Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 8, 2021
Trofeo means trophy in Italian, and while it used to be the name of Maserati’s one-make race-car series back in 2003, it is now a badge reserved for their most extreme models. Think of it along the likes of M, AMG, and Quadrifoglio. Gracing the Italian brand’s sole SUV, the Levante Trofeo is here to tempt wealthy individuals with prodigious V8 power, all-wheel drive, and signature of the trident, an orchestral exhaust.
The entrance fee is understandably high. The 2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo ($168,560) sits on top of the GTS ($143,290), S ($104,290), and base ($94,290) models, putting it up against a whole slew of performance-minded SUVs like the Range Rover Sport SVR ($135,700), BMW X6 M Competition ($128,200), Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid ($185,600), and Mercedes-AMG GLE 63 S ($133,300).
Of note, the Trofeo commands a significant $25,270 premium over the GTS. What do you get with that money? First off, more power. The Ferrari-sourced 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 receives 40 more horses thanks to new twin-scroll turbochargers, redesigned cylinder heads with different camshafts, upgraded pistons and connecting rods, and a new engine calibration map. The grand total is 590 hp, while torque remains the same at 538 lb-ft. That makes it the most powerful road-going Maserati if you don’t account for the wickedly rare MC12 Corsa and its heavenly 6.0-litre V12.
The Trofeo will zing from 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds, the same as a BMW X6 M Competition, Porsche Cayenne Turbo, and Bentley Bentayga Speed, and quick enough to outrun a Range Rover Sport SVR. Maserati runs that output through a ZF 8-speed automatic to all four wheels via a rear limited-slip differential and its Q4 all-wheel drive system. The latter is what differentiates the Levante Trofeo from the Ghibli Trofeo and Quattroporte Trofeo, both of which are rear-wheel drive only.
There are only a few subtle exterior tweaks that let you differentiate the Trofeo from its lesser models. The key visual indicators are the dual front hood vents that help extract heat from the engine bay. There are unique Trofeo trident badges on the Levante’s C-pillars, slightly different front and rear splitters, as well as 21- and 22-inch wheel designs. Maserati have also been liberal with carbon fibre elements, gracing everything from the lower front splitter, sides of the lower front air intakes, side skirts, rear diffuser, and even on the engine cover, flanking the red-painted cylinder heads and intake manifolds. The Trofeo also receives full LED adaptive headlights that replace the bi-xenons, but the remainder of the exterior remains your standard fare Levante: quad exhausts, deep front grill, and haunched rear end. Keep in mind that the Trofeo on test here is the 2020 model year. The 2021 model will include some additional upgrades like new taillights, a redesigned rear bumper, and a red accented Trofeo script badge on the side fenders.
The lack of a big, shouty Trofeo badge on the trunk lid that lets passersby know you spent a considerable sum over a GTS is not a bad thing. The mellifluous exhaust does most of the talking anyways. But the Levante was never a bad looking vehicle to begin with, and tacky badges are the last thing it requires. Fixed with an adaptive air suspension that lowers its stance considerably, the Levante Trofeo remains one of the best looking SUVs on the market. Its long front hood and tapered back roofline makes it appear like an Italian Infiniti FX. All business in the back, party in the front. The shark-like front grill is what gives the Levante its substantial presence on the road, but it’s still a shame that they replaced the metal trident badge with a plastic one so it does not interfere with the radar and cameras that sit behind it.
The Trofeo also gets a few interior tweaks, like the Trofeo badge meticulously stitched onto every headrest, and Pieno Fiore leather all over the seats and dashboard. Pieno Fiore leather is full-grain and largely considered the best and most sought after. It’s the softest and most natural looking, hence the deep, rich hue to the red leather inside our test vehicle. Could also be the reason why the seats take forever to heat up - we’re talking over ten minutes on a frosty morning. Trofeo models also receive a new analog clock with a slightly different backface, though I don’t find it as sleek or as elegant as the blue one in non-Trofeo models.
The rest of the interior remains the same as the GTS. Quality wise, the Trofeo utilizes top-notch materials and soft leather surfaces, but many of the plastic knick-knacks borrowed from the FCA parts bin will surely bother some nitpickers. The signal stalk, window switches, even sunroof controls are all from your local rental Dodges and Jeeps. Honestly though, it has never bothered me. They function as they are supposed to and despite their humble origins, are quite well designed.
