Can Alfaâ€™s first SUV be as thrilling as the Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon?
Alfa Romeoâ€™s first SUV, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, has 503bhp. In poker terms, that could be described as going â€˜all inâ€™.
Alfa reckons there is no faster production SUV. Thatâ€™s a debatable one because it depends on what definition of â€˜fastâ€™ you’re using. Some SUVs do the 0-62mph run in less time than the 3.8 seconds claimed for the StelQ, and some can beat its 176mph top speed.
Alfaâ€™s own definition of â€˜fastestâ€™ is based on the time in which this car went around the NÃ¼rburgringâ€™s famous Nordschleife track: 7min 51.7sec. That is beyond doubt an SUV record, and fast by any standards. Anything under 8 minutes is fast no matter what vehicle youâ€™re in. Itâ€™s not far short of remarkable for a high SUV.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Price: Â£67,000 (est)
Engine: 3.0-litre, V6, twin-turbocharged, petrol
Torque: 443lb ft
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Top speed: 176mph
Fuel economy: 31.4mpg
CO2 rating: 210g/km
It was to some extent expected as this Stelvio Quadrifoglio was designed by the same people who put together the superb Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon. It has pukka sports car credentials: a recalibrated and re-ratioed version of the Giulia QVâ€™s 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 and eight-speed automatic gearbox, married to Alfa Romeoâ€™s Q4 4WD system which sends 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels in everyday driving. Wheel slip shunts some drive to the front axle, but never more than 50 per cent. The rear diff has two clutch packs to actively divide the torque between the two back wheels fo added nimbleness.
Suspension is double wishbones at the front and a rear multi-link, plus adaptive damping. Carbonfibre and aluminium panels optimise weight, and keeping the engine well to the back of the bay optimises the distribution of that weight â€“Â important, given that thereâ€™s 1830kg of it.
Four drive modes include Eco, which reduces fuel consumption by shutting off three of the six cylinders (this can also occur in Normal mode); Dynamic, which tightens up the throttle and damper response, chops gearshift times and adds steering heft; and Race, which ramps everything up a bit more and turns off the stability control system. You can also put the dampers back into an intermediate setting in this Race mode.
Some very powerful SUVs storm up a drag strip while just about managing to stay in control through bends. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a rare beast that happily combines extreme power with genuine driving entertainment. Its dimensions and design mean that it can never feel as glued to the road as the Giulia, but within those limitations its delivery of precision, body control and steering sweetness is remarkable. Youâ€™ll get commendable bite on turn-in that will eventually morph into understeer, but en route to that point thereâ€™ll be ample front-end grip for sports car speed on a twisting road.
Although there isnâ€™t the Giulia QVâ€™s throttle sensitivity, the torque vectoring and four-wheel drive system compensate strongly by efficiently transferring the big power and torque to the road. Ill-timed right-foot clumsiness, either deliberate or accidental, will produce some deviation in a corner or understeer, but itâ€™s easy to hook all four tyres up and be hurled bodily away from an apex. The level of throttle adjustabilty is unusual in SUV land, where a chosen line will be your only line if you know whatâ€™s good for you.
A UK drive will reveal the quality of the Stelvio QVâ€™s ride on poor surfaces, but on the very smooth Emirati roads of the test route there were no complaints at all. Alfa is confident of the carâ€™s ability to ride lumps just as fluidly as the saloon. The 2.9-litre turbo V6 feels no less incisive or responsive. It revs with purpose and, with the help of the autoÂ gearbox thatâ€™s near-twin-clutch quick in Race mode, it creates significant straight-line speed, to the accompaniment of an unusually tuneful (for a turbo) soundtrack. Low speed refinement is impressive.
The biggest blot is the quality of the interior, just as it is in the Giulia. Some plastics feel thin and the switchgear has a mass-produced feel and look about it. Itâ€™s not bad in isolation but it seems out of kilter with the carâ€™s high dynamism. No problems with the seating position, however. The optional carbonfibre-shelled sports seats are very supportive.
If youâ€™re after true driving fun in your SUV then youâ€™ll struggle to get anything better than the Stelvio QV. If youâ€™re that energised by driving fun, of course, you might be better off in the Giulia QV because thatâ€™s even more engaging. Plus it looks better and it won’t seem quite as out of place on a trackday or two.
Then again, you might like the idea of turning up to a trackday in something with a hatchback boot and an elevated driving position. You wonâ€™t be passed by much.