Delivers as the most exciting performance SUV on sale, but has a few more rough edges than many rivals
|Fantastic powertrain, handles like few other SUVs, feels skunkworks special|
|Interior quality and tech lacking, diminishing returns on extra mass over the Giulia|
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio was released to high acclaim back in 2017, combining the Giulia saloon’s fantastic drivetrain in a taller, more practical SUV body shape. It’s a recipe we usually dismiss, but while the Giulia’s rear-wheel drive can make it difficult to deploy in greasy conditions, the Stelvio’s adoption of a four-wheel-drive system makes it a different, somewhat more usable proposition.
So putting to one side for a moment the fact that the Giulia remains the better driving tool, does the Stelvio’s all-wheel-drive system severely compromise the overall package, and how does it compare to rivals such as Porsche’s Macan?
Well, the regular Stelvio is a good starting point, itself one of the few SUVs with some character that a driver can engage with. Add in Alfa Romeo’s engineers, led by Roberto Fedeli, whose CV includes Ferrari’s 599, F12 and 458 Speciale, as well as the Giulia Quadrifoglio, and Alfa’s aim to develop not only a rival to the Macan Turbo, but a class leader, looks entirely achievable.
Prices, specs and rivals
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is only available in one highly specified form at $89,174. All of the Stelvio’s dynamic features are standard too, including a valved sports exhaust system, Pro-DNA driver mode selector, adaptive dampers, and Alfa’s active torque vectoring rear differential to name a few. The sole mechanical upgrade option is a set of carbon-ceramic brakes which will set you back $7320, but the standard cast-iron discs do the job just fine away from a track.
Other options are otherwise mostly visual in the form of differing colours for the dash, brake calipers or wheels, while an upgraded Harmon Kardon stereo, panoramic sunroof and a hands-free tailgate are also available. The excellent carbonfibre-backed Sparco buckets found in the Giulia can also be had at a chunky $4030.
As for its many rivals, the identically powered BMW X3 M is more liberally equipped, but costs a chunkier $98,045. The BMW’s issue isn’t the price point though, rather its quite atrocious combination of a savage ride quality and numb handling. The Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S also hits with a 503bhp punch, this time from AMG’s venerable 4-litre twin-turbo V8, but is even pricier at $103,800, while lacking the Alfa’s poise and interaction. The Jaguar F-Pace SVR is a more worthy rival, again featuring a V8 engine, this time with even more power at 542bhp. It’s about right on price and standard equipment too, starting at $93,510.
The Alfa’s most adept rival is the new $85,018 Porsche Macan Turbo though, which despite losing over 50bhp to the Stelvio, has a new 444bhp 2.9-litre V6 that is a more efficient and refined engine, while it also fights back with a nicer cabin and wider spread of capabilities.
Engine, gearbox and technical specs
Beneath the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s aluminium bonnet is the 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6 as found in the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Power is the same, at 503bhp, but the eight-speed ZF gearbox has been recalibrated to suit both the increase in kerb weight over the saloon and the four-wheel-drive transmission. It’s the first time this engine and gearbox combination has been offered with Alfa Romeo’s Q4 driveline.
Default mode for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is rear-wheel drive, and it’s only when the system detects an angle of slip or a loss of traction that it will direct up to 50 per cent of the engine’s torque to the front wheels through a carbon propshaft. A rear limited-slip differential, active torque vectoring and Alfa’s Pro-DNA switchable drive mode system are all standard.
The car comes fitted with cast-iron brakes, although carbon-ceramics are an option. The 20-inch wheels are fitted with a Pirelli P Zero tyre by default, but the Giulia’s standard P Zero Corsa tyres are another cost option. A set of Pirelli winter tyres have also been homologated for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
Aluminium features extensively throughout the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The front end’s double wishbones and the rear’s four-and-a-half-link suspension components are all forged from the metal. So too are the bonnet, doors, brake carriers, wheelarches and the engine. The resulting 1830kg kerb weight is a useful 95kg lighter than Porsche’s Macan Turbo.
