Tuesday 5th December 2017
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First drive: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Image by Alfa Romeo.

First drive: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Stelvio SUV gets the marvellous 2.9 V6 drivetrain from the Giulia Quadrifoglio. What’s the outcome?

 



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Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Praise be, Alfa Romeo's renaissance continues with the quite brilliant Stelvio Quadrifoglio. As performance SUVs go, no matter their size or price, this is the absolute best - even if one or two interior details let it down. If you want to transport your family in the grandest of style, while owning a vehicle that will set your pants on fire when you're driving solo on the right road, this 510hp slice of Italian genius is absolutely the car you should be looking at, first and foremost.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Pricing: tbc (see copy)
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: five-door performance SUV
CO2 emissions: 210g/km (VED £1,200 first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 31.4mpg
Top speed: 176mph
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Power: 510hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 600Nm at 2,500- to 5,000rpm

What's this?

Alfa Romeo, proving that the excellent Giulia saloon was no last sparking ember of a once-proud performance car maker quietly dying an ignoble death. Fully eight new models will be spun off the 'Giorgio' platform, and after the Giulia saloon, which has the exquisite Quadrifoglio super saloon as its flagship, the Stelvio is next up to the plate. We've already had the standard models of Alfa's first-ever SUV, but now here comes the company's inaugural 'Cloverleaf' that's also a high-riding 4x4, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

The process of creating it is simple, if you'll permit us the liberty of boiling down several years of development and engineering by Alfa into a single glib statement. Thus: take one Giulia Quadrifoglio, unbolt the saloon body, pop a Stelvio shell on top of the 510hp/600Nm 2.9 biturbo V6 powertrain and then add the company's Q4 all-wheel drive. What you end up with is all the performance of the supersaloon, only in a practical SUV body. Suck it up, because we're unlikely to get a Giulia Sports Wagon Quadrifoglio any time in the near future... although a Giulia QF Q4 saloon might be closer than you think.

What's that, you say? Can the Stelvio really have all the performance of the Giulia? Well, yes. In fact, it's actually quicker from 0-62mph by a tenth, knocking in a ferocious 3.8-second sprint to make it the fastest accelerating car on Alfa's books. That's due to the extra traction of the Q4 system, because the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is carrying about 300kg more than the Giulia, tipping the scales at 1,830kg; heavy for a performance car, actually quite light for a mega-rapid SUV. Power-to-weight is at a robust 279hp-per-tonne, helped in part by the use of some of the carbon items from the Giulia - the Stelvio QF gets the carbon propshaft, for instance, although it doesn't benefit from a CFRP bonnet or bootlid.

All this has allowed the Stelvio to record a 7m 51.7s lap at the Nurburgring, making it the fastest production SUV around the German track, that time being just ten seconds down on the Giulia QF. OK, fine! The Stelvio isn't as fast as the Giulia, as it can't quite corner as hard or brake as late due to its extra mass, while it's also a little down on top speed - 176mph compared to the Giulia's 191mph.

But just ten seconds across 13 gruelling miles speaks volumes about what Alfa has pulled off. The Stelvio QF's most obvious rivals are the similarly-sized Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, the Porsche Macan Turbo and any forthcoming high-power versions of the Audi Q5 (the 354hp SQ5 is hopelessly outgunned by the Alfa) and BMW X3. Jaguar, Lexus and Volvo don't come close with their F-Pace, NX and XC60 rivals, at the time of writing. And yet the Alfa can even stand comparison to some of the bigger, huge output 4x4s, like the Audi SQ7, Range Rover Sport SVR and even the Bentley Bentayga W12. It even outperforms the (sort of) in-house Maserati Levante S by a good margin, and it's probably going to take the Lamborghini Urus to depose it from its position as the 'Ring master.

The Stelvio QF, then, needs to drive well to back up all this on-paper bravado. Thankfully, it already passes the first test of kerb appeal. No SUV can ever be truly beautiful, but the Stelvio gets close seen. The QF's mean face, with a more aggressive lower bumper/air intake treatment, vented bonnet, gorgeous 20-inch 'Teledial' alloy wheels, extended wheelarches, quad exhausts in the rear diffuser and discreet, triangular Quadrifoglio logos on its front wings all telegraph the Alfa's intent. And they also combine to create something quite strikingly handsome.

The interior? Well, that's a little less successful. It looks very nice and has some tremendous high points - the thin-rimmed steering wheel and metal paddle shifts, the lovely seats, plenty of carbon fibre - conversely it is sadly let down by average infotainment on the 8.8-inch centre display and some clunky bits of switchgear, most specifically all the powder-puff rotary dials. Still, it's spacious and well equipped, plus the seating position is good, so we'll give the cabin a B+. That might be a deal-breaker for some, but occasionally ropey interior finishing should be the least important thing on your mind when you sample the Stelvio Quadrifoglio...

How does it drive?

First of all, forget any notion you might have of employing the Stelvio Quadrifoglio as a tarmac weapon one day and a rough-and-tumble 4x4 the next. It has more than 200mm of ground clearance and a 480mm wading depth, but there are no concessions to off-road ability in the Alfa's box of tricks. It doesn't have a rough-surface mode in its DNA drive selector, nor is there hill descent control. Nope, apart from some well compacted gravel tracks, this Alfa isn't about getting its tyres dirty.

