Think SUVs can't be fun? The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio says think again
Everyone hates SUVs. Or, at least, that’s what the internet wants you to think. To be a car enthusiast and drive a fat 4x4 is like being a food connoisseur with a penchant for Big Macs.
Incredibly, when manufacturers then chuck high-performance engines in said SUVs, enthusiasts are still up in arms. “It’s wrong!”, they bash into their keyboards, shaking their heads furiously before angrily reopening their Flat Earth Society tabs.
But then there’s the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio: a gorgeous, 503bhp SUV set to make a generation of petrolheads bicurious. “We’re supposed to love Alfa Romeo and high-horsepower engines hewn from Ferrari know-how, but we’re supposed to hate SUVs,” I imagine keyboard warriors pondering with a bemused look on their face.
To find out whether Alfa Romeo has created gold from lead, we flew to Scotland to sample the Stelvio Q in challenging conditions – or what the locals call an average Tuesday. Spoiler alert: It’s brilliant. Read on to find out why…
The engine is a peach
Under the aggressively vented bonnet sits a 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6, and it’s at the heart of what makes the Stelvio Q great. Alfa has typically been quite coy on Ferrari’s involvement in the engine, but at the launch of the Stelvio, bigwigs happily mentioned that Ferrari engineers were brought in to work on the all-new unit, which gives it fantastic pedigree.
In lower gears the engine belies the size of the Stelvio and gives you a hefty kick in the back when you abuse the throttle pedal. The noise sounds like a distant bellowing; suitably aggressive but not all encompassing. However, from the outside it’s as shouty as a sporty Italian should be.
It handles like a car
“SUV with lots of power goes fast” might not be enough to convince you that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is anything special, but believe me when I say the way this thing handles so flat and composed will fry your brain in the best possible way. It’s what really completes the package.
The steering retains the super direct nature of the Giulia, and gives the Stelvio a delightful dartiness you don’t expect from a big 4x4. The steering shouldn’t feel at home in a large SUV, but because the Quadrifoglio simply doesn’t roll at all, you quickly forget you’re in such a beast.
On the bumps and yumps of Scotland’s highland roads, it managed to keep its knickers remarkably untwisted even at naughty speeds. It rides a little rough on poor surfaces, but the large suspension travel being a 4x4 allows means there are none of the sickening thuds you often get in stiff sports cars.
Also, if you’re considering the optional carbon ceramics, perhaps save yourself some cash and keep the standard steel set unless you intend to drive hard often, as they offer more predictable response in normal, cold driving.
Drive modes are actually useful
Alfa’s ever-present ‘DNA’ drive mode system is here, and helps give the car a real best of both worlds ability. ‘Dynamic’ and ‘Race’ are the really exciting ones. In ‘D’, everything stiffens up, throttle response quickens and the exhaust gets a bit throatier. It also keeps all the driver aids alert so you can drive like a yob without worrying too much about it getting out of hand.
‘Race’, on the other hand, turns everything off, opens the exhaust fully, and, when used on the road, makes you drive with your eyeballs on stalks and your buttocks clenched. It’s not really for road use, but it does show off that the four-wheel drive system is rear-biased. It’s hilarious getting a twitchy rear in an SUV…
Happily, Alfa admits not being able to open the exhaust fully in all modes was a mistake that is being rectified. Our ears say grazie ragazzi...
The interior is hit and miss
Okay, it’s not all rosy. The Stelvio suffers in the same way as the Giulia, which is the interior. The area around the gear shifter is plain and dull, the switchgear feels cheap and old school, and the infotainment system’s graphics look like they’re from an ancient TomTom.
As a daily driver that starts around £70,000 it’s tough to stomach, especially when you consider that its rivals at this price point come from the likes of Audi, Porsche and BMW, three names that do interiors well.
Fortunately, there are a couple of saving graces. The first is the steering wheel, which is the perfect size and feels great in your hands. It also looks great, with its red Ferrari-esque starter button a particular highlight. Then there’s the seats, which are figure-hugging and comfortable in equal measure, particularly the carbon-backed optional Sparco set we tested.
So you like it, then?
Is it obvious? Adding a conclusion here seems largely pointless, but to summarise, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is an absolute joy. It laughs in the face of anyone who thinks an SUV can’t be fun, offering far fewer compromises than it has any right to. Alfa Romeo is well and truly back.