RE: Alfa Romeo Stelvio QF vs. Mercedes-AMG C63 S

RE: Alfa Romeo Stelvio QF vs. Mercedes-AMG C63 S

Sunday 24th March

Alfa Romeo Stelvio QF vs Mercedes-AMG C63 S

'Why would you have an SUV, when you could just have a fast estate?', goes the adage; time to test it!



You may have noticed, in recent years, an argument stewing among car people, specifically focussing on the rise of the performance Sports Utility Vehicle. There's no need for one of those, the gist of the retort typically goes, because those buyers after something fast, practical, usable and durable can just have a fast estate. Everything is there that characterises the quick SUV, albeit usually in a lighter, more dynamic, less expensive body. Not always, but often. So why would you go for the 4x4?

It's an argument that's currently being won by the SUV side, though, as makers flock to make them - encouraged by buyers who can't stop buying them. See the VW T-Roc R - a car surely ringing the death knell for the Golf R estate - and the fact that BMW is making an X3 M instead of an M3 Touring. Or else study the case in point: the Stelvio was made from the Giulia platform instead of a swoopy new Sportwagon, because that's where the market is.


So convincing is the sales volume case that it's almost a wonder that the fast estate hasn't faded from view almost completely. But - largely thanks to the Germans - the segment is still alive and kicking and still able to deploy a proper uberwagon in opposition to the feisty Italian upstart (that's not simply lazy cliché, either, as is about to be detailed). The C63 S has just been facelifted, too, boasting a new nine-speed automatic gearbox, an assortment of chassis tweaks and an imposing new Panamericana grille.

It delivers the same 510hp as the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, and comes with the same broad remit regarding functionality and ease of use - which means a side-by-side comparison of school run duties would be a perfect valid test. So naturally Dan T and I went to Yorkshire, drove them around on the moors for half a day, and then argued a bit about which one did it better...



Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate - Matt Bird

Unquestionably, the C63 enters this test with the most to lose. After all it's the car that, across various generations and more than 10 years now, has been the answer to a host of questions. As its predecessors were for decades previously. It's a commodious estate car, an opulent Mercedes and a wild AMG, all in one sophisticated and subtle package. The fear could be, of course, that its way of doing things is made to look a little old hat by the trendy, fierce, frenetic Alfa Romeo. What a turn up that could be.

And let's be honest for a second. Tell the average person - perhaps even the average car fan, in fact - that your grey C-Class estate left the showroom with a sticker price of £90k (blame the ceramic brakes, mainly) and they may well question your judgement. Or sanity even. Because one person's subtle is another person's staid, and the C63's air of restraint is possibly too effective for a world seemingly all about making a statement. The Alfa may not be pretty, but it will get you noticed - as much of a priority as anything nowadays. Or so it appears.

Moreover, it's not like the C63 can claw back any numbers on the spec sheet. As tested it's more expensive, slower, more polluting and not a great deal lighter than the Stelvio. The differences are tiny, granted, but they exist nonetheless. Assuming the fast car moral high ground becomes trickier still...


Well it does until you stop thinking so hard and start driving the C63. Because if this is the old way of doing things, a fad that's passed and something too quaint for 2019, then sign us up for the time machine. Because this is a magnificent car, and a near-perfect fit for any situation you care to throw at it.

While the Alfa might impress on the driveway and on the bottom line, the Mercedes is enthralling from the moment you're in. Every material, from seat stitching to steering column, feels an order of magnitude better than in the Alfa, the £10k price difference seemingly immaterial given how much more expensive the Mercedes feels. Combine that with a better driving position, improved visibility and vastly more successful integration of assistance technology, and the Merc's case gets stronger by the second.