The touchscreen and infotainment system, also borrowed from FCA, works incredibly well too. Despite its lack of pizzazz and cabin theatrics like a Mercedes’ advanced voice control system, Audi’s fancy dual touchscreens, or BMW’s gesture control, we have no complaints with its friendly interface, customizable lower shortcut menu, and large fonts. As a driver, you will spend most of your time entranced by the massive leather steering wheel anyways. Large, substantially weighted, and available in wood, carbon fibre, and leather, the wheel is the highlight of the interior. Our Trofeo had the optional carbon fibre paddle shifters, a $550 option, that are mounted to the column instead of the actual wheel. Since they remain stationary, you will always know where they are. While aesthetically pleasing, I still prefer the standard aluminum ones instead. The texture is more metallic, shinier, and makes a more satisfying noise when rebounding after a shift.
Exclusive to the Trofeo model is a new driving mode called Corsa, essentially turning the systems up to eleven. Engine response doubles down for quicker output, the exhaust valves open up for a louder soundtrack, gear shifts are even quicker, the air suspension lowers for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, the dampers firm up, and the all-wheel drive system becomes even more rear-biased. Traction and stability control are also kept at the bare minimum. Drivers can also access Launch Control in Corsa mode.
And while the Trofeo definitely feels more eager than the GTS in the low-end, we don’t notice a considerable difference in mid- and top-end thrust. Could be the fact that the GTS is already exceedingly quick in a straight line, and the fractional delta might only be detectable in a back to back showdown at top speed. But the biggest difference than we can detect is the exhaust noise. The Trofeo is a magnitude louder than the GTS, making it one of the most acoustically pleasing V8s on the market today. The engine is choked up by two turbochargers too if you can believe it or not, yet it resonates with a sonorous note that would put many naturally aspirated mills to shame. More distinctive than a Porsche Cayenne Turbo and more stimulating than an AMG’s dark bellow, you should really have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video to hear the Trofeo for yourself.
We have an Italian engine to thank for that magical soundtrack. You will find no shortage of claims that Maserati uses hand-built Ferrari engines, and it’s actually true. The Trofeo’s 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 starts its life with Ferrari architecture and is finished off and assembled by Ferrari themselves in Maranello. The Maserati V8 even shares the same internal code name as the Ferrari California’s V8, F154, but that’s just about where the similarities end. Maserati uses a crossplane crankshaft with wet sump lubrication, while Ferrari uses a flat-plane crank with dry sump lubrication, hence the difference in RPM limits and the stallion’s more exotic exhaust note. But this Trofeo is proof in the pudding that not all turbocharged engines have to sound scruffy and muted.
The Trofeo’s road mannerisms are praiseworthy as well. The ZF-sourced 8-speed transmission is exceptionally smooth and well tuned for lightning quick shifts and polished rev matches, delivering a similar gentleness to a BMW gearbox. Furthermore, the steering is perfectly weighted, light at low speeds but not muted enough to deem it anesthetized from the road. It’s not as featherweight and communicative as an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and not as numb as a BMW X5 M Competition, but just about in between.
The Levante shares a platform with the Ghibli and Quattroporte but the chassis has been stiffened for the Trofeo, and adjustable via a dedicated button.The addition of an adaptive air suspension results in a taut and controlled ride. While heavy, the motions feel deliberate and never unwieldy. It’s always aware of where it’s rolling and how to counteract the inertial mass but as a whole, the Trofeo doesn't hold a candle to the athleticism of a Cayenne or the wonderfully damped X5 M. You shouldn’t expect too much from the fuel economy department, either. Our burly V8 SUV averaged 16.3 L/100km with a mix of both city and highway driving. Then again, our undeniable tendency to caress the limiter to uncork those vocals surely didn’t help the cause.
The Maserati Levante Trofeo is one of the most emotionally-driven and lustworthy performance SUVs we have ever driven, giving the market a unique and distinctive alternative to more established players in the field. The Trofeo’s mellifluous exhaust puts nearly every other turbocharged V8 to shame, and despite its luscious leather and well upholstered interior being marred by borrowed company parts, it’s a small detriment to an otherwise complete and cohesive package. The Trofeo price premium is considerable and suffice to say, the GTS offers 85% of the driving experience with a lower price tag, and is our choice of the litter. But if price is no consequence, and you want the most extreme experience offered by the trident badge, the Trofeo is the best there is.
Model: 2020 Maserati Levante Trofeo
Paint Type: Grigio Maratea
Base Price: $168,560
Price as Tested: $170,210
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,020 / 1,981 / 1,698
Curb weight (kg): 2,170
Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V8
Horsepower: 590 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 538 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.6