This Battery-Powered Ford Mustang Has Over 5,000 Pound-Feet of Torque and Costs $255,000

Have a hankering for how they used to build 'em but want face-stretching electric acceleration? Lucky you, because London-based startup Charge Automotive will build a run of first-generation Ford Mustangs converted to run on electric power.

Charge Automotive, which boasts expertise from Williams F1 Team, McLaren Automotive, and Jaguar-Land Rover, will cram electric drivetrains into license-built shells of the original Ford Mustang—both coupe and convertible. Inside each car will be a high-roller interior, and underneath, a high-tech electric drivetrain with enough twist to make you sing.

A 64 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery lives under the hood, and can accept 50-kilowatt fast charging. It's good for 124 miles (200 kilometers) of range, but nobody buys a Mustang to see how far they can go on a single fill-up, or in this case, charge. Instead, the UK company built this car to do what Mustangs do best: snap the necks of their occupants with blistering performance.

Using selectable rear- or all-wheel-drive, Charge's Mustang can toast its Michelin tires with up to 300 kW (402 horsepower) and an astonishing 7,500 newton-meters (5,532 pound-feet) of peak torque. Together, they're good for 0-to-60 in just 3.1 seconds, or as fast as a modified Ferrari Portofino.

Charge plans to construct no more than 499 electric Mustangs and will offer test drive sessions across three continents starting in spring of 2019. If you want one, you'll have to first slip the company a £5,000 ($6,300 USD) deposit, and ready a total of £200,000 ($255,000 USD) to pay for your car. Charge promises that the first production vehicles will ship to clients in September of 2019.

The Drive reached out to Charge Automotive for additional information on the car, and we will update when we receive a response.

Of course, if the Mustang isn't your cuppa, there are other EV conversion services willing to strap a battery and motors into your classic car, such as Atlanta-based Eddy Motorworks.

Evident by the comments left on Charge's social media, the conversion of a classic Mustang into an EV is—put lightly—offensive to some people. While we sympathize with people who prefer the smell of petroleum products in the morning, an electric-only future wouldn't be nearly as bad as some make it out to be.

Marines Riding On Cargo Ship To Pacific Exercises A Sign Of A More Flexible Deployment Strategy

Members of the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy are conducting the latest iteration of a set of regional exercises throughout the South Pacific while embarked on a container and roll-on-roll-off cargo ship, the USNS Gunnery Sergeant Fred W. Stockham. This isn’t the first time the Marines and sailors have used this mode of transportation for these drills, but it reflects an increasingly important option for deploying Marines and other American forces during various types of combat and non-combat that also helps ease the strain on traditional amphibious vessels and surface combatants.

The embarked elements of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific and U.S. Pacific Fleet, kicked off the first of their exercises, known collectively as Koa Moana, or “ocean warrior” in Hawaiian, in French Polynesia in September 2018. They subsequently traveled to Vanuatu nearly 3,000 miles further west. The drills will run through December 2018, with additional stops in Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Northern Mariana Islands, the last location being a U.S. commonwealth.

“The task force's continued multilateral engagements are designed to strengthen and enhance relationships among the United States and partner nations in the Indo-Pacific and South Pacific regions,” a statement from the I Marine Expeditionary Force, which contributed personnel to the deployment, explained. “Koa Moana promotes regional security and stability, and improves interoperability between security establishments by preparing to respond effectively to crises, and maintain a flexible and effective maritime force in readiness.”

These exercises cover a range of military, law enforcement, and disaster response skill sets and are valuable for forming relationships with security forces in these small island nations and territories that would be useful in the event of any future crisis. They also include civil-military engagements, typically pop-up medical and dental clinics and community construction projects, which provide an immense, if often intangible benefit in promoting American interests abroad.

A French Army soldier, in shorts, speaks with Marines during a training exercise as part of Koa Moana in French Polynesia in September 2018.

Exercises such as Koa Moana are cost-effective tools to counter the influence of potential opponents, such as China, which is seeking to expand its influence and ability to project military power in the region. Though Chinese and Ni-Vanuatu authorities subsequently denied it, there were reports earlier in 2018 that the People’s Liberation Army Navy had sought to establish a base in the country, underscoring the outsized geopolitical significance of that island nation. Vanuatu's government later asked for a more permanent U.S. military presence.

