Italy’s Stelvio Pass is one of the world’s great driving roads, so naming a vehicle after it would be either a massive misnomer, or an expression of great confidence in the product’s dynamic prowess. Fortunately for Alfa Romeo, it’s the latter that rings true for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and the reason we know this is because we’ve driven it in anger up and down Jebel Jais, which is ranked in the same league as the famed northern Italian alpine pass.
The launch of the uber-SUV takes Alfa Romeo into a new echelon as it will look horns with the likes of the Porsche Macan Turbo. That said, the towering outputs generated by its Ferrari-built 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 (510bhp at 6,500rpm and 600Nm at just 2,500rpm) ensure the Stelvio Quadrifoglio (Italian for four-leaf clover) comfortably trounces even the Macan Turbo with Performance Package in every key measure.
Alfa Romeo quotes a 0-100kph split of 3.8sec and top speed of 283kph, compared with the Performance Package-equipped Macan’s 0-100kph dash of 4.4sec and v-max of 272kph. And, as sharp as the Porsche is dynamically, the Alfa ups the ante a couple of notches. More on this shortly.
Much of the Stelvio’s hardware is shared with the existing Giulia Quadrifoglio — including its drivetrain, platform, carbon fibre prop shaft and torque-vectoring rear differential — but unique to the SUV is a Q4 all-wheel-drive system that sends 100 per cent of drive to the rear wheels under normal conditions. That said, up to 50 per cent of torque is shunted to the front axle when the rear hoops run out of traction.
Although the Stelvio Quadrifoglio foregoes the carbonfibre bonnet that’s fitted to its Giulia counterpart — the SUV’s is aluminium — it’s still a relative lightweight at 1,750kg (unladen). Compare this with a figure of 1,925kg for the Macan Turbo, and you begin to get the picture. The sprightliness of the Alfa is evident the first time you wind on some steering lock, as there’s none of the inertia and hesitation in turning in to a corner that are normally part and parcel of the SUV experience. If it weren’t for the fact you’re perched in an elevated chariot, the feeling from behind the wheel is that you’re pedalling a very capable sports saloon.
Put in a few kilometres across a challenging stretch of tarmac, and the Alfa’s claimed 7min 51.7sec lap of the Nurburgring Nordschleife begins to look entirely credible. But more than the raw pace, it’s the sheer agility, immediacy in responding to all inputs and grin-inducing playfulness that warm the heart. This is in stark contrast to the workmanlike efficiency of the German uber-SUVs.
Much of the Stelvio’s hardware is shared with the existing Giulia Quadrifoglio — including its drivetrain, platform, carbon fibre prop shaft and torque-vectoring rear differential...
The Jebel Jais mountain road is a fitting playground to explore the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s full dynamic repertoire. The DNA Pro drive mode selector gives you four options (Race, Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency). The first of these is obviously the most aggressive, activating the overboost function, opening up the two-mode exhaust and deactivating the ESC safety net while sharpening up throttle, transmission, braking and steering response. But in case you still want to have the reassurance of the ESC system to bail you out when things get too hot to handle, you can simply opt for Dynamic mode, which provides you with enough side-slip leeway to not ruin the fun or stall your momentum even as you launch out of tight hairpins.
That 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 is an absolute jewel. Although it sounds distinctly anaemic at idle, the direct-injection motor makes some great noises as it zings its way to 6,500rpm. There’s plenty of grunt at low to middling revs, too, as reflected by the fact that peak torque of 600 Newtons is on tap from just 2,500rpm. Alfa’s boffins have nailed the calibration of the ZF eight-speed auto, as there’s no perceptible delay in upshifts or downshifts with the DNA Pro selector slotted in Dynamic or Race mode. There’s a lovely “braaaap” that accompanies shifts, adding to the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s overtly sporting persona.
Our test car was equipped with the standard-issue steel brakes, but Brembo carbon-ceramic stoppers are also on the menu for an additional outlay. Truth be told, you don’t really need the latter, as even the steel discs were up the task of trashing up and down Jebel Jais without showing any discernible signs of fade.
Also optional are ultra-lightweight carbonfibre shell Sparco racing seats that provide more lateral support, thanks to beefier side bolstering. Once again, the standard pews are perfectly adequate in their looks/comfort/lateral support, but you could opt for the Sparcos if regular trackdays are on the agenda — or if you simply want your Stelvio Quadrifoglio to stand out from the horde. Occupants of the rear seats might be less content, as the seatbacks are a tad too upright and there’s a slightly claustrophobic feel in the back due to the limited view out of the smallish side windows. The field of vision forwards is also restricted by the front-seat headrests.
Luggage space is reasonable without being class-leading, as there’s 525 litres on offer if you’re content with a tyre-inflation kit (it shrinks to 499 litres if you want a spare tyre). Fold the rear seats flat and storage space swells to 1,600 litres. The cabin has some nice carbonfibre elements and leather/Alcantara trim (black with red stitching in our tester) but, on the minus side, there’s a lot of hard plastic for a vehicle competing in this price segment. The infotainment system also isn’t the cleverest, or the most user-friendly.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is oriented on the extreme end of the sporting SUV scale, but it manages this without sacrificing everyday usability and comfort. Ride comfort is agreeably compliant, and it cruises in relative refinement, although there is a fair bit of wind noise from around the A- and B-pillars at highway speeds. Off-road ability? Er, no… apart from gravel tracks.
Overall, there’s plenty to like about the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. It’s fast, engaging and charismatic, yet not as polished an all-rounder as its German rivals. This is pretty much the traditional Alfa Romeo recipe — a few quirks and idiosyncrasies are always part of the mix.