With a century-long experience building cars, Alfa Romeo creates a super SUV that looks and drives like a million dollars. Alvin Thomas takes it out for a spin.
The recipe for a super SUV is quite simple: throw in oodles of power to a vehicle large enough to ferry anywhere between five to seven people and their valuable luggage (perhaps even a couple of dogs), plus a bit of light off-roading when the going gets rough.
It’s a market that remained relatively uninviting for the better part of the early 2000s, with only a handful of players even daring to take on the seemingly impossible challenge of figuring out how to keep their vehicle grounded on all four wheels and not topple over – let alone make it go fast.
Things have changed a lot since then – starting with how technology has made it possible for an SUV to go hard and fast in a stable manner – without any superfluous drama normally associated with supercars.
Today, the high-performance SUV market is flooded with competition; from the track-focused Lamborghini Urus and the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, to the more practical Range Rover Sport SVR and the Mercedes-Benz GLE 63S Coupe.
But, when it comes to cranking things up a notch or two and crushing records – sometimes even those set by multi-million-dollar supercars – only one name comes to mind: The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
The brainchild of the world’s darling car brand, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the Italian manufacturer’s first attempt at taking a crack at the lucrative market… but without the obnoxious looks or the price-tag this clique is normally associated with.
In fact, this might be the only SUV that dons a daring design language that works in its favour and attracts enough eyes and camera flashes.
Unlike the ostentatious (and a bit over-the-top) Lamborghini Urus, the Alfa flaunts a design-language reminiscent to that of its sedan sibling – the Giulia Quadrifoglio.
This marriage between sedan and SUV design leaves the Stelvio with a tasteful fascia. The long headlamps with adaptive bi-xenon projectors and wraparound LED daytime-running lights remain, as does the signature ‘Scudetto’ grille with a brushed-aluminium lip.
It also comes with a tall, aggressive bumper with large intake vents and a handful of cuts and sharp creases that distinguish it from the regular variants. There’s also functional vents on the bonnet that resemble shark gills to aid in cooling the engine.
Our top-spec tester even came fitted with a carbon-fibre bonnet to aid in weight reduction alongside aluminium panels that help keep the car a humble 1,800kgs.
At 4.7m x 1.68m x 1.95m (length x height x width), the Stelvio Quadrifoglio slots in between the larger Range Rovers and the smaller Porsche Macans. Nevertheless, with 20cms of clearance separating the bumper lip from the ground, it’s capable of light off-roading.
The side profile is rather understated but still unique with sportier side-skirts and flared arches distinguishing the Quadrifoglio from the ‘Veloce’ or ‘Super’ variants. Meanwhile, the rear end is finished up with a small diffuser, a menacing quad-exhaust setup, and a wider lip to house all the extra metal.
All variants of the Quadrifoglio also come wearing specially-designed 20-inch alloys that are wrapped around a staggered set of Pirelli PZero tires.
The best way to sum up the exterior of the car is as a Giulia Quadrifoglio on stilts.
It feels the part on the inside too.
Aside from the generous serving of carbon-fibre and additional stitching on the dashboard, centre console, and doors that help break up the grey from the alcantara on the seats and steering wheel, along with darker leather bits on the other panels, the car is incredibly driver-focused.
Case and point, the large multi-function flat-bottom steering wheel comes with excellent ergonomics for driving, while there are tall, milled aluminium shifters on the column behind the steering for shifting gears.
Even the 8.8-inch high-definition infotainment screen is angled towards the driver so that all the necessary information is available at their fingertips.
We found the screen to be user-friendly – but there’s a learning curve to dodge before you can go full-fledged with it while on the move. The accompanying knob that controls the screen, however, is easy to intuit and easy to use.
Our tester also came fitted with supportive carbon-fibre bucket seats. The seats, despite offering supreme levels of side support with bolstering and lumbar support, also remained quite soft and premium in feel with just the right mix of top-end leather and alcantara.
Space inside is apt for five adults. Head and leg room is plentiful in both the front and back, though middling in its class – but it’s quite sizeable when pitted against the likes of the Macan or the GLC 63 AMG Coupe.
