Is a fast SUV all the car you need nowadays? We review the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio to find out.
The humble fast estate seems to be being replaced by the fast SUV and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is one of the cars doing this. In a world where consumers are buying more crossovers and SUVs than ever before, it makes sense for manufacturers to bring more and more models that sit far too high and travel only on high streets despite having trick off-road systems. You can’t blame manufacturers, this is what people are buying, simple as that. At least if you’re going to buy an SUV, make it a fast one.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio not only has one of the longest names for a car on the market, it is also one of the fastest real-world cars you can buy, let me explain. You might be sat there thinking this almost 2 tonne of metal isn’t faster than a hot-hatch on a back road, but you’d be very wrong. Powering the Stelvio is a 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 nabbed from the super saloon that is Giulia Quadrifoglio. Power output is a whopping 503bhp and 443lb ft of torque, all of which is sent through a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission and across all four wheels. That means off the line this will do 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds. 3.8 seconds for an SUV, that’s bonkers! It’ll also go on to 176mph, and if you so wish, will lap the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes, yep, that’s fast.
This Stelvio is an interesting one, though. You’d expect it to be nothing more than a straight line warrior, much like the Cherokee Trackhawk, which blitzes far more expensive cars in straight lines. The Stelvio handles well, that’s something I never thought I’d say about an SUV. It seems that Alfa Romeo has spent a great deal of time working on the chassis to produce an SUV that’s capable in the corners and in a straight line, but can carry five passengers and a boot big enough to fit suitcases, golf clubs, bikes and the kitchen sink.
The other point to raise here is that the Stelvio is RWD, most of the time. Unlike VAG cars where its Quattro and Haldex systems are predominantly FWD, the Stelvio sends power to the rear until it starts to lose grip, which it then sends power to the front. This is a crucial point to mention because the Stelivo is a lively old sod when the going gets tough. If you throw it into a corner and power out, like you would do in any 4WD car, you expect it to hook up and go. But here, you’ll get a squabble from the rear end before you propel on to the next corner. Dare I say it’s fun to drive. Is it enough to make you wake up early on a Sunday and go for a drive? Almost. Which leaves you asking whether a fast SUV is all the car you need?
In a word, no, but it’s not as black and white as you might think. It’s a compelling drive, but there are drawbacks, particularly when you want it to just be an SUV. It’s not comfortable, at all really. Our test car was optioned with the carbon fibre Sparco bucket seats at almost £4k. Why? Literally throwing cash away to sit in seats that are more uncomfortable than the standard options. We have to remember that this is still an SUV, it has to do that job first and foremost. Fitting lightweight buckets to the Giulia is cool for track work, but in an SUV it doesn’t make sense to me. It also means you forgo electric seats, which in a £69k SUV isn’t great. While Alfa got lost in making the chassis brilliant for driving, they forgot about softening it up for regular driving and you’re left with a ride that’s fidgety and busy on pothole-ridden Britain.
Which brings me on to my next point, it sits far too high for my liking. Yes I know it should have the capability of going off-road because it’s an SUV, but who would actually buy a Stelvio over a Range Rover or Land Rover to go off-road? Alfa should have admitted defeat on that front and lowered it a touch, or at least give customers the option for lower springs.
The Stelvio does come with a range of driving modes adjusting throttle response, steering and damping, but it also comes with Race mode. Again, that seems ludicrous in an SUV, and it’s the only mode that will allow you to have the exhaust valves fully open all of the time, but in doing so also disables all traction and stability control. I want a button that allows me to open the valves because this 2.9-litre V6 engine is one of the best modern turbocharged engines I’ve sampled.
That engine. This is the swansong of the car. It feels far more refined tham Mercedes’ and BMW’s offerings by having a beautifully linear power delivery. Things don’t fall off a cliff when you hunt towards the redline, instead you keep pulling right until you shift up, it’s beautiful. Torque comes in a little later than it does in the BMW and Mercedes V6s, which means you get reduced levels of diesel-like shove. Don’t get me wrong, you get a hefty amount of shove from the motor, but the way in which it does so is less violent, which makes for a smoother drive. It’s bonkers fast, managing to keep up with Teslas and the likes when it comes to real-world acceleration. And the sound, wow. It’s by far the best sounding engine in its class; it starts off deep in tone and slowly transitions to an exotic, typically Italian pitch that leaves you wanting to hit the loud pedal again and again and again. Which might be why I was averaging 18mpg….
There are some other annoying niggles, though. The infotainment system is out of the date, the gear selector is nabbed from an older BMW model and looks out of date and the electric handbrake doesn’t release when you select driving and slowly pull off. That last one is just annoying. On the whole, though, you forget about almost all of its niggles and marvel in its performance.
Is this all the car you need? In reality, it probably is. For me, though, no. While the drive is exciting, I can’t help but feel I’d rather be in the more stylish, faster, more engaging Giulia. It offers ample space, has the same 503bhp V6 engine and has a much sharper chassis when the going gets tough. That being said, the grip offered by the 4WD system makes it a much easier car to drive fast and in most cases is quicker off the line.
I can certainly see the appeal of the Stelvio, though. It looks stunning, arguably the best in class, has a peach of an engine that is far less throaty and more refined than that of the Range Rover SVR, and is far cheaper, too. OK, £69k (this car with options was £78k) isn’t cheap, but the SVR retails at over £100k…
If you’re in the market for an SUV but still want to hit the back roads on a Sunday morning, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the car for you. Stylish, fast, spacious and cheaper than rivals, it’s a no-brainer. And if you do buy one, get yourself a new exhaust, it’s crying out to be heard all of the time!
Tech Spec: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Engine: 2891cc V6 Bi-Turbo
Power: 503bhp, 443lb ft of torque
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Top Speed: 176mph
Price as tested: £77,955
Transmission: ZF 8-speed automatic, 4WD