A few grains of sand will not compromise the acceleration and handling of a 690 hp V12 Ferrari or the 430 hp of a chubby Maserati. The most exciting gravel-friendly line of FCA Group currently in production is indeed the most outrageous to use for some fun offroad. Sure, better leave extreme rock-crawling to factory monsters like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and other specifically-built machinery, but who said exotics cannot tackle some gravel with the same flamboyance they have on tarmac ?
In a way, these two machines are perhaps the most perfect offer on the market today: in a world where track-focused special cars come with state-of-the-art infotainment, cars like the GTC4 Lusso and the Levante S are the ultimate in terms of performance and practicality. This statement is especially true for this lovely Verde British Ferrari, the first example of the Tailor Made program for the model: nearly 700 hp, four wheel drive, four seats, decent trunk space, four wheel steering and the ability to do some skids. Basically, the Ferrari is no different than ordering a single plate with aged steak, stuffed lobster, a couple of burgers with fries and crème brûlée: what else could you possibly want?
The Levante instead is the beefed up, comfortable and sporty SUV that everyone who doesn’t want a Porsche anymore would be happy to buy. We can pair it to a good portion of Italian cured meats, which are quite old fashioned, but hardly flawed: take that, Bratwürst-loving Cayenne!
Sure, the pair together has no similarities whatsoever with one another, but as far as luxurious no-Land-Rover-land off-roading goes, this pair is just as good as it gets, and it is marvellous. And no, the location where we had the opportunity to experience these vehicles was not the Sonoran desert but good old Sardinia, a stunning place which not only offers the opportunity to stretch out 900 hp but also some gravel back roads, perfect for some old fashioned fun.
Let’s admit it: since when the Ferrari FF came out, everyone has been obsessed with the idea of taking Ferraris on snow, gravel or mud. Bringin a masterpiece from Maranello on to some dirt roads is like inviting your local priest to a strip club and actually being able to have some fun with him. The understatement of the GTC4 (yes, in 2017 we can have such a thing) is quite remarkable as its sonorous but well civilized note from its 6.2 liter V12 is quiet but consistent. The comfort and refinement from its latest generation magneride dampers is as good as it can be, absorbing the bumps perfectly and granting a top level performance at any given condition. Its clever 2 transmission four-wheel-drive system (yes, you read that right) allows for phenomenal levels of grip and a neutral, very well balanced handling: in optimal conditions, it manages hypercar precision levels of grip. It is amazing how the GTC4 manages its weight in both fast and slow corners, thanks to the four wheel steering and long wheel base. That said on tarmac: on gravel, the experience changes, with the car still retaining a docile and controllable rear wheel drive nature, offering plenty of fun and enjoyment. The traction is superb and instead of hearing crackles and pops from a loud turbo 4 cylinder, you have the lovely note of a V12. Life is good, with gravel: isn’t that a treat? In a way, it is the closest thing you can get to an original 308 Gr.4 prepared by Michelotto!
On the other hand, the Levante is the GTC4 more overweight cousin and the one that has been designed to be off road more frequently. Boasting a more traditional layout with a 3 litre Ferrari-built twin turbo V6 and a 4×4 drive with a torque transfer case and two shafts. Despite feeling a bit behind the competition in terms of infotainment and overall feel, the Maserati excells in the ride, which is exactly how you would expect from a luxury SUV. Despite some body roll, which given the 2 tons weight is understandable, the handling on tarmac is phenomenal and you can have some good fun in the twists and turns. Even with the suspension setting in sport, the ride is pliant and despite the 255/60 R21 tires it still feels as comfortable as a land yacht. The engine has character and pulls adequately with an excellent soundtrack. Despite being launched in 2016, the Levante feels a little lagging behind the competition, especially if compared to a Cayenne. The twin clutch 8-speed gearbox is not as fast as a Porsche PDK, but still is adequate to the kind of vehicle the Levante is. Nevermind, if that’s excitement in a big SUV that you’re looking for, this Maserati will deliver in a very flamboyant Italian manner.
Of the two, it was the only one which was made specifically for off-roading purposes, with air suspension and front and rear-view cameras. Despite not feeling any stone chips hitting the bodywork, like it happens constantly in the GTC4, the Levante is not the most surprising one on gravel as it is fantastic. Also offering plenty of room for our equipment, it worked well as a camera car as well.
In the middle of nowhere, with tiny narrow roads covered with spiky grass (thank God both cars were fitted with protective film) we could take advantage of the harsh conditions to some irreverent fun in two very Italian machines. Besides Escape on Wheels’ interest in Land Rovers, for one day we didn’t feel the need for one, as our very patriotic souls weren’t being slowed down by some dirt. After all, who said that being dirty is not classy?
Huge Thanks to our friend Greg B.