But Koa Moana, which has occurred regularly since at least 2015, and the use of the Stockham in particular, also highlight important developments in the U.S. military’s own ability to conduct expeditionary and distributed operations in the region. Around the same time that the drills first began, the Marines and Navy were exploring increasing the use of non-combatant cargo ships and their civilian merchant marine crews from Military Sealift Command (MSC) to help support various operational demands.

“We will evaluate and experiment with Marine detachments on ships other than amphibious vessels such as afloat forward staging bases, destroyers, littoral combat ships, mobile landing platforms, and joint high-speed vessels,” Former Marine Commandant General James Amos and then-current Chief of Naval Operations U.S. Navy Admiral Jonathan Greenert had argued in a 2013 article in Proceedings magazine. “[The Marine Corps needs to] modify traditional employment methods and augment amphibious warships by adapting other vessels for sea-based littoral operations.”

Shipbuilder National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), now part of General Dynamics, originally delivered Stockham, which displaces more than 54,000 tons with a full load, to the Maersk Line shipping company as the M/V Lica Maersk in 1980. The Navy picked her up in 1997, originally naming her the USNS Soderman.

The Navy withdrew her from service in 2000 to convert her into an “enhanced prepositioning ship,” which involved modifications to improve her ability to load and unload cargo simultaneously, either using her roll-on-roll-off features or rear helipad, and do so both while in established ports or sitting offshore. In the latter case, the ship can employ temporary floating docks to transfer cargo to smaller ships and landing craft who would then ferry it ashore. The ship returned to service in 2001, at which time the Navy rechristened her the Stockham.

This makes the Stockham, one of three Shughart-class ships, a cost-effective option for shuttling the Marines and sailors around to their various ports of call in the South Pacific during Koa Moana. It can easily unload their vehicles and other equipment thanks to its roll-on-roll-off configuration. These same capabilities, plus its “enhanced” features, would make it a valuable tool in responding to any humanitarian disaster, as well.

USNS <em>Stockham</em>, at rear, performs a Montford Point. A ramp connects the cargo ship to the other vessel, allowing vehicles to drive straight out onto the deck and then onto waiting landing craft." />

But leveraging MSC's cargo fleets also gives Marines, as well as other American forces, added flexibility to respond to a wider variety of crises abroad where a maritime deployment may be the most effective option, but when no surface combatants are in the immediate vicinity or available on short notice. A roll-on roll-off ship such as the Stockham would be a good tool for delivering Marine Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team (FAST) Companies into a hotspot where the nearest military airfield or civilian airport may be off limits. These units are on call at various locations around the world to reinforce American embassies and rapidly respond to other overseas contingencies, such as a major terrorist attack or violent political upheaval.

Special operations forces also benefit from the additional deployment capacity cargo ships offer. Special operators already have at least one dedicated converted roll-on roll-off ship themselves, the M/V Ocean Trader, that acts as a mothership and sea base for covert operations. Ships such as Stockham might not have all the features of purpose converted vessel, but could still provide a useful capability for less intensive, lower-priority operations.

Having more Marines afloat at any one time, regardless of what units they come from, only increases the service's ability to respond quickly to global crises in general. In the Pacific, in particular, distributed and expeditionary operations could easily see U.S. personnel spread across a broad area full of high- and low-risk environments, and everything in between, increasing the need to be able to rapidly and flexibility respond to new developments. Using MSC ships means the service can provide this enhanced presence that without the Navy having to buy additional ships.

In using MSC's ships, the Marines and sailors also don’t have to rely entirely on larger, traditional amphibious ships, or other surface combatants, especially for those low- or no-risk missions. This eases the operational demands on those vessels, which are limited in number, always in high demand, are more expensive to operate, and are suffering from Navy-wide maintenance backlogs that are limiting the availability of all surface warships and submarines.

The USS <em>John P. Murtha</em>, a <em>San Antonio</em>-class landing platform dock, a type of amphibious ship that Marines more typically rely on to get around.

The latter issue is “a sucking chest wound,” U.S. Marine Corps Major General David Coffman, in charge of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operation's Expeditionary Warfare Division said during a talk at the Hudson Institute think tank on Nov. 9, 2018. As such, the flexibility offered by MSC’s fleets is only of increasing importance, especially in the Pacific, where tensions with the Chinese have been ratcheting up all throughout 2018 as relations have cooled due to a number of different factors.

