Three months removed from Maserati’s reveal of the Levante Trofeo at the 2018 New York International Auto Show, the Italian carmaker has announced yet another high-performance variant. The Levante GTS made a surprise appearance at a private preview for Maserati and Alfa Romeo in Pontiac, Michigan. We were on hand to drive models from both brands, including the Levante GTS.

Sitting just below the Trofeo, the Levante GTS uses the same Ferrari-built 3.8L twin-turbo V8 engine but produces only 550 horsepower compared to the Trofeo’s 590. A ZF 8-speed automatic transmission handles 538 lb.-ft of torque, which comes in at 2,500 RPM producing a claimed 0-60 time of 4.0 seconds and a top speed of 181 mph.

Naturally, the chassis has been sport-tuned to handle the extra power and offers a 50:50 weight balance. Air Spring control provides six different levels resulting in a three-inch difference in height between the highest and lowest setting. Following the Trofeo, the GTS incorporates the Maserati Integrated Vehicle Control system in its Electronic Stability Program to predict driving situations and adapt engine speed and brakes accordingly.

GTS styling cues include more aggressive side air intakes in the lower front fascia, a body color lower extractor above the quad exhaust tips and piano black bumper inserts. Standard wheels are 20-inches, but buyers can upgrade to 21’s or brand new 22-inchers. Inside, there’s an updated shifter with shorter action.

We had the chance to drive the Levante GTS on a rain-soaked M1 Concourse. Less-than-stellar conditions aside, the track provided tight, technical turns, long sweepers and a generous back straight to test the SUV’s performance credentials. The twin-turbo V8’s 550-hp is stout on paper, but even more so in practice. Regardless of gear selection, more power always seems available and it’s accompanied by a sweet song that comes only from an Italian powertrain. 

The Levante GTS is surprisingly nimble through decreasing radius hairpins and confident in high-speed sweepers — even more impressive given the wet surface. Much of that confidence comes from the Q4 all-wheel drive system, which is quick to react. In normal driving, the system sends all power to the rear wheels until it senses a loss in traction, at which point up to 50% can be sent to the front. 

We were forced to keep traction control on, but its intervention wasn’t as conspicuous as it was in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio that we drove in the same conditions just prior. Alfa’s Stelvio seems more playful and raw, whereas the Levante boasts a greater level of sophistication and sure-footedness. Of course, the Levante GTS is a substantial vehicle and its thick a-pillars hinder the ability to look as far ahead as we would like to on a road course; though it should be noted we spent a very short amount of time behind the wheel and never found a perfect seating position.

The 2019 Maserati Levante GTS starts just over $121,000, which is $50,000 less than the Trofeo.