Performance and 0-100 time
Alfa’s performance SUV will reach 100kph in 3.8sec and crack 283kph – that’s a full second quicker to the 100kph benchmark than Porsche’s claim for the Macan Turbo and 17kph faster flat out, too. It’s also 0.1sec faster than the Giulia that the Stelvio takes its engine from.
With this being the first time Alfa has mated its turbocharged V6 with a four-wheel-drive drivetrain, the development focus was to secure a considerable performance advantage to offset the weight increase. With the aforementioned acceleration figure and a 7min 51sec lap of the Nürburgring, Alfa is confident it’s ticked that box.
The all-wheel-drive system also dramatically improves traction in slippery conditions, which, let’s face it, represents the region more broadly than the sun-baked tarmac of Italy. As a result, the urge generated from the twin-turbocharged engine across the board is more useable regardless of the weather, although it is still useful to remember that this is a part-time rear-biased system so it’ll still squirm if you’re too greedy with the throttle.
Ride and handling
Pretty darn good, as it goes. From the get-go it feels light and responsive and benefits from the quick and direct steering similar to the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s, giving it a Golf R style of response rather than that of a tallish SUV weighing the wrong side of 1800kg.
The 2.9-litre V6 loses none of its brio. It may not rev quite as quickly below 3000rpm, due to the more substantial drivetrain it’s attached to, but the Stelvio makes up for that deficiency with better traction and more savage initial acceleration.
Left in automatic mode the ZF delivers each ratio with an instant, seamless shift, but as with the Giulia, you’ll want to use the beautiful aluminium paddles fitted to the steering column and change gear yourself. Unless you’re in Race mode, the gearbox doesn’t change as you approach a corner, instead waiting for you to get on the power before kicking down.
You’ll also want to select Dynamic or Race mode on the Pro-DNA system, even if you’re using manual mode, because not only do the throttle’s response and the ZF’s shifts sharpen up, but the ESP loosens its reins, too (it switches off all together in Race mode) and the exhaust valves open to increase the volume. The result is rabid performance and an evocative soundtrack as the Stelvio bursts from corner to corner, devouring straights at a rate Audi RS, BMW M and Mercedes-AMG saloon and coupe owners will recognise.
The Pro-DNA settings also alter the dampers’ stiffness. On local roads there isn’t the same noticeable change in the ride between the softest setting and the intermediate level that you get when you select Dynamic mode – it stays firm and tense; much less forgiving than the Giulia Quadrifoglio, but still not uncomfortable. Although the ride feels much the same between the two modes, body roll and pitch is far better contained in Dynamic and, even on the winter tyres our road test car was fitted with, it felt sharp and direct. In Race, the dampers felt too firm as bumps made the car bounce and feel unsettled. However, the damper button in the middle of the Pro-DNA dial allows you to tone down the dampers by one setting, so in Race mode you can select the Dynamic dampers.
It’s this combination – Race for the lack of driver assistance systems, the engine noise and the fastest gearchanges, and Dynamic for the dampers – that works perfectly on local roads. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio feels so natural to be driven quickly that you feel completely confident attacking a B-road with no stability control. Yes, the car will oversteer if the back end isn’t loaded up, but the steering is fast, allowing you to easily apply whatever corrective lock is necessary, so if you do encounter a slide you can easily correct it.
The car’s balance and the control you have over it can be used to your advantage. The Stelvio is most comfortable being driven on the throttle, the rear being pushed into the tarmac while you gradually alter its attitude with the ample power. Even with four-wheel drive, the 503bhp always allows you a degree of adjustability with the accelerator pedal.