Using cost-effective bolt-on launchers for over-the-horizon anti-ship and land attack missiles, such as the Navy's newly acquired Naval Strike Missiles, MSC's ships, including the Shughart-class roll-on-roll-off ships, can be more active players in future combat operations. The Navy has already been exploring simply embarking Marine Corps truck-mounted High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) or other ground-based, mobile missile launchers on various ships to give them an immediate boost in stand-off strike capability. Either option would give forces ashore extra firepower without the Navy necessarily needing to employ more expensive surface combatants or submarines.

Previous deployments have shown that embarking Marines and other uniformed military personnel on the cargo ships is something of a morale boost, as well. Merchant mariners usually “get pretty fancy meals and places to eat and meals and lounges that are pretty unheard of in the Navy,” as well as more luxurious crew quarters and recreational facilities, retired Navy Captain Bob Sweeney, formerly commander of MSC’s Far East division, told Marine Corps Times in 2015.

Of course, using MSC’s ships for more varied roles isn’t an all-purpose solution. In their present state, the bulk of the command’s ships have, at best, very limited defenses and would be extremely vulnerable even in medium-threat environments, an issue that came to the forefront just recently when the Navy admitted it did not have the necessary ships to adequately protect maritime logistics operations during a high-end conflict.

Increasing the offensive and defensive capabilities of MSC’s cargo fleets may be more complicated. The ships' non-combatant status and civilian crews present doctrinal and legal obstacles to using them in more serious conflicts, to begin with. There’s also the matter of age and the total number of cargo vessels, which may be under increasing strain themselves in the near future. Still, the added capabilities and capacity that ships such as Stockham offer Marines and other uniformed personnel when it comes to various mission sets is definitely another argument for expanding and improving MSC’s inventory, though.

All told, the Stockham transporting a relatively small number of Marines and sailors around to exercises in the South Pacific is a pretty mundane task for the ship. But it’s also an important demonstration of the less visible options available to the U.S. military to move personnel around the region, which may be vital for responding to future regional crises.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com

Subaru WRX STI Diamond Edition Is the Most Powerful Variant to Date and You Can’t Have It

Subaru will celebrate the 30th anniversary of its performance subsidiary Subaru Technica International (STI) with a 'roided-up WRX STI making 349 horsepower, called the Diamond Edition.

The Diamond Edition follows the path established by the WRX STI STImulating Edition, which celebrated the division's 15th anniversary with a special run of 15 cars. Thus, the 30th-anniversary Diamond Edition will be limited to just 30 cars, each of them faster and flashier than a run-of-the-mill WRX STI.

Its 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four engine dumps 349 horsepower (260 kilowatts) and 342 pound-feet (464 newton-meters) of torque through the car's all-wheel-drive system, good for a 0-to-60 time of five seconds flat, or three-quarters of a second quicker than the standard STI. It's also good for a top speed of 158 mph (255 kph).

With all that go, you'll need an equal ability to stop, which its Brembo brakes will have no trouble accomplishing. Six-piston front calipers and two-piston rears dressed in radioactive yellow hide out beneath 18-inch alloy wheels, which poke out further than those of the normal STI courtesy of 20-millimeter spacers. Diamond Edition cars also get a standard STI engine bay chassis brace to sharpen handling.

Subaru isn't comfortable letting you buy a special-edition WRX STI without making it obvious to everyone that you're driving something special, so it's adorned the Diamond Edition with plenty of trim in a yellow that would make a banana jealous. Rendered in this color is the car's splitter, side skirts, part of its diffuser, and of course, the aforementioned brake calipers.

Want a WRX STI Diamond Edition? Subaru has three requirements: customers must get in line by reserving a car through a form on the model's website; they must live in South Africa; and they must have 799,000 South African ZAR, the equivalent of just over $56,000 USD. Even the most expensive STI sold stateside—the WRX STI Type RA—doesn't quite leap the $50,000 hurdle.

The 349-hp Diamond Edition isn't anticipated to be the most powerful variant of this generation's car, though. Japan will get another limited run of the WRX STI called the TC 380, which will strap on a bigger turbocharger and is expected to produce up to 380 ponies. With the next generation of WRX believed to be on the way in 2020, Subaru will milk the current platform dry before starting the cycle anew.