Don't assume, either, that this is simply a lumbering estate car brought to life by a hell-raising V8 - not a bit of it. That wouldn't be the modern Mercedes way, would it? While the Alfa is the quickest in slushy conditions (and admirably silly), the C63 counters with the sort of omnipotent completeness that AMGs are swiftly becoming known for. While the Alfa's quirks take some getting used to - super quick steering and snatchy brakes to name but two - the Mercedes just delivers. No acclimatisation, no excuses; just dynamic quality, finesse and enjoyment of the highest order.


This new nine-speed gearbox is sharper than its rivals transmission; there's an argument to say that the twin-turbo V8 might be more exciting as well. Just. The steering response is more predictable, and although the ride might be firmer, AMG's damping expertise means the C63 can probably handle fast road driving with greater aplomb (it doesn't have to make any concessions to off-road driving, after all).

The latest range of dynamic updates and configurability options have only improved the car, too; because while the Alfa can do the Race mode showboating, the AMG's new nine-stage traction control gives great scope for precise, accurate management of 510hp going to just two rear tyres. That the car also has great inherent traction - no, really - only makes the process more satisfying. There's the old AMG way to drive, or the more measured, technical, new AMG way to drive - the C63 is happy to accommodate either, or anything in between.

That's perhaps its makers most notable stroke of genius, and why it remains as relevant a choice as ever. It's just sort of brilliant, whatever you choose to do with it. The Alfa is an interesting alternative, one brimming with effervescent charm and tangible ability, but that's the key point - it's an alternative. From here at least, anachronistic perspective though it may seem, nothing can quite beat a fast estate for a blend of objective talent and subjective desirability. And right now nothing can quite beat an AMG Mercedes at doing so.



Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio - Dan Trent

How to defend the indefensible? Well, there's no point arguing against cars like the Stelvio Quadrifoglio - folk love the format and more than one sports car manufacturer owes its continued existence to them. Suck it up.

So credit to Alfa Romeo for making some merry mischief with the myth a high-riding car can be made to handle like a low-slung one. Porsche will happily support the delusion a Macan or Cayenne is basically a 911 with extra ride height and usable rear seats but the Stelvio accepts an SUV will never be the dynamic equal of a Giulia, M3 or C63 and gives customers what they really want. Which is to say unapologetically brash looks, Ferrari-engined bragging rights, a parpy exhaust and the handling manners of a 510hp Focus RS on stilts. It's also £10,000 cheaper than the C63 and more likely to score domestic approval and the admiration of friends, colleagues and neighbours. All of which matters more than many of us might care to admit.

A pity then that the cabin makes it hard to deny a qualitative gap with the AMG. Sounds shallow to fixate on switchgear but sharp, plasticky edges on touchpoints like the gear selector and column stalks are corners the Stelvio can't afford to cut if it wants to stand showroom comparison with the Germans. See also iffy calibration of the electronic parking brake, which makes it feel like something in the drivetrain has snapped every time you pull away.


Still, it's the bit after you've pulled away that we really care about, and it's here that the QF feels better resolved. OK, you can't see out of it but that's common to all vehicles of this type. In its regular modes it's commendably wafty, refined and more relaxing than the AMG. In auto or manual the eight-speed transmission is bang-on, smooth when needed and fast to respond when you use the big, column-mounted shifters. Their tactile, Ferrari-inspired action encourages you to do so, the double pull for neutral, fast-geared steering and the ability to select Race powertrain but dial back the dampers for bumpy roads additional prancing horse references those in the know will appreciate.

More generally the ride has a brittleness at lower speeds but strikes an acceptable balance for the dynamic demands of higher ones, suggesting money saved on switchgear may well have been invested in chassis calibration. Driven in the three main modes on the DNA dial the Stelvio feels as you'd hope - fast in a modern turbocharged way, commendably composed and secure whatever the conditions. Select Race and it turns into an utter lunatic though, this being the moment the Stelvio lets rip at its rivals.