It's more about shredding them on tarmac as you drive it on the door handles. Mechanically, the Q4 system works with 100 per cent of drive going to the back axle, only shifting a maximum of 50 per cent torque to the nose if it senses a massive SUV-to-scenery interface scenario might be on the cards. Further, the Stelvio QF has three-stage adjustable dampers, which ramp up from Advanced Efficiency and Normal, through Dynamic and then into the full Race setting. Race, may we remind you, is Alfa's brilliant 'everything's off, so you'd better have some driving talent' mode, shorn of the safety net of any traction control or similar electronic guardian angels.

Then you have big brakes with Alfa's Integrated Braking System arrangement, the eight-speed automatic 'box that's a gem whether it's slushing around in full 'D' or being clicked through its ratios with those metal paddles, and some of the best steering we've sampled on any modern machine, never mind an SUV; it's weighty and accurate, and it provides genuinely meaningful feedback. All the tools, including that majestic 2.9 twin-turbo V6, are there to make the Alfa riotously quick in all conditions on any given road, and a weight distribution of 54:46 front-to-rear is none too shabby for an SUV, either.

Net result? This the best, most rewarding production SUV you will have ever driven, full stop. The Stelvio QF is a total delight - so much so that we had the chance to drive it on the UAE's Jebel Jais mountain road, one of the world's all-time great routes. We say this not so much for the show-off globetrotting aspect, more for the fact that when you're on these once-in-a-lifetime snaking passes, it can sometimes occur to you that you'd rather be driving along them in something more exciting. This was emphatically not true of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, because we relished every single second of this Italian machine charging up a 1,900-metre mountain so much that it will go straight into our all-time Top Five drives.

There are one or two teensy caveats. This is a performance vehicle that is much better on the throttle than off it; think of it almost like a diff-equipped front-wheel drive hot hatch, only a bit taller, and the rewards are great. If you brake, turn in, coast and then wait for all the wheels to be pointing in the same direction before you reapply the throttle, you might get traces of understeer, because the Stelvio runs on Pirelli P Zero tyres - the grippier Pirelli Corse rubber offered on the Giulia QF hasn't, apparently, been homologated for the heavier Stelvio as yet. So it's much better if you muscle the QF by braking and turning in at the same time, then getting on the gas as quickly as you possibly dare. This makes the Q4 burst into life, which in turn gets the front wheels to bite into the cornering line with a bit of drive of their own.

Do all of the above and the Alfa is astonishing, especially for an SUV with its extra mass and higher centre of gravity. Aided and abetted by impeccable standards of body control, the Stelvio QF feels much like a slightly oversized version of a Mercedes-AMG A 45 or Audi RS 3 Sportback, only even more engaging, rapid and fluid. It'll move around underneath you so gracefully and faithfully that you can't help but grin like an excited child as it dances through switchbacks. And if you bang in the razor-sharp throttle at the right exit point of a corner, you can swing the back end of the Stelvio round and out into beautiful, languid oversteer with little difficulty.

Fun, but if you keep it tidy and link it all together, the Stelvio is devastatingly fast. It'll punch forward with rabid intensity from all points on the rev counter, that mighty V6 hauling two tonnes of SUV into the middle distance with a disdain that's borderline breathtaking. The massive any-revs shove and Q4 traction means the Quadrifoglio really does fire out of corners like a missile if you prevent it from becoming ragged, to the point that when you're on it, charging up a hill like an utter hooligan, the only bafflement of its Nurburgring lap time is that the Alfa didn't actually go even quicker around the Green Hell. Fun? Absolutely - it is tremendous, sensational and thrilling to drive.

It's also, as a massive bonus, perfectly adept at doing regular driving duties to an exceptionally high standard. Wind and tyre noise are well suppressed, while the ride quality is excellent and the V6 engine muted and benign in lesser modes. Oh, and in case you're wondering, it sounds every bit as good as a Giulia Quadrifoglio when it's being extended: Alfa has to be commended for not making OTT pop-bang-burble exhausts the most notable thing about the Stelvio's soundtrack. All in all, apart from brakes that went just a tiny bit spongy when they got hot (carbon ceramic stoppers are an option on the QF), and the P Zero rubber lacking the last few degrees of the most tenacious grip, it is a near-flawless report card for the fast Stelvio's all-round dynamic character. Amazing stuff.

Verdict

While it's not quite perfect in every degree, and we're expecting it to come in at around £70,000 when UK prices are finally confirmed, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio nevertheless feels like the new benchmark for sublime-handling performance SUVs. It has one or two tiny dynamic imperfections that might be resolved with some choice option box-ticking - and some niggling interior quality issues too - but it has a chassis that is second-to-none in this SUV class or any other, for that matter, and a drivetrain that must have been sent down to Earth by the motoring gods themselves. A truly remarkable, engaging and wondrous machine, the Stelvio QF is our new favourite SUV and another gigantic step on the road to recovery from Alfa Romeo. Magnifico!

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 5 Dec 2017









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2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio drive. Image by Alfa Romeo.








 

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