Audi R8 Will Live on With V-10 and Not Turbo V-6, Project Boss Says

Despite previous reports alleging that the Audi R8 would be getting a cheaper, lighter V-6 variant, the German automaker now says its supercar, in its current form, will not be sold with anything other than a V-10.

Speaking to Car Throttle, the recently facelifted R8's project manager Bjorn Friedrich says the naturally aspirated 5.2-liter is "the best engine for the car…we’ll stick to the V-10."

In base trim, that engine makes 570 horsepower while 620 horses are available in the car's Plus guise. The same basic powerplant can also be found in the Lamborghini Huracán.

The report also says Friedrich refused to specify whether or not a rear-wheel-drive RWS version of the updated R8 is in the cards, though he didn't rule it out. The Drive reached out to Audi for further comment and while it did confirm the "V-10 remains the engine for the R8," it did not address our question of if a RWD variant is coming in the future.

When the original Audi R8 came on the scene in 2006, it came with a 4.2-liter V-8. Three years later, Audi added two more cylinders with another liter of displacement. When the mid-engined supercar was completely redesigned for 2015, it was 10 cylinders or bust with no V-8 option in sight.

The R8 might even go out of production as a staunchly V-10-only machine if another previous report that says Audi has no plans for a replacement proves true.

For 2019, Audi's halo model got a new look, more power than before, and calibration tweaks to the steering and traction management systems. The 2018 model starts at $138,700. Expect the facelifted version to go for around the same money.

Uber Beats Lyft to the Punch, Rolls out Own Airline-Style Rewards Program First

Shortly after Lyft announced plans to launch an airline-style rewards program in December, Uber went ahead and rolled out its own take on the concept. The ride-hailing giant's program, called Uber Rewards, launched in nine United States regions Wednesday. It lets riders earn points that can be redeemed for perks like fare discounts.

Just like the airlines, and Uber's existing driver rewards program, Uber Rewards divides customers into tiers. Customers start out at Blue and advance through Gold and Platinum to Diamond. They do this by earning points based on the amount of money they spend on Uber services. Uber Pool and Uber Eats earn one point each while UberX, UberXL, Select, and wheelchair-accessible vehicles earn two points per trip. Uber Black and Black SUV then earn the most at three points per.

Riders need 500 points to advance from Blue to Gold, 2,500 points to reach Platinum, and 7,500 points to hit the top Diamond level. Points are earned over a six-month period, starting when a customer signs up. When they unlock a new tier, they have it for the remainder of that period as well as the following six months but after that, everything resets and customers must start again from zero points.

For every 500 points earned, customers get $5 added to their Uber accounts. Additionally, each tier comes with its own perks. Gold gets flexible cancellations where Uber will refund the cancellation fee if another ride is booked within 15 minutes, as well as premium customer service. Platinum customers get priority pickup at airports and capped fares between their two favorite destinations, like work and home.

Diamond customers get 24/7 phone support from what Uber calls its "most experienced" customer service agents, as well as access to higher-rated drivers. Other perks include complimentary surprise upgrades from UberX to Uber Black and other high-end services, and no delivery fee on three Uber Eats orders every six months.

The markets where Uber Rewards launched include Miami, New Jersey, Denver, Tampa, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. Uber said it plans to roll the program out nationwide in the coming months. In the meantime, Lyft plans to launch its own rewards program in a handful of U.S. cities in December.

Lyft Debuts New Driver Features Aimed at Increasing Tips Amid Criticism for Low Wages

Lyft is adding more features to its app aimed at helping drivers earn more money. The ride-hailing company claims to be adding no less than six new features based on feedback from its in-house Driver Advisory Council. It's part of an ongoing effort by Lyft to improve support services amid criticism over driver wages and a current lack of benefits.

Lyft already offers in-app tipping, but the company is now offering riders more ways to do it. Beginning December, Lyft will roll out default tipping and in-ride tipping options, with a broader release planned for 2019. Default tipping automatically adds a tip to the fee charged to riders. Lyft claims this will help ensure drivers get their tips even if a rider is in a hurry and forgets.