Certainly, conditions on test favoured the Stelvio's all-wheel drive traction over a rear-driven AMG. Or would have done, were the Alfa to behave like any other AWD car. Like many, it divvies the power between default rear push and stabilising front axle pull when required. Except that in Race mode the black boxes in charge of sending power forward take a commendably casual approach to the latter - meaning the clutches in the active rear diff lock tight and enthusiastically torque vector the Stelvio into meaningful oversteer at every given opportunity (in slippery conditions, at least).


There's a clue when you select Race and ESC OFF appears writ large but, even so, the Stelvio's appetite for going sideways will wake you up faster than an intravenous ristretto shot. Hopefully in a good way if you provoked it and were ready. Possibly not if you didn't allow space to gather up the ensuing slide or were too slow with the corrective lock. Commit to it and the front axle will eventually stub out its fag and join the conversation, pulling you straight as you might have expected. But if you poke an angry Quadrifoglio with a stick don't be surprised if it bites.

It's less of a surprise that a performance SUV can be made to handle this way, given the tricks modern drivetrain tech can pull. But the fact it got signed off with such a wild side is genuinely astonishing, especially in a segment where customers expect grip, not slip. Credit due to Alfa Romeo for going full Italian in this respect, just as AMG's approach takes a decided step to maturity and the C63's electronic diff prioritises traction over showboating. That the wilder, more sideways car on the day was the all-wheel drive SUV was not the expected result. You may still hate the game. But, in this instance, you can love the player without need for excuses.


SPECIFICATION - MERCEDES-AMG C63 S ESTATE
Engine:
3,982cc twin-turbo V8
Transmission: 9-speed auto with lock-up clutch (MCT), very rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 516@2,000-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.1sec
Top speed: 174mph (limited)
Weight: 1,825kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 25.5-24.8mpg (WLTP combined, dependent on options)
CO2: 229g/km
Price: £76,933 (£89,213 as tested, comprising Driving Assistance package inc. Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Braking Assist, Active Distance Assist Distronic, Active Steering Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Lane-change Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, route-based speed adaptation and Pre-Safe Plus £1,695; Premium Plus package inc. Burmester sound system, 360deg camera, Keyless-Go and panoramic glass sunroof £2,595; ceramic brakes £4,825; 19-inch cross spoke wheels in black £1,735; Selenite Grey metallic paint £685; carbon fibre trim and analogue clock £700; AMG Night Package inc. black chrome exhaust trims, trim and window surrounds in black, privacy glass £585)

SPECIFICATION - ALFA ROMEO STELVIO QUADRIFOGLIO
Engine:
2,891cc, twin turbocharged V6
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443@2,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.8sec
Top speed: 176mph
Weight: 1,830kg
MPG: 24.6 (WLTP combined low)
CO2: 227g/km
Price: £69,500 (£78,305 as tested, comprising Metallic Paint £770; dark painted wheels £590; yellow painted brake calipers £595; Sparco Carbonshell seats £3,250; leather/alcantara/carbon fibre steering wheel £425; Harman Kardon audio £950; cargo net £85; panoramic glass sunroof £1,250; active cruise control £890)





















Author
Discussion

mrclav

Original Poster:

791 posts

164 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
A E63 estate pulled up alongside me yesterday, sporting the same engine - I forgot just how sexy the sound is... then was instantly reminded when he pulled away!cloud9

fatboy b

8,116 posts

157 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Merc looks awful inside and out compared to the Alfa. And a bonus is that the Alfa has an integrated screen rather than a stuck-on after thought.

had ham

3,506 posts

124 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
The Alfa to me looks awful, particularly inside where it looks 10 years old already.

CharlieAlphaMike

323 posts

46 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
If only Alfa Romeo would see sense and offer an Estate version of the Giulia (QF).

Tomatogti

290 posts

110 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
V8 v V6
RWD v 4WD
Low CoG v High CoG
Whilst I’d love an Alfa I’d always have the Merc.
Funny comment regarding what neighbours think, I’d rather impress car people with a fast estate than the school mums who love an SUV.
Advertisement

janesmith1950

2,822 posts

36 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Would have thought the Stelvio is in a funny place from a pricing perspective. Not opulant enough to compete with a RRS, X5 etc., yet not sporty enough to compete with an M3/RS4/C63.

