The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio brings the sort of passion to the medium-SUV market that many see as antithetical.
Yet, demand for fiery versions of suburban crossovers is there, considering the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, Porsche Macan Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and BMW X3 M Competition exist. Formidable foes all, though the Italian holds its own.
Its 3.8-second 0–100km/h sprint capability is faster than most competitors, and its record-breaking 7:51.7 lap of the Nürburgring Nordschleife (optioned with carbon-ceramic brakes) was quicker than the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 and BMW M2 Competition.
Better still, its list price of $149,900 before on-road costs – smack-bang between the $140K Jag and $165K Mercedes-AMG – is also just $4000 greater than the Giulia Quadrifoglio sedan version.
So, on paper it stacks up as a combination of balls-to-the-wall Italian fun with a hint of common sense thrown in, almost as an afterthought.
Like the Giulia Q, the Stelvio looks menacing as hell. The curvaceous shape lends itself to macho design elements like the shark-gill bonnet vents, 20-inch black alloys, side skirts, four-leaf clover badges, flared wheel arch surrounds, rear diffuser and quad pipes. Our car’s triple-coat Trofeo White paint costs $4550 extra.
Its aluminium 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 developed by a few Ferrari engineers makes 375kW of peak power at 6500rpm and 600Nm of maximum torque between 2500 and 5000rpm. That’s a smidge less than the 404kW/680Nm Jaguar and 375kW/700Nm Mercedes-AMG V8s, but a lighter mass of 1830kg means the Alfa’s power-to-weight ratio stacks up.
The engine is mated to an eight-speed auto sourced from Germany’s ZF with gorgeous metallic paddles on the steering column, promising DCT-like shifts of 100m/s in the ‘Race’ driving mode.
In most driving, the Stelvio Q is rear-wheel drive, but at the limits of tyre adhesion the car’s brain can send 50 per cent of engine torque to the front wheels.
Alfa claims 50:50 weight distribution between front and rear, “segment-leading” torsional stiffness, and the most direct steering (12.1 ratio) in the class. There’s also torque vectoring via clutches in the LSD, adjustable dampers within the double-wishbone front and 4.5-link IRS, and a carbon-fibre driveshaft.
We’ve driven the Stelvio Q on-track already, at the Albert Park F1 street circuit no less. Managing editor Trent praised its “incredible chassis and roadholding” and “monster engine”, and found the Brembo brakes (six-piston front, four-piston rear, disc diameters of 360mm and 350mm respectively) fade-free after a day of serious pedal-mashing.
But what about road driving? The truth is, this is not your average SUV for the school run, despite nods to common sense.
Yes, you can turn the driving-mode dial to its softer settings, take some resistance from the steering, soften the ride a bit and numb the throttle, and it becomes relatively tame as a daily driver. But the ride is always firm, and there are hints of brittleness over cobbles and potholes. It feels like a racehorse begrudgingly cajoled into service work. Trust me, you’ll be hunting for twisty roads and tunnels constantly. And when you get the chance to actually drive the Stelvio Q, you’ll be amazed.
Twirl the rotary dial to Dynamic mode and the four exhaust outlets snarl and crackle under heavy throttle, higher-pitched and angrier than your class-typical V8, and pop with every upshift.
From outside it’s ferocious, and from inside scarcely muted. Perfect. Put the car into ‘Race’ mode and it’s even meaner, but that also mutes the stability control…
It absolutely hammers in a straight line, pinning you into the bucket seat while you’re holding tightly onto the wheel and watching the speedo climb uninterrupted, rather quickly. Stomping on the brakes pulls you up reassuringly. Don’t bother with $12,000 carbon-ceramics unless you do track work since they’ll squeak and squeal.
You know what would be great? An individual driving mode like the Germans offer, allowing you to have a super-angry engine note without everything else tuned up to the wick. Just for being obnoxious around town.
At the other end of the sensibility spectrum, the V6 meets Euro 6 emissions standards and has a system that switches off a few cylinders under mild loads. Combined-cycle fuel use is 10.2L/100km claimed, meaning you’ll use less juice than a Toyota Kluger does if you can keep your right foot shackled.
That steering is exceptionally responsive from centre and well weighted, the paddles are works of art, and the body control and handling through corners are better than your average low-slung hot hatch. It doesn’t drive like a wallowy SUV, even slightly, with minimal lateral movement.
Moreover, it’s quite tail-happy, eagerly stepping out under heavy throttle for some power oversteer despite the Pirelli hoops really trying to keep their grip. That torque-vectoring system is responsive as hell, shuffling torque across the rear axle, while the AWD system and ESC happily stay out of affairs until they’re really needed to sort you out.
In short, the Stelvio Q truly comes close to marrying SUV ride height and practicality with Euro muscle car handling and performance. With a soundtrack and Italian charm to die for. The only real dynamic gripe beyond the low-speed ride is the excessive wind roar and tyre noise on highways.
What about the cabin? It’s hard to complain too much about the equipment fitted. You get a sunroof, adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, aluminium paddles and pedals, proximity key, heated and electric-powered front seats, a 900W Harman Kardon audio system, sat-nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, an 8.8-inch screen and a tyre pressure monitor.
Safety stuff includes six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors at both ends, a rear camera, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring. About what you’d expect really.
Our tester had some options including the $4550 Trofeo White paint mentioned earlier, as well as Sparco Carbon Fibre seats trimmed in suede and leather ($7150!) that look awesome but are rather hard on the knees of rear occupants, plus a leather/Alcantara steering wheel with carbon-fibre inserts for $650. How good is that red starter button?
The interior design gets a lot right. The driving position and ergonomics are pretty good, there are lashings of leather with good stitchwork and carbon-fibre panels throughout, and a minimalist aesthetic with welcome hard ventilation controls. The lighter cream inserts on the bottom of the dash and door armrests lighten things up, too.
The infotainment system’s UI isn’t brilliant, though you adapt. The build quality is a bigger issue. Fit-and-finish is blighted by the odd squeaky panel, and the plastic rotary infotainment dial and gear shifter will not impress tactile types.
A Mazda CX-5 is put together with more effort and better process, let alone a German luxury rival.
Back seat space is moderate, and as mentioned those carbon-fibre seat shells are shocking on your knees. You get circular rear vents, LED reading lights and a pair of USB points, which is nice.
These back seats commendably flip-down 40:20:40, and there are helpful levers in the cargo area to flip them. There are also great cargo floor rails. The tyre patch kit is under the floor. Boot space grows from 525L to 1600L.
So, the verdict. Even a cursory glimpse at this review should make it clear that I loved my time in the Stelvio ‘Q’. It has the same snags as its cheaper brethren, namely the cabin fit-and-finish and marginal practicality, but as an exercise in instilling some fire and passion into the SUV market, it succeeds remarkably well.
It absolutely hammers, sounds ferocious, stops alarmingly well, steps out like a muscle car, and shows cornering agility more expected of a hot hatch. Between the Alfa and Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR, the Germans have some serious competition.
Click the Gallery tab to see a heap more images by Joel Strickland