High ratings help drivers attract more customers, so Lyft will also focus on helping drivers maintain those ratings. In a statement, the company said it would remove each driver's single lowest rating after 100 trips to prevent so-called "one-off" low ratings from affecting an otherwise good record. Ratings will also default to five stars. If a passenger doesn't specify a rating, the driver will automatically get five stars for the trip. When a rider doesn't rate a trip, it's usually because things went well, Lyft said.

Customers who do specify lower ratings will also be asked for clarification. If a driver receives a low rating because of circumstances beyond their control, such as traffic, the rating won't be counted against them, Lyft said.

Finally, Lyft is giving drivers more tools to schedule time on the road. The company claims 99 percent of its drivers schedule their work around other jobs, classes, or childcare, so they want to make as much money as possible during the time available. Beginning in December, the Lyft driver app home screen will display available bonuses, local events, potential riders, and a graph showing the anticipated busiest hours of the day. Drivers will also be able to see anticipated hourly demand for the entire week.

The ride-hailing company also recently announced plans to make rental cars more readily available, and to build a network of service centers offering vehicle maintenance and places for drivers to rest. These moves could help address criticism against Lyft's practice of treating drivers as independent contractors rather than employees and help Lyft steal some drivers from rival Uber.

Bell Teams Up With Helmade to Bring Custom Painted Motorcycle Helmets to the Masses

Custom painted motorcycle helmets are now easier than ever to get on your head thanks to a new partnership between Bell Helmets and Helmade. Right now, the personal touch is limited to the Star MIPS race helmet, the Custom 500 open-face helmet, the Moto-3 dual sport helmet, and the Bullitt “retro-future” full-face helmet.

Helmade is a custom helmet design platform that’s working with Bell to personalize its most popular lids. After you pick your helmet, you can select colors, designs, and inject your own personal signature into your custom helmet. When you’re done designing your masterpiece, Bell and Helmade work together with helmet designers on hand-painting your helmet destined for your head and your head alone.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of the Star, every Bell helmet that’s utilizing the Helmade platform has retro inspiration. The Custom 500, Moto-3, and Bullitt all have old-school designs with new-school protection, and they’re proving to be popular as the retro/modern craze continues sweeping through the motorcycle industry.

Pricing for a custom Bell helmet is kind of all over the place and it really depends on what you want. It ranges from a personalized Custom 500 in the low $300 range up to a custom Star MIPS that can go over $1,500 and just about anything you can imagine in between.

We’ve seen motorcycle gear personalization platforms like this before, but Bell is the first major helmet brand to offer such a platform for getting your helmet custom painted by hand straight from the manufacturer. It will be interesting to see if other helmet brands follow suit leading to a world where no two helmets are the same.

Europe Warns of Retaliation if U.S. Imposes Auto Import Tariffs

The European Union has raised a public warning that it would retaliate against any additional vehicle tariffs imposed by the United States, reports Bloomberg. Though the EU's intent isn't to worsen relations with the U.S., the bloc fears that if it permits the tariffs without resistance an unprecedented damage could fall upon the economy.

“These tariffs would be damaging, not only for the European economy but for the U.S. economy,” said European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom after meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Wednesday, explaining that, if provoked, the EU would issue retaliation tariffs using a “re-balancing list [to cover] a lot of different sectors.”

Earlier this year, U.S. President Donald Trump levied additional tariffs against imported steel and aluminum, a move that Ford claims to have cost the company $1 billion and forced the manufacturer to layoff 12 percent of its staff. Alongside the increased duty fees of foreign metals came the threat of global automotive tariffs as high as 25 percent. BMW and other like-minded automakers have warned could cost the United States a great number of jobs.

In July, Trump met with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss international trade between the U.S. and the EU. At the time, Trump agreed that no additional auto tariffs would be imposed against the EU in the immediate future, and the EU agreed to buy more soybeans, which, in addition to the administration's $12 billion bailout, would help offset the retaliation tariffs issued by China earlier in the year. That stance seems to remain unchanged in recent days.

Recent leaks from the White House suggest that the U.S. has no plans to move forward with imposing additional tariffs - yet. The Department of Commerce has until February before its final report on Section 232 is due, meaning that the U.S. could justify a decision based on its findings until nearly April 2019. Formally, the U.S. cannot begin trade negotiations before January due to congressional rulings on trade agreements.

