First Drive: 2017 Maserati Levante

– Carmel, California

Is there any logical reason for Maserati to build the Levante, the first sport-utility vehicle to emerge from an Italian performance car manufacturer? Ask a contatore di fagiolo in Modena, and it’s clear: the brand needs working capital to continue to build true sports cars, and an SUV is the path toward the ducats. When it comes to SUVs from unexpected manufacturers (i.e. performance brands), my expectations tend to be low. The race is no longer to build “a truck,” but to fashion a natural, truck-like extension of the brand. And Maserati, just like Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini, probably thinks it’s time that you stopped asking why a sports car brand also builds SUVs.

I’m thinking out loud, as I toss the Levante around a narrow stretch of road that snakes through the hills of the Monterey peninsula that’s a veritable Nürburgring for central California. In the first decreasing-radius, uphill turn, I drop down a gear and let the Ferrari-developed engine sing, hugging the inside while avoiding a precipitous, unguarded drop down the mountain. The Levante thinks nothing of taking on a downhill hairpin that would flummox a performance sedan of the same size, and it’s unfazed by elevation changes, wide-open stretches, and a sweeping corner. All this, while I’m practically surrounded by invitingly touchable leather more appropriate for handbags and gloves, coddled over eight inches above the ground.

Roads like this one are meant to allow sports cars to hustle, whi...