It may well be fun and exciting, but you are always aware that the Stelvio is an SUV. It doesn’t have the poise or delicacy of the Giulia and it isn’t quite as exploitable. That the Stelvio’s interior looks so similar – the steering wheel, carbon transmission tunnel and dials all look the same as the Giulia’s – only highlights how different they are to drive. But one advantage the SUV has over the supersaloon is a sense of robustness – it feels far more capable when the roads get rougher and more slippery. You really can commit down a tight, ragged, twisty local road, feeling the V6 make the four-wheel-drive system work to distribute its power while you manage the car’s angle with the throttle and steering, all while not worrying about potholes or wet and muddy sections of tarmac as you would in the Giulia. And in such environments, which are alarmingly frequent in the region, the four-wheel-drive Stelvio feels so much faster than its 0.1sec 0-100kph advantage over the Giulia suggests.
When we tested the Stelvio on racetrack-smooth and wide tarmac, it highlighted the standard Pirellis’ eagerness to relinquish their grip. While it’s satisfying to feel the car’s rear end edge wide as the Stelvio drives itself out of a corner, the sensation of the outside-front tyre giving up very early during the turn-in phase of a corner is less appealing. We surmise that the optional Corsa tyre would probably be the rubber of choice. However, the Pirelli winter tyres we tried on the road were more than up to the task of controlling the Stelvio. The tighter bends with poor visibility that you often get in Britain mean you just can’t carry the same pace into a corner, and the winters felt grippy enough. Only under hard braking do they reveal their less-than-sporty nature as the car feels a little squirrelly.
Overall, the Stelvio QV is an impressive piece of kit. Steering, brakes, chassis and that engine combine to deliver an unexpected but welcome slice of enjoyment. It masks its weight well, has impressive body control and can really be manipulated by the driver. It may well be fast, but it’s not simply a fuss-free point-to-point machine – it’s far more fun than that. If an SUV is unavoidable in your garage, and until now only Porsche’s Macan Turbo was on your radar, you’d be missing out by not adding Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio to your list.
L/100km and running costs
Alfa Romeo’s official L/100km rating (on the old NEDC cycle admittedly) is 9.8L/100km, a figure that’s difficult to match in the real world. Over the course of more than eight months with one on our Fast Fleet, we managed an average of 13.3L/100km, but found on limited occasions it would rise to closer to 9.4L/100km on gentle motorway cruises.
Over the course of nearly 29,000 kilometres, it also needed an oil change which cost just over $370, and two sets of rubber (one being winter rubber admittedly) that cost somewhere around $1116 for a set. The Pirelli P Zero standard rubber performed well, and the stickier Corsa tyres are probably overkill for an SUV. The Stelvio’s extra weight, aggressive geometry and those Corsas’ high wear rating mean they won’t last long for you to enjoy them anyhow.
Interior and tech
Although there is plenty to like about the Stelvio’s skunkwork’s development style, the result is the outright packages just aren’t as polished and premium as those of most rivals. This is most evident in the interior, which struggles to warrant the QV’s $87,000 price tag due to questionable build quality. Granted, basic kit is pretty substantial and the basics are right, such as the firm, yet supportive seats, well shaped and nicely trimmed steering wheel and wonderfully tactile aluminium paddles behind, but the overall interior is just not up to the high standards seen in rivals such as the Porsche Macan.
Something that also seems a tad compromised is the seating position, which like many SUVs with saloon car origins, seems to canter the driver forward ever so slightly, as the steering wheel doesn’t so much level out in front of you as rise from somewhere lower beneath your feet. If you’ve driven a Volkswagen Tiguan, you’ll know what we mean.
Space inside is otherwise good, sitting somewhere between an Audi Q3 and Q5 in terms of interior accommodation, although the boot is more than big enough to cope with an evo photographer’s gear as Aston Parrott found out after running one as a long-term test car.
The Stelvio is a controversially designed SUV, with many loving its pumped-up shape and aggressive detailing. If there is one inarguable fact, it is that the Stelvio certainly looks like little else on the road, with its big triangular grille and those classic telephone dial wheels.
To others though, the Stelvio’s odd proportions and lack of a rear three-quarter window make it look like a very large hatchback, especially when seen in context of other road cars. The big headlights and lack of any rugged styling elements only accentuates this odd aesthetic.