Malmstrom notes that the EU hopes tariffs will not be imposed against the bloc. However, she stresses that the countries will be ready to impose retaliation tariffs if necessary, as well as issue a complaint to the World Trade Organization.

AAA: Consumers Overestimate the Ability of Modern Driver-Assist Systems

Advanced driver-assist systems like Tesla's Autopilot, Nissan's ProPilot Assist, and Volvo's Pilot Assist can manage acceleration, braking, and steering under certain conditions during highway driving. These systems have proliferated over the past few years, blurring the line between reality and fiction. A new study by the AAA reveals that consumers aren't fully aware of these systems' limitations.

AAA tested a selection of systems and found that they had trouble coping with certain real-world conditions. The group also surveyed drivers regarding the systems' capabilities and found that 40 percent of those surveyed believed systems like Autopilot, ProPilot Assist, and Pilot Assist have the ability to drive a car themselves, something none of these systems' respective manufacturers claims.

It's easy to see why this technology is breeding confusion. Systems like the ones tested by AAA can operate the throttle, steering wheel, and brakes, and the names used by automakers can create associations with aircraft autopilot systems in the minds of consumers. Even AAA refers to the systems it tested as having "Level 2" automation, using the SAE scale for autonomous-driving tech. That implies that the gap between vehicles equipped with these systems and self-driving cars is smaller than it actually is.

AAA tested four vehicles: a 2018 Mercedes-Benz S Class, 2018 Nissan Rogue, 2017 Tesla Model S, and 2019 Volvo XC40 on a closed course and on public roads in the Los Angeles area. Testers found that while vehicles generally performed well on open freeways or freeways with stop-and-go traffic, they were less capable on freeways with moderate traffic. Some cars also had trouble staying centered in a lane, according to AAA, hugging the markers on one side and "ping-ponging" from side to side. Note that AAA did not break out results by car brand.

In closed course testing, cars showed better lane discipline and adjusted speed accordingly to follow slower vehicles, but three out of four vehicles were also "influenced" by a lead vehicle with a driver simulating impairment or distraction, AAA said. Three out of four vehicles also required driver intervention when a lead vehicle changed lanes to reveal a stationary one.

"In general, this scenario is a stated limitation of these systems, however, it is a relatively common occurrence on roadways and could take those drivers by surprise who have become too reliant on the technology," AAA said in a statement.

Drivers may already be too reliant on the technology. Of a group of drivers surveyed, 40 percent said they believed these systems have the ability to drive a car unassisted. That belief was highest among Millennials (59 percent), followed by Generation X (40 percent) and Baby Boomers (27 percent).

Manufacturers do not view these systems as autonomous. Each constantly measures driver attention, usually through torque sensors to ensure the driver is gripping the steering wheel (Cadillac's Super Cruise system uses a camera to track eye movement). Audio and visual warnings activate should the system determine that the driver is disengaged, and some will slow the car to a stop. Super Cruise and Tesla's Autopilot will also eventually lock the driver out of the system.

AAA's survey results and the behavior of some Tesla owners indicate consumers may not be getting the message. The variability noted by AAA (as well as Consumer Reports in a recent test) shows that drivers can't always rely on these systems to respond in the safest way. Drivers have to pay attention not only to what's going on around them but to how their cars' driver-assist systems react. So technology that's supposed to take some of the workload off the driver may actually be doing the opposite.

2019 Maserati Levante GTS Review: Nothing Wrong With This Crossover a Ferrari V-8 Can’t Cure

What a difference an engine makes. Especially when we’re talking a Ferrari engine: a twin-turbo V-8 that vaults the previously overshadowed Maserati Levante into a spotlight worthy of La Scala. I definitely felt like flinging roses at the new Levante GTS after basking in the sound and sensation of this 3.8-liter V-8—co-engineered by Maserati and Ferrari, and built at Ferrari’s Maranello engine factory. That sensation includes 550 horsepower in the GTS, or 590 in the Levante Trofeo. With this eight-cylinder, Maserati has a tempestuous Italian alternative to models like the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, BMW’s X5 M and X6 M, the Mercedes-AMG GLE63—or even the Levante’s Fiat Chrysler cousin, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

