When Maserati announced it was going to build a four-wheel drive SUV, responses ranged from incredulity to hilarity. When Maserati followed that up by announcing it was being launched in the UK with only a diesel engine for power, there was a mad dash for the smelling salts.

That was almost three years ago. The Levante is now Maserati’s top seller in the UK and is bang on-trend as the likes of Lamborghini, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce have followed down the luxury, powerful SUV route.

Thankfully, things have moved on from the first diesel offering. Next up was a 424bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine. Zero-60mph in 5.2 seconds; and a top speed 164mph – that’s more like it. Starting price for this Levante S is £70,400.

Having said all of that, there’s nothing wrong with the 3.0-litre V6 271bhp diesel engine in the Levante D. It’s not exactly slow, with a zero-60mph time of 6.9 seconds, and a top speed of 142mph. As with almost every V6, the exhaust note has a nice grumble to it. The fuel consumption of 39mpg is good. So too is the extremely reasonable price for this sort of car of £56,500 but, well, it’s a diesel engine. And it’s in a Maserati. And you have to use the frightfully crude black pump to fill up rather than the shiny green one.

So, Maserati decided to find a bit of middle ground and have now slot a new 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine lower down the price range. The power has been reduced so that this unit delivers 345bhp. It’s a tad slower than the Levante S with zero-60mph taking 6 seconds and top speed drops marginally to 156mph but, to be honest, in real-world driving, you won’t spot much of a difference.

Maserati decided to find a bit of middle ground and have now slot a new 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine lower down the price range

You will spot a difference in the price though because the Levante with the lower powered petrol engine has a lower price of £59,300.

Every Levante gets all-wheel drive, so this SUV isn’t just about transporting a family over long distances, it will also take you onto the beach or across a boggy field. It will tow up to 2.7 tonnes, so hauling a horsebox or towing a boat won’t be a problem. Ground and speed-sensitive air suspension comes as standard, which means that as you build-up speed on tarmac, the suspension lowers. If you trundle onto boggy ground, the suspension will raise.

Anybody will be able to get a comfortable driving position in the Levante because not only does the seat move in every direction, so does the steering and even the pedals.

The Levante isn’t oversized – it’s more of a lifestyle 4x4 than a load lugger. Four adults or a typical family and their baggage will be fine, but don’t expect that you can shift a wardrobe. You can’t.

In terms of trim, what do you get in this lower-powered petrol Maserati Levante? There are three choices available: entry-level Levante, GranLusso (£67,300) and GranSport (also £67,300). The GranLusso is aimed at folk who want a bit of luxury while the GranSport, guess what, is aimed at providing more of a sporting style. The GranSport is the one we’d go for. The GranLusso gets additional chrome while the GranSport goes for black trim, sports seats, red brake calipers and fatter alloys. Levante models are fully equipped with all of the essentials like air con and sat nav.

The air suspension is terrific and you really do end up with the perfect combination of comfy ride yet sufficient poise for when you push on

Out on the road, the first thing you spot is how well the Maserati Levante rides. The air suspension is terrific and you really do end up with the perfect combination of comfy ride yet sufficient poise for when you push on.

And crucially, there’s no mistaking that this SUV is a Maserati. The front is instantly recognisable.

The new engines aren't ending with the V6, either. Two V8-engined Levante models are coming next: the GTS and the Trofeo which should turn this SUV into a Super SUV. Bad news: it doesn’t look as though we’re getting them in the UK, well not in RHD form anyway.

There is a surprising choice of premium SUVs in the Maserati Levante’s price bracket. The Porsche Cayenne or cheaper Macan are an option, but you’ll need to dip into the extras brochure to bring either Porsche up to the Levante’s specification. The Jaguar F-Pace and Range Rover Velar are also alternatives.

One thing is for certain: the Maserati is a very welcome addition to the hunky SUV market. If you raised your eyebrows at Maserati building an SUV in the first place, you need to go and try the Levante – you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Book a test drive here.