Like all great Italian recipes, the ingredient list was simple; an Alfa Romeo SUV, an engine co-developed with Ferrari, the Scottish Highlands and arrival by helicopter. What does this all create? Well, Alfa Romeo’s UK launch for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio of course. With our winter clothes packed, we headed up north to experience Alfa’s latest creation; a 510hp, 3.8 second 0-60, SUV monster. After visiting the Alfa Romeo in Italy it was time to experience this luxury SUV.
Alfa’s Quadrifoglio branding links back to their motor racing history, where in 1923 their cars first ran with the ‘four leaf’ clover emblem on the side, in a bid to bring driver Ugo Sivocci luck after a string of second place finishes. Emblem painted, Ugo then went on to take a win at the next attempt. The tradition was born, and Alfa have continued to carry the emblem since on both race cars and their highest performance road cars.
So, with Alfa leaning on their racing heritage, you’d be right for assuming this is a performance orientated car. At first that seems like a slightly strange thing to say, as SUV’s are big, (typically) cumbersome vehicles – a far cry from your typical sports car. However, Alfa didn’t want to release ‘just another SUV’, they wanted to do it the Alfa way, and so the Stelvio Quadrifoglio was born.
Alfa spent a great deal of time over the launch explaining their exhaustive efforts to instil the same passion and driving emotion into the Stelvio line as it does with their more traditional sports car offerings. Whereas most manufacturers will take an existing road car and ‘bolt-on’ performance upgrades to create a ‘sport model’, Alfa reversed this process. Bolting on invokes compromise in their eyes, so the Stelvio was designed from the ‘top down’. The Quadrifoglio was therefore the centre of their engineering efforts, with subsequent models then de-tuned from this spec.
All of this means Alfa have managed to achieve some impressive feats on the Stelvio QF: Perfect 50-50 weight distribution for improved chassis balance, 1830kg total weight (one of the lightest SUV’s you’ll see), 3.8 seconds 0-60 time, a sub 8-minute lap time at the Nurburgring and 510hp from a 2.9L engine. Oh yeah, the engine…
Discuss the Stelvio QF with any petrol head and the first thing they’ll mention is the engine. It’s the 2.9 litre, V6 bi-turbo unit which is shared with the Giulia QF and was jointly developed with the maestros at Ferrari. This results in some truly staggering numbers; the highest power to weight ratio and Hp per Litre of any SUV, 510hp @ 6500rpm and 600nm of torque between 2500-5000rpm. The 510hp headline figure means that the diminutive 2.9 litre engine pumps out a staggering 176hp/litre – to put that into context the monstrous 600hp RS6 (reviewed here) puts out ‘only’ 150hp/litre…
Whilst we’re on the numbers, it’s also worth discussing fuel economy. With the engine being relatively small, the running ‘overhead’ in terms of fuel for the engine is very low. It has the added benefit of cylinder shut down too, meaning it can run on just 3 of the 6 cylinders in low-load scenarios. This results in some pretty decent economy: book figures stand at 28.8mpg for the combined cycle, whilst we saw figures hover around the 20 mark during testing. Considering this involved squeezing the vehicle seriously hard across hilly Scottish terrain, I can’t help but be impressed.
Then there’s the noise. Once more, Alfa spent a great deal of time perfecting the aural experience from the V6, and what a fine, fine job they’ve done. There’s a definite symphony between the V6 unit in the Stelvio and a Ferrari V12, with a mid-range growl which really must be heard in person. Valves in the exhaust system are tuned to the vehicles ‘DNA’ switch (which changes driving mode), changing the V6’s bark in line with the desired driving characteristics. Whack this into dynamic mode and give it a bootful and the Stelvio QF turns into quite the head turner, producing a note which is packed with character.
As mentioned previously, Alfa designed the Quadrifoglio edition of the Stelvio first, then worked on de-tuning the design for subsequent, tamer models. This allowed them to create a cohesive, sporty shape, without the need to add spoilers, ducts or splitters to add ‘sportiness’ – these would corrupt the beauty in the eyes of Alfa. The result in an SUV that looks fantastic – showing attitude and focus without looking too ‘yobbish’ or aggressive. In the Misano Blue as tested it looked glorious.
Inside, the Stelvio’s trim is a mixture between carbon fibre, aluminium and leather (which looked great in red). The level of carbon is high, almost too much, especially when combined with the carbon-backed Sparco sports seats it can start to look a little OTT. The seats however, are an absolute joy to ride in. They offer minimal adjustment (only forward/backward, up/down) but in reality, that’s all that’s required. They support and hug without feeling restrictive, and remained comfortable even after several hours behind the wheel (they are a little pricey at £3250 mind you…).
