Johannesburg - Maserati became the newest entrant to the insatiably popular premium-SUV market when it launched its Levante here in February.

The Italian vehicle was only available as a V6 turbodiesel however, and now it's been joined by a petrol version called the Levante S for those who prefer a lighter-coloured fuel.

Under the bonnet of this high-performance all-terrainer is a Ferrari twin turbo 3-litre petrol V6 with outputs of 320kW and 580Nm, for a claimed top speed of 264km/h and a 0-100km/h blast in just 5.2 seconds. Perhaps more importantly it will have a signature petrol roar.

Like the diesel version the Levante S is an all-wheel drive SUV which rides on adaptive air suspension that can be set to one of three firmness levels, and can raise and lower to different heights to better suit the tar or turf. There's an additional extra low easy-entry parking mode. 

Enhanced traction

The rear-biased all-wheel drive by default directs all the torque rearwards in regular driving, and diverts up to 50 percent to the front wheels when driving conditions dictate. There's also a mechanical limited-slip differential at the rear to enhance traction, particularly when accelerating out of tight corners.

The Levante-S is priced from R1 950 000 in standard form, but there's a bountiful list of extra-cost options for deep-pocketed buyers. Maserati South Africa has two showrooms in Johannesburg and Cape Town, with a third to be opened in Durban soon.

Next up on the Levante menu will be a V8 petrol version which is due in 2018. It will be powered by the 3.8-litre twinturbo V8 which wields 390kW and 710Nm in the Maserati Quattroporte, but may come with boosted outputs.

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