Comparatively it's not very good at either end of the scale.

phalfalan

9 posts

59 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Bought a Stelvio QF after owning a Giulia QF for 18 months. With teenage kids the Stelvio is better size wise and the reaction from others when you give it the beans and disappear into the horizon is priceless. There will always be those who argue German is best, it’s the usual boring comments made about interior build quality, blah, blah - I just think both the AMG and Alfa are great cars in different ways so is one better than the other? I don’t care really, thank goodness there are still mad cars these two being made, respect to any owner of either - there isn’t an electric hook up in sight.

wab172uk

1,296 posts

168 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Got to say, if I had to buy one with my own money, I'd buy the Alfa

I'm not usually one for liking big SUV's, but there is something different about the Alfa to the usual suspects of the SUV Brigade.

Now if the choice had been the Alfa or an RS6 ...........

AC43

6,907 posts

149 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
"Stelvio.. gives customers what they really want....unapologetically brash looks (and) a parpy exhaust".

Whatever floats your boat.

I'd go for the low CoG myself. All day long.

HM-2

4,377 posts

110 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
CharlieAlphaMike said:
If only Alfa Romeo would see sense and offer an Estate version of the Giulia (QF).
Conversely, I'd love a saloon Giulia QF with the AWD system from the Stelvio. If such a thing existed, it would tick pretty much every box I can think of.

Arsecati

195 posts

58 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
AMG all the way - and I'd de-badge it too, just for good measure. Let the neighbours fawn all over someone else and their 'lovely new SUV', I'll be out trying to hold back the smile in the vain hope that those same people will think I've just got a flashy bodykit - but those who know......... will know, and THEY will be my kind of people! wink

Brooking10

4,691 posts

82 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
phalfalan said:
Bought a Stelvio QF after owning a Giulia QF for 18 months. With teenage kids the Stelvio is better size wise and the reaction from others when you give it the beans and disappear into the horizon is priceless. There will always be those who argue German is best, it’s the usual boring comments made about interior build quality, blah, blah - I just think both the AMG and Alfa are great cars in different ways so is one better than the other? I don’t care really, thank goodness there are still mad cars these two being made, respect to any owner of either - there isn’t an electric hook up in sight.
No place for common sense posting like that here.

Talking about impressing neighbours and stuck on iPads is the standard required wink

Posted as a previous Giulia Quad owner and current AMG driver smile

As you say, we're lucky we have the choice.


G13NVL

422 posts

25 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Currently looking at used C63 estates (after selling my 204 last year with instant regret) and there is a lovely red one in the classifieds <7k miles and under £40k seems bit of a bargain! Debadge it and could waft along unnoticed... untill you hit the loud pedal!

nickfrog

9,638 posts

158 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
AC43 said:
I'd go for the low CoG myself. All day long.
Good to hear you would go for the Caterham rather than the estate with the very high CoG wink

GranCab

1,454 posts

87 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Now this is a face only a (short-sighted) mother could love ... what ever happened to Italian style and elegance ?


playalistic

2,001 posts

105 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Brooking10 said:
phalfalan said:
Bought a Stelvio QF after owning a Giulia QF for 18 months. With teenage kids the Stelvio is better size wise and the reaction from others when you give it the beans and disappear into the horizon is priceless. There will always be those who argue German is best, it’s the usual boring comments made about interior build quality, blah, blah - I just think both the AMG and Alfa are great cars in different ways so is one better than the other? I don’t care really, thank goodness there are still mad cars these two being made, respect to any owner of either - there isn’t an electric hook up in sight.
No place for common sense posting like that here.

