I think we’re all used to the notion of high-performance SUV by this point in time. While some still detest the notion of historic marques opening themselves up to the fastest growing sector in the automotive industry, most of us have accepted that it’s these new bread and butter models that bankroll many of the more exotic vehicles in a manufacturer's portfolio.
However, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is more than just the Italian marque’s attempt to steal some of Porsche thunder. It wears the mark of the ‘quadrifoglio verde’, or green four-leaf in english. Any true Alfisti will tell you of how the clover symbol is bathed in history, a lucky charm that brought Alfa Romeo its first international motorsport victory in the 1920s.
Ugo Sivocci was a works Alfa driver, but was also know as ‘l'eterno secondo’, Italian for ‘the eternal second’. Wearing the clover on his car, he was the man who granted Alfa Romeo that historic victory. One fateful day he died in a racing incident, with his car notably lacking his quadrifoglio verde. Ever since that day, high performance Alfa Romeos have worn the mark as a sign of respect and to bring luck. By putting this highly significant historic symbol on a non-traditional model, Alfa Romeo need to prove that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is deserving, and not simply a marketing exercise.
Well, it certainly has the handsome DNA of an Alfa Romeo. Where the Stelvio’s competitors have attempt to be as sleek as possible, this SUV is a celebration of voluptuous curves and muscular details. It positively bulges with character usually absent in a class of cars design with family life in mind. Our test car in tradition Alfa Romeo specification attracted many compliments from onlookers, and sparked people fumbling for cameraphones when stationary.
The interior is. As practical as you’d expect an SUV to be with seating for five, and certainly enough space in the trunk for a dog. However, there’s a sporting air to the cabin with naked carbon fiber trimming the console and flashed of red stitching binding the plush leather together. This example features a set of body-hugging carbon seat — just to hammer the performance intentions of this car home. There are a couple of questionable material choices in regards to switchgear, but generally speaking the Milanese space feels special.
You sit low in the chassis for this breed of car, promoting a sense of being plumbed into the Alfa. A surprisingly small carbon and Alcantara steering wheel sits at your chest, with a bright red started button looking remarkably like the wheel-mounted arrangement you’d find on a Ferrari. It’s hooked up to something else with a Ferrari connect, for under those suggestive hood louvers is a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 engine. While Alfa Romeo are proud to call this unit their own, it was built using some engineers seconded from Ferrari. It’s the same unit found in the excellent Giulia Quadrifoglio, but in this instance produces 505hp and teamed with an intelligent all-wheel drive system.
The theatre starts the second you start the engine, with a sudden crescendo announcing the awakening of six lovingly-engineered cylinders. Its deep idle is rather animalistic, like a the muffled growl of guard dog before the bark. As you’d expect, the Stelvio is a perfectly amicable car day-to-day with its 8-speed automatic gearbox being perfectly competent and the ride compliant enough to be comfortable. It does have its… Let’s call them Alfa-isms — such as navigation that’s frequently likes to take scenic route, and an arthritic electric tailgate, but generally it’s everything you’d expect of a luxury SUV.
Things start to get interesting when you point it in the direction of some entertaining roads and start to play with the Alfa’s ‘DNA’ dial. In ‘A’ the car attempts to be efficient and cosseting, reducing throttle response and keeping the dampers soft. In ’N’ or Natural mode the innate agility of the chassis can immediately be felt with heavier steering and greater response. However, it is in Dynamic where the Alfa Romeo shows its true colors.
Attacking an undulating road featuring a series of tightening bends reveals how well this chassis as been calibrated. Its all-wheel drive system typically sends 100% of the power rearward, with up to 50% moving forward as and when needed. Its direct trajectory toward an apex is incredibly for a vehicle of this size, as is the Alfa’s ability to control its lateral motions. SUVs are heavy and tall by nature, two ingredients that are typically avoided in fast car. Through some for of which craft, the designers of this Quadrifoglio have created one of the most engaging and endearing driving experience in the class. It’s eager, it’s surprisingly communicative, and while physics dictates eventual understeer when you overwhelm its tires, the overall composure levels throughout are remarkable.
There is one final setting dubbed ‘Race’ that must be selected with some caution as it turns of the electronic stability program. Twisting and holding the DNA dial sets everything to maximum attack and opens some valves in the exhaust pipe. Suddenly putting your foot to the floor from stationary resulting in a frankly alarming acceleration from 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds. Sucked back in your seat, this supercar shaming performance is punctuated by a deliciously aggressive soundtrack full of roars, growls, and sumptuous howls. This surge of torque is unrelenting right up to the redline, uninterrupted by upshifts punctuated by a dramatic bang. Alfa Romeo quotes a top speed of 176mph, and I’d believe that claim.
Considering this car’s ferocious turn of pace and its not inconsiderable mass, we’d heartily recommend ponying-up for the carbon brakes. These discs arrest progress rapidly, are easy to modulate, and are fade resistant.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio really is something special, and not just for the SUV class. It’s brimming with charisma, character, charm — providing to be a more joyful experience than the Porsche Macan Turbo which is more efficient than emotive. It is a deserving recipient of the quadrifoglio verde.
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