This carries over to the boot as well. With a boot space of 525-litres – owing mostly to the sloping roofline and lower profile – there’s enough space for four large suitcases and three more smaller bags. Aside from that, you can also do a 40:20:40 split seating to make way for some extra room.
It’s practical by most means, and the standard-fit electric tailgate, coupled with the low and flat loading space makes for easy loading and unloading.
Where the Stelvio Quadrifoglio really takes the cake is in the safety department. Pre-loaded with just about everything (save for autonomous driving) technology currently on offer, the SUV can be rated as one of the safer ones out there.
Standard kit includes blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, rear cross traffic alert, hill descent control, and the usual traction and stability controls with additional help from the torque vectoring system.
For an added cost, you can also get adaptive cruise control fitted to the car for some added assistance while driving long distances.
From a trivial standpoint, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio blends the best of Italian design with modern technology and practicality – an amalgamation we’ve long waited for – to create what could possibly come close to being the perfect high-performance SUV ever made… that is if you set aside the frightful-looking Lamborghini.
It’s a hard and fast rule that every petrolhead must have driven an Alfa Romeo to know the real meaning of driving and sense the emotion behind it.
Seven minutes and 52 seconds. That’s the time that the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio took to splice – end-to-end – the world’s most challenging and grueling racetrack: the Nürburgring.
It’s a number that evokes awe among petrol-heads. After all, the twisty German track that has cost many cars – and lives – spans nearly 26 kilometres.
Also, sport utility vehicles – or SUVs – aren’t meant to munch down lap records and annihilate supercars that weigh half and cost five times as much. Yet somehow, the Stelvio does just that.
This rounds up the makings of the best comeback story of an automotive brand that was long overshadowed by its own successes from the past; second only to the rivalry between Ferrari and Ford.
This then is the start of things to come from the Italian stables – and things have never looked more promising.
At the crux of this promise is a Ferrari-derived motor: a 2.9-litre ‘twin-turbocharged’ V6 that is tuned by Alfa to produce 503hp and 600Nms of torque.
It’s then coupled with an eight-speed ZF gearbox that’s been profoundly recalibrated to handle the additional curb weight from the bigger engine and the added power it puts to the ground.
Weight increases by about 200kgs to 1.9-tonnes when compared with the Stelvio Super, though things are kept in check with carbon fibre inserts and the generous use of aluminum all through the chassis, engine, and bodywork.
All the nice and curvy panels you see upfront – the bonnet, doors, wheel arches – are all cast in high-grade aluminum. So are the underpinnings of the suspension. The result is an SUV that undercuts the Porsche Macan Turbo by a great 95kgs. Keep that in mind when you gorge on that 350g steak and chips.
As expected, power is driven through all four wheels in conjunction with Alfa’s Q4 driveline, but there’s a twist – the Quadrifoglio diverts nearly all its power to the rear wheels in normal driving conditions, with the limited-slip differential only sending torque to the front (up to 50 per cent) when it detects loss of traction or an angle of slip.
Then there’s the Active Torque Vectoring system that aims to pull you back into line when you’re shredding the tires into their elements in a sharp corner at high speed.
Even the prop-shaft that connects the two axles is finished in carbon-fibre to save weight and decrease response time. It’s the kind of determination and attention to detail that we lack in the performance SUV segment.
What all this results in is automotive perfection.
This could very well be the only super SUV we’ve ever driven that mimics a sports car while maintaining SUV-like proportions, thereby proving to the world that there’s more to making an SUV of such sorts than just chucking out oodles of power to all four wheels.
That’s not to say the Stelvio Quadrifoglio isn’t quick on its feet – it is.
In fact, line it up against a Ferrari 458 Italia or a McLaren MP4-12C – both supercars of the highest order – and it’ll emerge the winner by a whisker. Our tests consistently revealed 0-100kph times between 3.8 and 4.1 seconds on hot 40-degree-Celsius summer days.
A part of the reason for Alfa’s confident sub-four-second zero-to-100kph claims can be the low-end torque that the engine produces. Torque kicks in a slither over the 2,500rpm mark while keeping itself flowing up to the 5,000rpm band.