Talking about impressing neighbours and stuck on iPads is the standard required wink

Posted as a previous Giulia Quad owner and current AMG driver smile

As you say, we're lucky we have the choice.
Tsk tsk you forgot PCP too otherwise I would have called BINGO.

Max_Torque

13,477 posts

158 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
phalfalan said:
and the reaction from others when you give it the beans and disappear into the horizon is priceless.
The problem is, that in reality, although you might "think" your 2 ton body-on-stilts SUV is fast across the ground, it really isn't. Sure it's got 500 bhp, but with you in it it weighs 2 tonnes, so that's 250bhp/ton, which is ok, but nothing to write home about. And because it's massive, it has the aero drag of a barn, and add in all those lumbering 4wd cogs and driveshafts and the corresponding significant loss of wheel power, and it's really nothing special to write home about once you get up to the higher speeds. But then you come to the real issue, the one that, ime, means i've never yet found and SUV on the road that can actually maintain a "high" average cross country pace, and that is the fact that it's terrifically wide and has zero steering feedback, so the average driver has no idea how hard they are actually pushing, so even if it had good consistent lateral grip (which it doesn't because it has to has huge lateral and longitudinal roll stiffness to stop that lardy body flopping all over the place and making your passengers sick), it's not a car that you want to come round a turn anywhere the limit and find a tractor and trailer in the middle of the road that you have to squeeze past........

These "performance" SUVs have one party trick, which is being reasonably fast off the line for the first 100 yards or so and that's about it, and EVs ar going to make that party trick look a bit limp pretty soon anyway!

Max_Torque

13,477 posts

158 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Oh and i'm not surprised the SUV had the "spikier" handling as this is intrinsic in the height of the thing! A high CofG can be counter acted, in terms of reducing body movement under longitudinal or lateral loads by two methods:

1) Increased lateral or longitudinal spring stiffness

2) Suspension kinematics that furnish a higher average roll centre (and so reduce the lever arm length between the CofG and that roll centre location)


Unfortunately, both of those lead to a higher "gain" in terms of wheel loading per G. Now on a smooth race track, without many bumps, heaves, or things like single wheel pot holes, all is rosey, but on a real road, the loading across the tyre has to change at a higher rate that for a car that has a lower gain. That means grip is lost more quickly under both primary and secondary ride inputs as compared to a car with an intrinsically balanced architecture. Lotus often are held up as "masters of the art" of making a car that rides AND handles well, but really, most of that is because they make cars that are intrinsically balanced and so don't need to resort to a range of 'tricks' to make them handle well and hence that intrinsic balance shows through......

Barga

9,904 posts

147 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
Max_Torque said:
Oh and i'm not surprised the SUV had the "spikier" handling as this is intrinsic in the height of the thing! A high CofG can be counter acted, in terms of reducing body movement under longitudinal or lateral loads by two methods:

1) Increased lateral or longitudinal spring stiffness

2) Suspension kinematics that furnish a higher average roll centre (and so reduce the lever arm length between the CofG and that roll centre location)


Unfortunately, both of those lead to a higher "gain" in terms of wheel loading per G. Now on a smooth race track, without many bumps, heaves, or things like single wheel pot holes, all is rosey, but on a real road, the loading across the tyre has to change at a higher rate that for a car that has a lower gain. That means grip is lost more quickly under both primary and secondary ride inputs as compared to a car with an intrinsically balanced architecture. Lotus often are held up as "masters of the art" of making a car that rides AND handles well, but really, most of that is because they make cars that are intrinsically balanced and so don't need to resort to a range of 'tricks' to make them handle well and hence that intrinsic balance shows through......
You should give Lamborghini a call so that they can make the Gallardo go round the Nurburgring as fast as the Alfa StelvioQV! wink

ZX10R NIN

13,969 posts

66 months

Saturday 23rd March
quotequote all
I'd take the Mercedes but the Alfa is a good choice if you want an SUV although I'd rather have the slower & less sharp Levante.