Alfa Romeo’s first SUV, the Stelvio is a stunning success
by Dan Woods
There seems to be an SUV for everybody these days; from the jacked-up superminis to supercars on stilts. Even Alfa Romeo has decided to give it a go. The result is its first SUV – the Stelvio – though looking at it you’d never know they hadn’t done this before; it is stunning. Not to mention that the one you see here is the Stelvio Quadrifoglio or, to put it simply, the fast one.
Alfa Romeo has taken SUV styling to a whole new level; taking a traditionally bulky bodystyle and turning it into something sleek and almost dainty. The Stelvio is based loosely on Alfa Romeo’s Giulia saloon, and at the front you can see the resemblance. The triangular grille and offset front number plate are typical Alfa Romeo styling cues, whilst the gaping vents and quad exhaust pipes hint at the performance on offer.
And some performance it is too. Under the vented bonnet lies the same 2.9-litre BiTurbo V6 petrol engine found in the Giulia Quadrifoglio, which produces a mighty 510PS and 600Nm of torque. Word on the street is that this engine is a Ferrari V8 minus two cylinders, but this has never been confirmed (or denied).
Despite having the same power as the Giulia saloon, the Stelvio has one key difference: four-wheel drive. That’s better for putting the power down and, as a result, the Stelvio is 0.1 seconds quicker from 0-62mph; taking just 3.8 seconds. Top speed is 176mph.
That’s fast by any standards; SUV or otherwise. But it’s the way the V6 delivers its power that truly takes your breath away. It instantaneously responds to throttle input at any revs, but truly explodes over the last 1,500 or so to the red line. You have to be quick on the gear shift paddles to catch it before the limiter hits, that’s for sure.
The Stelvio uses Alfa Romeo’s DNA drive mode system; the letters standing for Dynamic, Natural and Advanced-efficiency respectively. For the Quadrifoglio models you also get a Race mode, and it’s here where the car comes to life. Valves in the exhaust open, allowing that V6 to bark as ferociously as it bites. The steering is sharp and nicely weighted, and the gear changes forgo smoothness in favour of minutely-quicker changes, each one accompanied by a satisfying crackle from the tailpipes.
Performing in a non-SUV manner is one thing, but even more impressive is the Stelvio’s ability to handle the same way. Yes, it rides higher than a Giulia saloon, but don’t think this is a jacked-up vehicle designed to take on a mountain pass: you still feel reasonably low down from the driving seat.
And whilst the Stelvio Quadrifoglio has four-wheel drive, it is rear-biased. That means that in Race mode – when the ESC is set to ‘off’ – the Stelvio never feels like am SUV. Push hard and the rear will playfully step out. Don’t be alarmed though, because only a small amount of opposite lock is required before the Q4 system shoves some more torque to the front axle and the car sorts itself out. So you get all the fun of a rear-wheel drive car but with the ability to maintain hero status by always ending up pointing in the right direction.
But before you head off to an Alfa Romeo dealership to order one, let me explain the flaws of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio and, unfortunately, there are a few. One of the most significant is the interior quality. The engine may be straight out of Maranello, but some of the interior trim most certainly is not. The odd bit of alcantara and carbon fibre dotted around the cabin does little to detract from the flimsy switchgear and dodgy plastics. The worst culprit is the infotainment control; something you use on every journey.
The other main, and somewhat-related issue is price. There are some quite expensive options available, such as the £2,500 Competizione Red paintwork – worth it – and the £5,900 carbon, ceramic brakes – not worth it, on the road at least. The price of this car, as tested, is a whopping £85,250.
There are other cars in this price range that offer similar performance and, crucially, are much more well-balanced. In truth, the rivals are probably not as engaging to drive, nor as fun, when on a track. But most of us would never take our £85k pride-and-joy onto a circuit. On the road, with clunky differentials and carbon ceramic brakes which are hard to modulate, the Alfa Romeo isn’t refined enough to justify its price.
But what that ultimately means is that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a true Alfa Romeo. It is a car you buy not because it is the best, or the nicest to live with, but because it oozes beauty and has the charisma to put a smile on your face. For that, I applaud it.