New V-8 pumps out 560 hp in the Levante GTS, 590 for Levante Trofeo

Naturally, becoming an owner in this major league of SUVs comes at a price: $121,475 for the GTS, or $171,475 for the Trofeo. Both prices, not coincidentally, are right in line with what Porsche charges for a respective Cayenne Turbo or Turbo S. So yeah, these are niche models, with Maserati expecting only about 10 percent of buyers to choose the V-8. But that 10 percent will definitely separate themselves—literally and metaphorically—from drivers of twin-turbo V-6 models that start at $77,475, or $88,475 for the 424-hp Levante S. A quick calculator punch shows a $33,000 upcharge for the Levante GTS versus the Levante S (and the aforementioned $50,000 on top of that for the Trofeo).

Maserati claims these Levantes were born in a Skunk Works project in Modena; engineers worked to shoehorn a V-8 behind the striking trident-capped grille without informing superiors of what they were up to. (Umm, the world’s longest espresso break?) Packaging that V-8 with AWD required a completely new crankcase design that extends a half-shaft to drive the front axle. Compared with the 523-hp version of this V-8 in the Quattroporte sedan, this one also adds new twin-scroll turbos, camshafts, valves, pistons, and rods. The Trofeo version wrings out more turbo boost to make its 590 horses, while both versions bring a matching 538 pound-feet of peak torque at just 2,500 rpm.

The Levante operates as an entirely rear-driven SUV until its rear wheels—shod with 20-, 21- or 22-inch tires—begin to lose traction. When they do, up to 50 percent of power is shunted up front, in as few as 150 milliseconds. A trusty eight-speed ZF transmission finds a literal wingman in a finely formed pair of paddle shifters, rendered in aluminum for the GTS or carbon fiber for the Trofeo.

Visually, it’s harder to distinguish these Super Levantes, aside from subtle badges, lowered front and rear fascias, and Big Gulp inlets for the engine and radiators. For whatever reason, only the Trofeo model gets the pretty, painted valve covers that are a Ferrari/Maserati signature, but in red paint rather than the blue of recent Masers. The GTS settles for the same sort of prosaic, black-plastic engine topper you’d find in a Chevy.

But the cabin offers a reasonable dose of luxury and Italian flavor, despite diminishing returns as the your “basic” $78,000 Levante soars to $131,800—the as-tested price for my GTS—or beyond $171,000 for the precious Trofeo. Open-pore wood, lovely leather, an Alcantara headliner and a $1,990 Bowers & Wilkins audio system are appropriately convincing. For all 2019 Levantes, the previous console shift lever, a plasticky abomination that recalled something from a rental Buick, is replaced with a decidedly richer leather-and-metal unit. Where the previous electronic unit was maddeningly imprecise, the new one works without a hitch. Grazie, Maserati, for listening to and addressing one of the biggest complaints about the Levante.

Leather, trims, and big paddle shifters look the luxury part

Still, in familiar Italian fashion, there are gaps in the Levante’s luxury-and-tech game that keep it from reaching the dazzling heights of a Porsche or Benz. The seats are shapely, but don’t expect the pampering range of adjustments you find in German cars, such as massage functions, moveable bolsters, and thigh extenders. And all the wood and cowhide in the world can’t hide the workaday Fiat Chrysler switches, or the Garmin-y graphics of the familiar Uconnect infotainment system. As ever, there’s nothing wrong with how well Uconnect works, as any Hellcat or Chrysler Pacifica owner might affirm. But while it’s one thing to have Audi’s rich MMI interfaces in a Lamborghini, seeing Mopar-spec minivan displays in a $131,000 Maserati pushes the cognitive dissonance a bit far. And, one final interior complaint: the Levante’s cargo hold remains relatively stingy by class standards.

Smart shift lever replaces the previous, clunky eyesore

Still, wealthy iconoclasts who won’t be conscripting their Levante for Ikea runs will be thrilled to death with the performance. This magnificent V-8 makes the Levante’s presence heard and felt: Maserati cites a 4.0-second dash to 60 mph for the GTS, or 3.7 seconds for the Trofeo, with respective top speeds of 181 and 188 mph. That makes the GTS a full second quicker to 60 than the most-powerful V-6 version, the $88,475 Levante S.

