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.
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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 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 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 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, 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 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 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.