Twist the dial into ‘Race’ mode and the Stelvio Quadrifoglio becomes every bit as eager as its sedan counterpart; from the bellowing engine upfront to the roaring and crackling exhaust note from the quad pipes in the rear.
That’s also when we learned that straight line speed is hardly the SUV’s strong suit.
What the engineers dial into the engine, it maintains through the corners. Little wonder then the car gets sports bucket seats handcrafted in carbon fibre that hug your shoulders and hind tightly (but with adequate leeway) in tight corners.
It’s staggering to say that the Stelvio scripts magnificence around the corners. It’ll easily power through a short lap of the Yas Marina race-track in under a minute and 30 seconds – a respectable time for an SUV.
Unfortunately, we had to resort to highways and city traffic during our test drive, but from the cornering we could do, we can report that the handling dynamics are splendid; car-like even.
A part of that could be pegged to the quick-ratio steering wheel fitted to the Stelvio. It’s addictive and mimics (to an extent) what we’ve come to terms with in the Alfa Romeo Giulia and even Ferrari’s 812 Superfast.
All of this comes alive in ‘Race’ mode, which also boldly deactivates the traction and stability controls.
Doing so removes any unwanted electronic interference and allows you to enter slides so dramatic (and illegal) that your mates would deem blasphemy in a cars-and-coffee meet.
Getting the Stelvio to oversteer is like poking a tiger with a stick. You know it’s going to snap its jaws at you with a roar. It’s then up to your skills to keep you from staying on all four wheels and offset the lack of any driver aids.
Holding the composure midway through the slide involves you feathering the throttle: give it too much and the torque will catch you out with a wild spin, but keep the pedal in check and you’ll be rewarded with smooth slides that can be kept alive by countering with the steering.
Our only gripe with the setup was that we found the quick-ratio steering catching us out if we were hard in turn-in or over-compensated mid-way through a power slide.
Meanwhile, those looking for a more civilised approach can make use of the torque vectoring system to hold them in line and keeping the driving mode set to ‘Dynamic’. Couple that with the sticky Pirelli PZero tires (255/45 in the front and 285/40 in the rear) wrapped around the 20-inch alloys and you’ll be left with mind-numbing levels of grip.
The tires, while loud and rocky when pushed hard in ‘Race’ mode, do offer admirable levels of quietness when left in ‘N-Natural’ or ‘A-Advanced Efficiency’ modes. The PZeros also didn’t reveal any form of grip-loss from heating when cutting corners. Still, there’s just not enough levels of flex on the sidewall to warrant any worry for track users.
The massive brakes on our tester are well-ventilated and also slotted to improve cooling but there’s also a carbon-ceramic option for those with deep pockets or if you’re looking to eke out the best out of the brakes on a race-track.
Our brake tests revealed no real fade – owing greatly to the dual calipers in the rear. However, we’d like to know how they would hold up in the long run.
Overall, we’d say that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a pretty darn good SUV to drive around in – merging the best of driving dynamics with the comfort and practicality of an SUV.
What’s better is that looks and feels like a Giulia Quadrifoglio – a car that we claimed was the best sports sedan of the 21st-century. And going by that account, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is undoubtedly the best driving SUV we’ve ever tested.
That’s says a lot about how well-engineered and focused the Stelvio is, because with competition as tight as it is now – with the arrival of the Lamborghini Urus and the Maserati Levante Trofeo – the performance SUV market has never been in the spotlight more than it is now.
Pegging this as a Porsche Macan Turbo is an insult. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is more than that; maybe much more than the threshold of what one would believe in a review without actually having driven the car.
This would fall into the realms of those vehicles that define modern-day motoring.
• Engine: 2.9-litre ‘twin-turbocharged’ V6
• Transmission: Eight-speed ‘ZF’ automatic
• Power: 503hp
• Torque: 600Nms
• Top Speed: 283kph (limited)
• Four-wheel drive
• Carbon-fibre trim
• 3 selectable drive modes
• 50:50 weight distribution
• Alfa Chassis Domain Control
• 8.8-inch infotainment screen
• Auto emergency braking
• Adaptive cruise control
• Harman/Kardon premium surround sound system
• Leather and alcantara upholstery