Author: Aaron Smith, Photos: Aaron Paterson
The performance SUV segment has proven so popular that most executive carmakers worth their salt now offer at least one in their range. Particularly here in New Zealand – we love them.
Alfa Romeo has taken note and joined the party. After launching its Stelvio mid-size SUV in ‘God’s own’ last year to much acclaim, the Italian Premium brand has taken on board the huge success of its Giulia Quadrifoglio super-sedan and the Stelvio to form the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The result is the first-ever SUV to wear the iconic cloverleaf badge.
It’s powered by the same 503bhp/375kW 2.9-litre, twin-turbocharged V6 engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox as in its smaller sedan sibling, but the Stelvio sends the power via four-wheel drive.
Up to half of the total 600Nm of torque can be sent to the front; but only when the rear tyres begin to slip. Until that point, the car is rear-wheel driven, with the rear differential splitting torque between the rear wheels.
What’s it like? The best-sounding six-cylinder SUV on the market today and oh-my-lord fast. For a car that tips the scales at 1830kg, it sprints from 0-100kmh in 3.8sec and tops out at 283kmh. Less than a decade ago those figures would label it supercar-quick and the sensations certainly feel similar from the driver’s seat – that feeling of your organs rising when accelerating heavily through the first three gears.
It borders on violent and is hugely entertaining, with minimal turbo lag detectable and eager throttle response; I can pay it no higher compliment in that it doesn’t drive or sound like a turbocharged performance vehicle.
And this is an SUV that simply does not drive or handle like an SUV – it defies physics. While there is still the faintest whiff of body roll near the limit, it steers sharper than other high-performance SUVs.
Four drive modes are available (Advanced Efficiency, Natural, Dynamic and Race). Advanced Efficiency will swop cogs at the earliest opportunity, while Natural and Dynamic gradually sharpens up the throttle response, engine sound and gearbox further. The steering is light and reacts immediately to your inputs in any mode.
In Race mode, traction and stability aids are disabled which will filter its rear-wheel bias through, but the chassis is still highly communicative to the point you’re never worried.
On Canterbury’s roads that are mostly ‘uniquely’ sealed with coarse-chip and a lack of tarmac, the ride is understandably firm, however that’s not the car’s fault. In normal mode it absorbs most imperfections and even in Dynamic mode you have a lot of leeway with the dampers. Like the Stelvio Ti, you can have the best of both worlds by pressing the damper button on the centre console to soften-off the suspension.
Inside, the Quadrifoglio steering wheel trimmed in leather, alcantara and carbonfibre feels exquisite to hold. Gear changes from the enormous aluminium paddle-shifters are sharpest in Race mode and the eight-speed gearbox is smooth when left to do its own thing in auto mode. This tester found himself driving everywhere in manual mode though, such is the addictiveness of those instant rapid-fire gear changes and the sublime feel of those paddles.
The boot is a decent size at 525 litres, too. It has load-lashing points as standard, with both a cargo net and a more flexible load area rail system on the options list; ideally suited for long weekend breaks away with the family.
This test car came with the standard leather and Alcantara front seats - the carbonfibre-backed Sparco bucket seats are optional. However, the standard sport seats are plenty supportive, more comfortable and offer more adjustment. The glossy carbonfibre trim in this car also adds to the cabin ambiance; make no mistake, Alfa Romeo has come a long way when it comes to interior quality – this is a genuinely premium place to sit.
In Quadrifoglio guise it gets plenty of standard kit, including Apple CarPlay, a superb 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, 8.0-inch infotainment system, rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and a huge panoramic electric sunroof.
Car buyers are spoilt for choice these days; if you want a ballistic, premium, higher-riding family car that can seat four occupants in comfort and has the added security of four-wheel drive with Lamborghini Gallardo pace, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the car for you.
An added bonus is that no other performance SUV currently combines such physics-defying handling, seamless blend of aggression and attraction and visceral sound as this Alfa.
Price: $144,990 + on-road costs
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder, petrol
Power: 375kW (503bhp) at 6500rpm
Torque: 600Nm at 2500-5000rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Kerb weight: 1830kg
0-100kmh: 3.8 seconds
Top speed: 283kmh
Fuel economy (combined): 10.2L/100km
CO2 rating: 233g/km