No, it’s not a classic flat-crank, naturally aspirated, shrieking Ferrari motor. But this twin-turbo V-8 is unmistakably a product of Maranello: addictively powerful, throaty, and responsive. Even in city traffic, I’d find myself downshifting and warp-speeding to the next stoplight, just to hear the thing crescendo to its 7,000-rpm redline. Compared with the Cayenne Turbo’s whispery “inside voice” or the Alfa’s twin-turbo V-6, it’s no contest. Now, the angry artillery blat of Mercedes-AMG’s SUVs or BMW’s X6 M are definitely worthy of enthusiasts’ ears. But even there, a Ferrari V-8 just sounds different than a German V-8—that reedier, sexier tenor pitch—and certain big spenders will welcome the difference.

Nothing putt-putt about it: GTS model storms to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds, tops out at 181 mph

Now, the Alfa, tuned as it is for Nurburgring records, is the more-aggressive SUV in terms of overall handling, but its ride is compromised; only a masochist would choose to drive one in New York or other urban moonscapes. The Levante, riding atop optional 21-inch wheels, did allow the occasional boom or bash to intrude into the cabin. Yet this Maserati, with its hushed cabin, six-position air suspension and Skyhook adaptive dampers, strikes a winning balance between handling and all-day comfort. That air suspension adjusts ride height over a generous 3.3 inches of total travel, including an off-road setting and a lowered “Park” position.

The steering is another Italian delight—meaty and immediate, with the genuine road feel that’s lacking in so many crossover SUVs. (Hell, cars too.) Counter-intuitively, the Levante GTS’s electric steering struck me as more responsive than the hydraulic rack in the original model. The Levante’s 50:50 weight distribution helps matters. There’s more body roll than, say, the Alfa or BMW, yet I really liked the Maserati’s natural feel; specifically, the way it doesn’t seem artificially flattened and snubbed down. Like the V-6 originals, the eight-pot Levante is a car that neatly disguises its mass—the GTS weighs 4,784 pounds—and feels as much a tall hatchback as an SUV. On knotted roads in upstate New York, the Levante took a firm, confident set into corners then rifled out again, aided by a rear limited-slip differential and those snappy shifts of torque to the front wheels.

Levante will even off-road, if you don't mind soiling the pretty paint

There is tech magic going on, but the rabbit mostly stays in the hat. The so-called Maserati Integrated Vehicle Control (IVC) connects the engine, steering, suspension, and electronic stability control to quell the understeer typical of SUVs and AWD vehicles. IVC’s brake-based torque vectoring and smart adjustments to steering torque aim to promote trusty, predictable feedback in hard driving. That generous feedback performance was welcome on a long series of downhill sweepers on New York’s Taconic Parkway, where the Levante tracked with a poise and precision that’s impossible to fake. Upgraded brakes are well-matched to the engine’s strength, including six-piston monobloc calipers up front, though I’d prefer that strength to show itself a bit earlier in the pedal travel.

It’s hard to write about a Maserati—and even harder to consider buying or leasing one—without considering where this perennially struggling brand is at. Recent recalls, production slowdowns and management shakeups have roiled the waters again. But the brand’s five-year plan, promoted by the late FCA chief Sergio Marchionne, is unchanged. The strategy calls for Maserati to compete directly against Porsche in several segments, including the upcoming 911-baiting Alfieri coupe and a bantam-sized SUV to tussle with the Macan.

Maserati’s most-recent Quattroporte failed to make any kind of dent in a flagship-sedan market that itself is struggling. The smaller Ghibli sedan, after a decent sales start, has faded. That leaves the Levante for now in the brand’s hunt for relevance. Setting aside corporate questions, this Levante GTS seems fully competitive with a Cayenne Turbo, or other class players, in terms of power and performance.

Huh? What’s that you say? How many people are gonna spend $121,000 or more on a Maserati SUV? Sorry, I couldn’t catch that. I’m still distracted by the throaty croon of that Ferrari V-8.

Lawrence Ulrich, The Drive’s chief auto critic, is an award-winning auto journalist and former chief auto critic for The New York Times and Detroit Free Press. The Detroit native and Brooklyn gentrifier owns a troubled ’93 Mazda RX-7 R1, but may want to give it a good home. Email him at Lawrence.ulrich@gmail.com