responsiveness. The car's turning circle is also pretty wide. As you would expect, it corners best with its ride dialled down to its lowest.

Overall, it takes a bit more time to adjust to this giant of a car than, say, the equally massive Audi Q7. But as long as you do not have aspirations to be Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, the Levante will meet most driving expectations.

As a high-end SUV, it exceeds expectations. Its fit and finish, as well as its impressive array of amenities, will please fastidious buyers.

There is plenty of space too. Thanks to its limousine-like dimensions, occupants get plenty of stretching room. Its boot space is more than decent, with a motorised boot lid button that is thoughtfully placed near floor level rather than on the tailgate.

Finally, it is a handsome car - proof again the Italians are brilliant designers.

But if you are also tempted by the Cayenne, know that the Porsche is more fun to drive, but is not as posh nor as spacious as the Maserati.