What it does have is presence, sitting purposely on its slightly oversized wheels and tyres, and thanks to its aggressive intakes and offset exhaust pipes. Of the performance SUV type, it’s more distinctive than the Porsche Macan, more dynamic than any performance Range Rover, if not quite as purposeful as the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.
Living with it
I knew the day would eventually come, but it didn’t make the Stelvio’s departure any easier. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I was first handed the key, but now the Alfa has gone I’m really missing the versatility of an SUV with 503bhp.
The last SUV I ran was a Nissan Juke Nismo RS, and the first time I turned up to a photoshoot with it, Dickie Meaden and Jethro Bovingdon instantly burst out laughing. This was not the case with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. This time the responses were more along the lines of: ‘Is that your new long-termer? Nice work. They’re meant to be good…’ Over my eight months with it, that praise would start to look like an understatement.
So the Alfa had the nod of approval, and why wouldn’t it? It had plenty going for it, with a powerful V6 engine, a great-sounding exhaust note, carbonfibre Sparco seats (a $4030 option) and beautifully designed wheels. And best of all it was an Alfa Romeo.
Almost the only thing counting against it was the fact that it was also an SUV. Yet while on paper it had rivals in terms of performance and price ($86,221 basic, $97,939 with options for our car), it proved to be far more interesting to be in and drive than the majority of its rivals. It certainly received more looks and attention than other SUVs. OK, maybe not more than a Lamborghini Urus, but the last time I was in one of those it received the kind of reactions you don’t want. But there were no such problems with the Alfa, which traded brash for beautiful. Well, beautiful for an SUV at any rate.
I had so many great drives in the Stelvio, but one that particularly sticks in my mind was during issue 252’s supercar test, featuring the 488 Pista, 911 GT3 RS, 720S Track Pack and Aventador SVJ. I loved the fact that, despite the abilities of the test cars the Stelvio was mixing with, I wasn’t completely left behind as we moved between photo locations. This was particularly impressive when you consider that I also had a bootful of camera, lighting and rigging gear, plus cleaning kits, my travel bag… and a stepladder.
The roads on that Scottish shoot were brilliant and gave me a chance to explore the Stelvio’s abilities – and it really could be hustled, although ultimately allowances still had to be made for its weight and height. Not that driving an SUV didn’t have its advantages, as was brought home to me upon finding the road ahead flooded when driving home one evening.
Overall I covered 28,057 kilometres in the Alfa. During that distance it had an oil-change service at 14,500 kilometres ($376.20), a set of Pirelli Scorpion winter tyres ($1152), and a fresh set of Pirelli P Zeros ($1124). It typically cost just over $90 to fill the tank, providing a range of around 480 kilometres. The overall L/100km average was 21.3, while the best I saw was 8.6L/100km on a long motorway drive in Eco mode.
When it came to reliability, this Alfa proved very good, with only two small issues. One was when the performance turned sluggish and access to the sports driving modes was denied. This problem vanished after the next refill, so we suspect a bad batch of 95-octane fuel may have been to blame. The second issue was a flat battery after the car was left unlocked for several days by an airport parking firm. Once jump-started, the car went into ‘limp home’ mode for a couple of hours until the battery was recharged, then all returned to normal.
Despite its impressive performance, direct steering and strong brakes, jumping back into the Stelvio after a stint in my 993 Carrera I felt like I was driving a lorry. It was a reminder of what you miss out on when you opt for a performance SUV rather than a more conventional performance car, but it is to Alfa’s credit that even though I was sitting up high, I was still held firmly in place by those excellent seats. Actually, I liked everything Alfa has done for the driver inside the Quadrifoglio. The general design was very clean, but with a sporty edge thanks to the combination of carbon, Alcantara and red leather. The steering wheel had a lovely feel to it and the instrument dials fitted perfectly within its curve. And the upgraded Harman Kardon sound system ($1180) was always appreciated on long journeys. The only thing I would like to have seen was a smart touchscreen, as I mostly use Apple CarPlay and the set-up as it was was a little clumsy to use. But all good things must come to an end, and our Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio was very good indeed.
This article originally appeared at evo.co.uk
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