Can a performance SUV ever be considered a real driver’s car? You know, one of these machines which have the magical ability to lure you out of bed on Sunday morning. A vehicle that you do not just use to get from A to B.
Judging from the public’s insatiable appetite for high-riding performance machines, you may be tempted to reply in the affirmative. However, we are not so sure. You see, despite SUVs like the Porsche Macan Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 and Audi SQ5 often being described as ‘rapid’ or ‘sporty’, in fact, they do not come close to delivering the same amount of driving thrills as a well-sorted sports car — they are just too heavy, too tall and too blunt.
However, what if you should base your sports SUV on a well-sorted sports car? Well, that is the path engineers took when creating the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Moreover, the results seem rather mouth-watering.
Dependent on the scintillating Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon, Alfa’s hot SUV benefits from precisely the same chassis, the same fire-breathing 503bhp 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged gas V6 and a four-wheel drive system borrowed from sister company Maserati. Oh, and did we mention that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio was tuned by none other than Roberto Fedeli, whose CV includes Ferrari’s 599, F12 and 458 Speciale?
In raw speed alone, the results speak for themselves, together with Alfa asserting a 0-62mph period of just 3.8sec, an eye-watering top rate of 176mph plus a record-setting Nürburgring lap time of 7min 51sec.
However, while numbers such as those listed above make for a fantastic headline, they do not tell you how a car performs in real life. That is what we will be exploring in this review.
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It only requires a brief stint behind the wheel to realize that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio benefits significantly from being based on the accurate and precise Giulia. On fast and flowing B-roads, it seems light and responsive on its toes, benefiting from rapid steering that manages to feel sharp and precise without being too nervous. It is a clever trick — one carried over in the Giulia — which instantly makes you feel like you are driving something much closer to a saloon than a near-two-ton SUV.
Moreover, while the Stelvio has four-wheel drive, we are pleased to report that Alfa has managed to keep some of the rear-wheel-drive Giulia Quadrifoglio’s excellent mid-corner adjustability. If you provide the Stelvio a massive boot of power out of tight corners, you will find its back end steps out of line pleasant and predictably, and then, when the four-wheel-drive system decides to shuffle capability to front wheels, you get pulled out of the corner at a fair old lick. It is addictive, great old-fashioned fun.
Less fun, however, is having to keep your eyes on the speedometer — an essential task if you value your license, such as the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s penchant for building rate. With remarkable body management and four-wheel drive grip, it may be all too easy to get lured into deploying all 503 horses, even in wet and slippery conditions. Plus, how every upshift of the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox elicits a nasty crack in the quad exhaust pipes only makes you want to push more.
Of course, the downside to this performance is the Stelvio is not all that economical. We discovered that the mpg figure is hovering around the low 20s, which is not terrible, but it is not that impressive either. Moreover, despite the Stelvio exhibiting impressive body control out in the nation, around town you may feel that Alfa has needed to firm up the suspension to maintain that excess mass in check, with little abrasions sending the strange vibration throughout the inside. So, if you would like to use your Stelvio Quadrifoglio as a town car, we would counsel you to think twice.
Let us start with what is excellent, shall we? The Quadrifoglio feels like a step above the regular Stelvio. It will get a leather-wrapped dashboard, and glossy carbon fiber trim splashed through the inside, superbly crafted aluminum shift paddles and a steering wheel laced with Alcantara and carbon fiber.
However, if you compare the Stelvio Quadrifoglio to not cheaper versions of itself, but other similarly priced performance SUVs, it drops down somewhat. Entirely, the plastics used inside would not look out of place in an entry-level family hatchback, while none of the switches operate with the pleasing accuracy of these located in the Macan and SQ5. Moreover, though it includes an Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped 8.8in infotainment system, inferior graphics and slow reaction times limit functionality.
That stated, equipment is generous, with front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, keyless entry, blind spot monitoring, and ambient lighting coming as standard.
Plus, the driving position is also impressive — significant in a car with this much functionality. Up to now, we have only attempted automobiles with the electrically adjustable Sparco Carbon Shell sports chairs. They are a costly option, but they look fantastic, provide excellent support and make it possible for you to sit down nice and low behind the slim-rimmed steering wheel and well-positioned pedals.
Space & practicality
The Quadrifoglio might be useful at out-accelerating supercars, but it does not mean Alfa Romeo has compromised on practicality. Here, the only real difference from a standard Stelvio is the broader front sports seats. These give the driver and passenger more lateral support yet still provide ample head and legroom for six-footers.
There is enough space for two adults in the trunk, also, but carrying out a third is not a comfortable experience on long journeys, because of low center seat and a front center console which eats into leg space. Concerning storage, the back door pockets are somewhat small, but it is still possible to get a small bottle of water in there — and you also receive a pair of cupholders in the rear armrest and a few USB ports between the front seats.
In 525 liters, the Quadrifoglio’s boot trumps the Macan’s but cannot quite match the GLC 63’s. The load area is a usefully square shape, however, with no internal load lip; it is only a shame there are not more hooks for bags or eyelets to hold down heaps.
Cost & verdict
Nobody enters into possession of a performance SUV under the belief it will be a cheap experience, but nobody wants to be throwing away money, either. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio costs far more than a BMW X3 M40i but is slightly less than the GLC 63 S — the latter being its closest rival regarding raw functionality.
However, unlike with the BMW and Mercedes, there is no need to go mad on the options list, since 20in alloy wheels, elastic dampers, xenon headlights, leather-and-Alcantara chairs, cruise control, sat-nav, and Bluetooth are merely a few of the conveniences included. Fuel economy and CO2 emissions are aggressive versus those competitions’, also, and servicing costs are likewise eye-watering. The Stelvio scored a full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test, beating the likes of the Q5 and GLC for adult protection. It is behind those two competitions for the kid and pedestrian protection, even though it narrowly defeats the Q5 for safety aid systems (for example, automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings).