Alfa Romeo's Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a sumo wrestler that thinks it's a 100m sprinter

Alfa Romeo's Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a sumo wrestler that thinks it's a 100m sprinter


Let me introduce you to Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

It uses a 503bhp 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, has a top speed of 176mph, features more air vents in its bonnet than some jumbo jet cabins have and boasts brake discs big enough to eat your dinner off.

Oh, did I fail to mention it’s also a family-size SUV you can do the school run in? 

So, if you can afford the £70,000 price tag, could you live with one everyday? We spent a week with Alfa’s first high-octane 4X4 to find out if you really can take a sumo wrestler and turn it into a sprinter. 

Can a sumo wrestler be a sprinter? This is the Alfa Stelvio QV - a 503bhp performance car weighing almost 2 tons

Can a sumo wrestler be a sprinter? This is the Alfa Stelvio QV – a 503bhp performance car weighing almost 2 tons

The world’s first ‘pretty’ SUV

High-performance SUVs are nothing new these days.

Demand has now reached a point when manufacturers are making versions of their 4X4s to suit all kinds of customers – including petrolheads. 

It’s the reason behind models like Lamborghini’s monumental Urus, Porsche’s Macan Turbo, a full quota of rapid Audi SQ models and – shortly – Ferrari’s first ever SUV. Even Skoda has a souped-up 4X4 (the Kodiaq VRS) in 2019.

None of them are what you’d call pretty. Not until the Stelvio, that is.

Handsome and well proportioned, the Italian car maker – which is famed for creating stunning, though not always reliable, models – has hit the nail on the head with its first SUV attempt.

Our test car, finished in non-traditional Misano metallic blue, certainly stands out among the comparatively bland motors parked on my street. 

Peering at it out of my living room window, it looks like a well-groomed Italian businessman who’s found himself manning a North London fruit and veg’ market stall.

Handsome and well proportioned, this is the first SUV we reckon is worthy of being described as pretty

Handsome and well proportioned, this is the first SUV we reckon is worthy of being described as pretty

The interior is just as stylish, though the infotainment screen feels a little tiny for a car of such enormous dimensions

The interior is just as stylish, though the infotainment screen feels a little tiny for a car of such enormous dimensions

The steering wheel is a mix of carbon fibre and Alcantara. Black dials with white accents is always a classy look

The steering wheel is a mix of carbon fibre and Alcantara. Black dials with white accents is always a classy look

It’s just as stylish on the inside, too.

The cabin instruments and controls feel classy, while the £3,250 optional carbon-backed Sparco bucket seats and £425 carbon-fibre and Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel remind you this is no run-of-the-mill family wagon.

The only criticism is the relatively dinky infotainment screen that seems totally out of proportion with the rest of the Stelvio’s bulging dimensions. It’s like a body builder who has a really tiny… personality. 

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: Will it fit in my garage? 

On sale: Now 

Price: from £69,510

Test car with options: £77,955 

Engine: 2.9-litre V6 bi-turbo

Transmission: 8-speed auto

Drive: 4-wheel drive

Power: 503bhp

Torque: 599Nm 

0-62mph: 3.8 seconds

Top speed: 176mph  

Length: 4,702mm

Width: 1,955mm

Height: 1,681mm 

Weight: 1,830kg

Fuel economy: 31.9mpg

CO2 emissions: 210g/km 

Is it quick? 

Absolutely, and Alfa’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio has the certificates to show for it.

Not only was it the fastest production SUV around the Nurburgring until last year, it also has the lap record for a volume-selling 4X4 around three British race circuits (Silverstone, Donington Park and Brands Hatch).

And it’s easy to see why. 

Bury the throttle and it will tear to 62mph in just 3.8 seconds. 

Thanks to four wheel drive, it’s a tenth of a second quicker than the Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon that uses the same powerplant.

That’s no mean feat for any car, let alone a 1.8-ton motor that’s so high off the ground that I had to scale the door pillars to get into it. 

The Stelvio QV formerly held the lap record for a production SUV around the fearsome Nurburgring. It can handle itself

The Stelvio QV formerly held the lap record for a production SUV around the fearsome Nurburgring. It can handle itself

Under the bonnet is the same 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine with 503bhp that powers the Giulia QV saloon

Under the bonnet is the same 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 engine with 503bhp that powers the Giulia QV saloon

The raucous note from those four tailpipes is muted from the interior, which in some way hinders some of the drama

The raucous note from those four tailpipes is muted from the interior, which in some way hinders some of the drama

Despite carrying so much weight, under acceleration the speedo needle rotates around the dial at a rapid rate, and with little to no drama while doing so.

Floor it and the body barely pitches onto its hind haunches, as it sends most of the 500 horses to the rear wheels. Commit the accelerator to the carpet and (in dry conditions) the tyres refrain from losing traction with tarmac. Even the raucous exhaust note – enough to scare an unwitting pedestrian – is muted from the well-cossetted cabin.

It’s a little disappointing, actually – especially if, like me, you were expecting theatrics from the big Italian bruiser.

As well as the engine, the Stelvio uses the same eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox and electronically controlled limited-slip differential as the Giulia QV.

The transmission is – as you’d expect from a modern-day auto – seamless and fluid. However, it can sometimes be dumbstruck about gear selection if you momentarily stomps on the throttle.

That’s a small criticism of what is a thunderously fast SUV. And the performance is even more astounding when your route takes you to a twisty back road.

Remarkably engaging for a colossal SUV

For all its 1,830kg of bulk, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a car you can enjoy hustling through bends.

Steering response is sudden and accurate for such a heavyweight.

Pitch it towards a corner and the front end dives into the apex like a malnourished Roman devouring a bowl of Bolognese.

It doesn’t corner with any particular flair or finesse, but it’s unquestionably better than most wobbly SUVs that have the chassis control of a bouncy castle.   

Once you’ve pivoted the Alfa’s mass to aim it at the next straight, it bolts out of a corner like a bargain-hunting shopaholic making a bee-line for a 99 per cent discount sale.  

But it’s the compromise made to produce this level of performance that is the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s biggest Achilles’ heel…

You’ll struggle to find a better ‘point and squirt’ car with five-seats for less than £70,000. What’s utterly remarkable is that it’s an SUV

You’ll struggle to find a better ‘point and squirt’ car with five-seats for less than £70,000. What’s utterly remarkable is that it’s an SUV

'Pitch it towards a corner and the front end dives into the apex like a malnourished Roman devouring a bowl of Bolognese'

‘Pitch it towards a corner and the front end dives into the apex like a malnourished Roman devouring a bowl of Bolognese’

It’s a good performance car but a not-so-great SUV

By turning the Stelvio into a sports-car hunting powerhouse, Alfa Romeo has – inadvertently, we assume – managed to strip away some of the most important characteristics you’d want from an SUV.

While it might be mind-bogglingly fast for a high-riding hatchback, it’s equally difficult to comprehend how a car with so much ground clearance can be this crashy and uncomfortable.

After just a few miles of driving you’ll be dodging potholes like your life depends on it, so limited is the suspension’s ability to soak up bump and ruts in the road.  

It turns just about any molehill into a mountain; every crease in the tarmac into moon-like craters. 

Neither the massive 20-inch five-hole alloy wheels – nor the low-profile tyres they’re wrapped in – help the ride situation. They also combine to produce a fair bit of audible road noise, which turns into a constant rumble at national limit speeds.

It features more air vents in its bonnet than some jumbo jets have in their fuselage

It features more air vents in its bonnet than some jumbo jets have in their fuselage

Ride comfort leaves a little to be desired. After just a few miles of driving you’ll be dodging potholes like your life depends on it

Ride comfort leaves a little to be desired. After just a few miles of driving you’ll be dodging potholes like your life depends on it

Some of the crashy ride is down to the huge 20-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli tyres. The brake discs are big enough to eat your dinner off

Some of the crashy ride is down to the huge 20-inch wheels and low-profile Pirelli tyres. The brake discs are big enough to eat your dinner off

The pursuit for high performance has also made the Stelvio a little prickly to drive in town.

The immediate responsiveness of the throttle and brake pedal might be brilliant for careering along a B-road at full pelt, but it’s a wheel-beating annoyance when you’re trying to creep through a busy city or pull out of a tight parking space.

Both pedals are incredibly snatchy and it’s almost impossible to modulate gentle acceleration from a rest. Slowing to a standstill in a traffic jam is just as juddering. I found it infuriating at times.

Throw into the equation that the Stelvio has a relatively cramped second row of seats, offers below-par boot capacity for a big SUV and doesn’t allow for the fitment of a tow bar, and it becomes more difficult to justify the £7,000 premium you pay over the Giulia saloon.

While the Stelvio might be an adequate performance car, it's not the most practical
The boot, for an SUV, is smaller than most rivals of equivalent vehicle dimensions

While the Stelvio might be an adequate performance car, it’s not the most practical. The boot, for an SUV, is smaller than most rivals of equivalent vehicle dimensions

For all its efforts, Alfa Romeo's attempts to make it as fast as possible has ended up limiting the Stelvio QV's appeal as a rapid family car you'd want to drive every day

For all its efforts, Alfa Romeo’s attempts to make it as fast as possible has ended up limiting the Stelvio QV’s appeal as a rapid family car you’d want to drive every day

The Cars & motoring verdict

Alfa’s achievements shouldn’t be overlooked; to make such a massive vehicle feel so explosively quick is worthy of standing applause.

But the Italian firm’s bid to keep up with the ongoing super-SUV arms race has limited the Stelvio’s breadth of usability. 

If it was fast AND practical it would have undoubtedly won me over. But by overlooking the latter it’s not an Alfa Romeo I’ve fallen for (and I’ve fallen victim to Alfa ownership twice already in my driving career).

There are plenty of slightly less quick SUVs that have more room, proper comfort and better in-town driving characteristics on which your money would be better spent.

And if it is a performance car you’re after, the Stelvio will be no match for the similarly-priced non-SUV competition with an equal amount of room, including the Giulia QV (which is where my cash would go). 

While Alfa has made a valiant attempt to defy physics, it can’t overcome the Stelvio’s mass. Think of it this way: there’s a very good reason why you haven’t seen Usain Bolt lose a 100-metre race to a fat guy in a loincloth.

For all its efforts, what Alfa Romeo has instead done is limit the Stelvio QV’s appeal as a fast family car – there simply are too many compromises for all that pace.

There's a very good reason why you haven't seen Usain Bolt lose a 100-metre race to a fat guy in a nappy. And the problem is the Stelvio isn't a good sumo wrestler anymore

There’s a very good reason why you haven’t seen Usain Bolt lose a 100-metre race to a fat guy in a nappy. And the problem is the Stelvio isn’t a good sumo wrestler anymore

 

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