Performance SUVs with over 400bhp and sub-4.5sec 0-62mph times are peculiar beasts. In fact, it wouldn’t be difficult to formulate an argument to suggest they shouldn’t exist at all. But in the curious world we live in, they not only endure, they seem to be thriving, with new models appearing frequently.
Until recently, Porsche’s Macan Turbo has had the small super-SUV market all to itself. The Audi SQ5 failed to worry the Porsche; AMG’s GLC63 made a better attempt but missed the mark slightly. However, this, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, could be the car to take the Porsche’s crown.
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Taking a regular Stelvio, itself one of the few SUVs with some character a driver can engage with, Alfa Romeo’s engineers, led by Roberto Fedeli, whose CV includes Ferrari’s 599, F12 and 458 Speciale, and the Giulia Quadrifoglio, set about developing not only a rival to the Macan Turbo, but a class leader, too. With 503bhp, a sub four-second 0-62mph time and a 7min 51sec Nürburgring lap time, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio has all the ammunition it needs to take down Porsche’s junior SUV.
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, and 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 carbonfibre 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.
Engine, transmission and 0-60mph time
Taken from the Giulia Quadrifoglio, the Stelvio’s 2.9-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 produces 503bhp at 6500rpm and 442lb ft of torque between 2500 and 5000rpm. Driving through a revised eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, Alfa’s performance SUV will reach 62mph in 3.8sec and crack 176mph – that’s a full second quicker to the 62mph benchmark than Porsche’s claim for the Macan Turbo and 11mph 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 that 7min 51sec lap of the Nürburgring, Alfa is confident it’s ticked that box.
What’s it like to drive?
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 it waits 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 UK 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 UK 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 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 UK 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, carbonfibre 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 UK 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 UK, the four-wheel-drive Stelvio feels so much faster than its 0.1sec 0-62mph 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 in the UK were more than up to the task of controlling the Stelvio. The tighter bends with poor visibility that you often get in the 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.
Price and rivals
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is on sale now, and costs £69,500. Alfa Romeo benchmarked its SUV against Porsche’s 434bhp Macan Turbo fitted with the Performance Package. Despite being faster to 62mph and having 69bhp more, the Stelvio is cheaper than the Porsche – albeit only by £5. The only other small, powerful SUV for the Stelvio to do battle with, before Jaguar release an F-Pace SVR that is, is the Mercedes-AMG GLC63. It’s closer to the Stelvio’s power with 469bhp, but costs less at £66,905. It also has AMG’s bombastic 4-litre twin-turbo V8 and all the charm that comes with it.