Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: Driven

Alfa's choice of backdrop for the 510hp Quadrifoglio variant of the Stelvio could hardly have been more auspicious. For Fiat's second most evocative brand, the UAE meant guaranteed sunshine in December; huge, half-empty desert roads; a persuadable police force and a tribal devotion to the notion of an overpowered, petrol-fired SUV. But it's undeniably a love/hate kind of place, too. And, figuratively speaking, that's pleasingly consistent with the fluctuating appeal of Alfa's newest and most costly five-door fireball.

The business justification for the "fastest SUV in its class" is, by now, unimpeachable. Like every other volume manufacturer, Alfa must offer a compact SUV - and precisely because it is Alfa, it feels obliged to offer a very fast one. And the Quadrifoglio is impeccably fast. As with much else, it shares its 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 and eight-speed transmission with the quickest Giulia - which means that it's good for 3.8 seconds to 62mph and 176mph.

Unlike its saloon-shaped sibling, though, the Stelvio gets its maker's all-wheel drive system; a system minded to send 100 per cent of available torque to the fun axle and unable to deflect no more than 50 per cent back to the front. There are two clutches at the rear, too - electronically primed to vector power in the most dynamically gratifying direction. No less appealingly, Alfa says the model retains the Giulia's perfect weight distribution, and - thanks to many of the same mass-shunning features - is claimed to be the lightest car in a notoriously paunchy class.

A prevailing mechanical similarity to the saloon is welcome (the Quadrifoglio variant being by some distance the best car Alfa makes) although there's obviously no hiding the physical differences. Where its stablemate has you embedded in the cabin like an Alsatian's tick, the Stelvio's vastly higher hip point has you perched high above the controls in a cabin that feels marginally roomier upfront only by virtue of its raised roofline.

Its conspicuous tallness - the model is not sunken at the arches like a Porsche Macan - is palpable in the driving experience. While the chassis' basic configuration (double wishbones up front; Alfa's patented multi-link in the rear, both backed by adaptive dampers) is also carried over, managing the Stelvio's loftier ride height has necessitated some telling compromises. The saloon's preternatural rolling refinement has been mitigated by a broader requirement for model-specific tautness; meaning that even in its default 'Natural' mode on the UAE's smooth roads, the SUV is less inclined to settle so amicably on its 20-inch alloys.

This doesn't make the Quadrifoglio uncomfortable per se, but it hardly establishes a Macan-style roundedness either - and while Alfa says the incisive steering rack is unchanged, the suspension's implied stringency doesn't necessarily translate into hugely swift changes of direction. Add to this the slightly unfeeling brake pedal, made familiar by the saloon, and there's an unexpected hint of SUV normality about the car at low to middling speeds.

Of course, where it doesn't lumber (not even a little bit) is when you stop behaving like a considerate road user, and start making immodest requests of the overtly marvelous engine. The V6 will eventually indulge your right foot in any mode, but its response is best appreciated in 'Dynamic' and with you choosing the gears manually via the Quadrifoglio's splendidly massive alloy paddle shifters. These provide additional engagement with a process already brimming with physicality: the Stelvio pitching away from the horizon as the motor impels you bullishly and momentously towards it.

Excepting several candidates that feature horizontally opposed cylinders, no current six-pot can claim to trump the charisma of Alfa's raspy, odd-firing, aluminum masterpiece; ditto the ZF transmission blitzing through its ratio changes. Transfer to the Stelvio has not diluted its free-spinning appeal one jot - a distinction that must be part credited to the Q4 system's indulgent and persistent shuffling of the 443lb ft of twist available from 2,500rpm.

For many, if not most, manufacturers of prodigiously fast SUVs, the onus here would be on tenacity and stability, with only lip service paid to the concept of a notable rear bias. Not Alfa. Or not in 'Dynamic' mode at any rate, where even on rain-starved tarmac the Quadrifoglio can be easily coaxed into rotating on its surfeit of power before the front axle (and multiple circuit boards) encourage you straight. The line is fine though; the SUV is less forgiving than the Giulia, and far easier to urge into understeer.

Nevertheless, making the Stelvio throttle adjustable - or as throttle adjustable as propriety allows - gives its handling some undeniably invigorating gloss. Naturally this is less about genuine nuance than it is circumventing the all-wheel-drive inertia that reduces too many of the Quadrifoglio's rivals to on-roads dullards, and frankly we're all for that. In its most gratifying moments, the drivetrain even manages to convince you that the extraordinary potency of the engine and gearbox has been laid on for your enjoyment rather than simply to expedite a journey - which, in the context of the segment, is an unmitigated triumph.

Frustratingly though, the car's sporadic displays of deftness do also serve to highlight its innate limitations. For every two corners that captivated, the UAE served up three more where the Stelvio's high-sidedness, or weight, or imperfect body control in some way mitigated its performance, and left you reflecting on what a prospect it would be were it two inches lower and 150kg lighter. Or, to put it another way, how much more fun you'd be having in the cheaper, faster, nimbler Giulia Quadrifoglio.

Consequently it is hard not to end up squarely on the fence; admiring the sterling, thrill-first job done on the most expensive Stelvio, and simultaneously resenting it for not being all it could be were the design parameters kinder. That will stop precisely no-one buying it of course - and nor should it: alongside the much heftier Range Rover Sport SVR, the Quadrifoglio is probably the most interesting SUV to drive enthusiastically. But we'd still have a Giulia every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Inspired? Buy an Alfa Romeo here


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: 31.4 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 210g/km
Price: Β£67,000 (est)

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (98) Join the discussion on the forum

  • sidesauce 05 Dec 2017

    I really like the look of this, not sure why though...

  • audidoody 05 Dec 2017

    Yours for just £18,500 after three years.

  • Uncle John 05 Dec 2017

    Well done Alfa!

    Fantastic performance for an SUV.

  • givablondabone 05 Dec 2017

    Looks good at around 100k less than the Urus I must say.

  • mikey k 05 Dec 2017

    audidoody said:
    Yours for just £18,500 after three years.
    I like that plan smile

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