Infotainment wise, the Stelvio features all the modern essentials, with Apply CarPlay a breeze to setup and use. However, it lacks a few of the more glitzy features and sophistication seen on rival SUV’s, whilst the display is a little small and lacks any form of touch input. Alfa make a good argument that button input allows the driver to feel the controls and focus on the road more, but it would be nice to have the touch option.
We tested the Harmon Kardon stereo system – a £950 upgrade which seems like remarkably good value – especially considering the tasteful speaker grills that nestle beautifully in the door card. The glass sun-roof is superb too, especially so in the autumnal Scottish countryside – yours for £1250.
Overall build quality is good, although it lacks some of the premium ‘wow’ you get from German counterparts. One area where Alfa have smashed it out the park though is the fantastic aluminium gear paddles behind the steering wheel. I first tried these on the Giulia (here) and my opinion hasn’t changed – they’re still top in terms of feel and tactility.
On The Road
Taking the Stelvio QF onto the road, the first thing you’ll notice is how very un-SUV it feels. Throw it around a bend and it doesn’t roll excessively, nor does it resist heavy braking like most SUV’s. It grips hard, and with 100% of the available power sent to the rear wheels until traction is broken, it truly drives like a rear engined sports car. To say the experience rivals the very best sports-car would be an overstatement, but this thing seriously handles – when you step back and remember you’re in an SUV it’s absolutely nuts.
It’s playful too – with the gearbox snapping between gears and the engine barking and snorting, it really does encourage flamboyance behind the wheel – smiles per gallon are off the scale in the Stelvio QF. Acceleration too is in plentiful supply, with the Stelvio QF capable of overtaking and whizzing past traffic almost quicker than your mind can process what’s happening.
With adjustable dampers fitted as standard, the bumpy-road mode allows the Stelvio QF to ride well despite it’s cornering abilities. The driving position is spot on too, although rearward visibility is hindered slightly by the very shallow rear window – not that you’ll ever need to check what’s behind you!
The Launch Experience
The Alfa launch experience was typically very Italian; starting with an enjoyable multi–course sit down meal, accompanied with some of the vehicle’s design engineers – a great way to get an initial insight into what was to come.
After a quick first drive in the cars, a helicopter tour of the surrounding area was laid on, showcasing the glorious Scottish hills and surrounding forestry, an experience to savour. I don’t know how Alfa found the location, but the area around Lochearnhead is absolutely breath-taking and well worth a visit – Stelvio Quadrifoglio or not.
Overnight accommodation was at the beautiful Monachyle Mhor hotel, with the business’ owner, Tom Lewis, hosting a Whisky & Oyster tasting before supper. Words cannot suitably describe Mr Lewis, who’s character has a real warmth and endearment. The hotel is a real sight to behold, with every dish of the evenings meal a real delight. This is a place MSF will certainly be revisiting for a closer look.
A press conference with various engineers from the project gave a yet more insight into the birth of the Stelvio – a project which took just 3 years from origination to production. A great deal of discussion revolved around how Alfa make their cars feel so distinctively Alfa-like. Emphasis here was on the fact that there are no guidelines for this, for if there were guidelines it would kill the true essence of what Alfa are trying to achieve. It must come from the heart; only when the designers feel the passion has been suitably transferred can a car be signed off.
To put it simply, the Stevlio Quadrifoglio is an absolute marvel. Up until this point, no car manufacturer has successfully managed to inject this much fun into an SUV. Suddenly the existence of this cars means that would-be SUV owners no longer need sacrifice their driving pleasure to join the large-car club.
If we had to find fault, it would be aimed at the interior; It’s clear Alfa have focused heavily on the driving experience, meaning the cabin lacks a bit of premium sparkle you might expect from an SUV in this segment. However, put your foot anywhere near the accelerator pedal, turn onto a twisty road or push it through some gear changes and suddenly all of this becomes a non-issue. The Stelvio QF created so many smiles in a very short period of time, leaving a real impression. If only I could think of a good excuse to persuade Alfa to loan me one for a few months…
Stelvio Quadrifoglio starts from: £69,500, as tested: £78,305
Thank you Alfa Romeo for inviting us along, for more information about the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, visit www.alfaromeo.co.uk