2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio Review
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio Review with performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL A bonkers-fast crossover. From the driving seat it feels closer than rivals to a sports-car. Still manages a decent dose of AWD crossover practicality.
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio (European spec)
Price $NA + orc Warranty 3 years/150,000km Engine 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol Power 375kW at 6500rpm Torque 600Nm at 2500-5000rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Drive all-wheel drive Body 4702mm (l); 1955mm (w exc mirrors); 2163mm (w inc mirrors); 1681mm (h) Turning circle 12.1m Kerb weight 1830kg Seats 5 Fuel tank 64 litres Spare Space saver Thirst 9.0l/100km combined cycle Fuel Petrol
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YOU DON’T NEED your family car to be capable of lapping the world’s trickiest race circuit – the Nurburgring Nordschleife – in a quicker time than a late-1990s Porsche 911 GT3. That’s what the Stelvio can do.
What is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio?
The Stelvio, which we’ve already tested in base form, is very closely related to the Giulia saloon. Quadrifoglio is the hot version. That’s Italian for four-leaved clover, the brand’s long-time racing symbol. Let’s just abbreviate it to Qf shall we? The Stelvio Qf is closely related to the Giulia Qf, a car that can beat a BMW M4 for driver appeal.
In slippery conditions the crossover is actually faster than the saloon, because though it has the same mighty V6 twin-turbo engine, it’s contained by AWD while the Giulia Qf has RWD.
Compared with other bonkers-fast SUVs, the Stelvio Qf is substantially lighter, which imparts detectable agility. Very sophisticated centre and rear differentials send the engine’s colossal heft to the tyre that can make best use of it. Adaptive dampers also help keep the body under control and sharpen up the cornering dynamics, while giving a tolerably pliant ride the rest of the time.
Back to family duty, the Stelvio is a little more spacious than the Porsche Macan and Mercedes GLC, and a little smaller than the Jaguar F-Pace. All of these are available, or soon will be, with super-powerful engines.
The Stelvio is a curvy-looking thing, visibly modern but integrating a traditional Alfa grille. Recognise the Qf version by its 20-inch wheels, wheel-arch eyebrows to cover the 255-section tyres, extra aero work around the lower body, quad tailpipes, and even hot-air outlets in the bonnet.
What’s the interior like?
For the basics on the Stelvio’s cabin, see our review of the four-cylinder petrol version. If you don’t like jumping between browser tabs, here’s a friendly takeout version. Front-seat driving position is comfortable, and basically car-like rather than SUV-like. It’s as if the whole cabin is lifted off the ground. If we’re being picky the seat is also a little too high off the cabin floor if you’re tall.
The perceived space in the back is better than a saloon car’s because you are more upright, but it’s no more than average for the crossover class. You get vents, lights and power outlets back there.
The boot is deep front-to-back, but measures only 500 litres because it’s shallow. You lose some more with the optional sub-woofer. Cabin materials are a step down from German rivals in perceived material quality, but no disaster. And the design is stylish, nicely in keeping with the curvy exterior.
For the Qf version, extra-supportive seats have been installed, in leather with suede-like inserts the better to grip you. Extra leather, with green-and-white edge stitching as an option, wraps the dash too. It lifts the look, especially of the double-arched cowl over the instrument binnacle. Cabin decor strips, and (overkill?) sections of the steering wheel are now glossy carbon-fibre.
There’s been a lot of criticism of Alfa’s infotainment system. In some ways it’s good – decent sound for the music part, and menus that are easily learned. Most of all it’s characterised by a screen that operates only the nav, phone and sounds, and shows the rear-view camera. It doesn’t go into loads of car driver-assist functions, or work the climate. That means it’s not overloaded or distracting, and lets you get on with enjoying the drive.
But another perspective says it’s far too simple and insufficiently configurable. For instance, once you zoom in the map to a sensible scale for urban driving, it automatically switches from north-up to heading up. No choice about that. Searching for points of interest is also primitive. There’s no option of a bigger screen, either.
But help is at hand: last year the Alfa system had no option of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. This year it integrates them. So you can piggyback your phone’s features. It’s not brilliant, as these systems work best with a touchscreen and in the Alfa you have only the scroll wheel, but it’s still a huge improvement.
That absence of infotainment options is characteristic of the Stelvio. The rivals offer optional head-up displays, massage and vented seats, matrix LED headlights, advanced driver assist systems, multi-way powered seats, online concierge services and so on. The Alfa, er, doesn’t.
What’s it like on the road?
The engine dominates, but the rest of the car can keep up. It’s that special. The motor is not entirely unrelated to the Maserati V6, which is itself linked to the Ferrari California T’s V8. But since the handling was honed by ex-Ferrari people, you can see the potential.
The 2.9-litre engine spools up its turbos like a greyhound after the hare. It just doesn’t seem much bothered by the inertia of an SUV. Acceleration, if you floor it, is brutal. From rest to 100km/h, aided by the AWD traction, takes just 3.8 seconds.
It’ll do that forward-thrusting trick even in the middle revs if you’re holding it in a high gear via the paddles. If you stick with auto mode, the transmission shifts down a couple of ratios and all hell breaks loose – but, you know, in a good way. The power carries on swelling upward to a limit at 6700rpm.
The exhaust has two modes, one relatively peaceful but still with a rock’n’roll warble. The other is far louder, a heavy-metal cacophony of rasping combustion noise and shotgun cracks in the pipes as you shift gears, up or down. That raucous setting is pretty antisocial if there’s population anywhere nearby. The exhaust modes, by the way, are linked to the general mode switch, which we’ll come on to later.
The steering is high-geared – any small movement of your hands changes the car’s direction decisively. But it’s not just about the steering itself: the car doesn’t roll a lot, and there’s hardly any slack in the suspension bushes. The Stelvio’s lightness plays a part here too.
So it feels sharp-responding and eager. Maybe a little too eager for relaxed highway cruising, but in rural corners it’s a hoot. There’s no understeer, and then you can get onto that throttle and the magnificent engine enters the frame. Normally the rear wheels do all the driving, but if their traction starts to be overwhelmed, a portion of the drive is sent to the fronts.
Result is you feel the beginnings of oversteer, but then it all sorts itself out. It’s fun and reassuring.
These characteristics are all moderated by the DNA selector, Alfa’s name for the mode dial. A is for ‘advanced efficiency’, which means early upshifts in the transmission and a quiet engine. N is normal, and D dynamic, which tenses up and makes louder the powertrain, stiffens the dampers and sends more torque to the rear to exaggerate that oversteer effect. Extra emphasis for that part comes by its loosening (significantly…) the traction-control thresholds.
Finally there’s a race mode. Here the engine is truly angry, the gearshifts go through with a thump, the dampers go even harder and the ESP is fully off, which is all very R18+.
One thing we really like is that in the middle of the mode selector is a little button with a damper symbol. Press this and you get a damper programme one notch softer than the one your chosen DNA/Race setting would give. So for example, Race plus the damper button gives the middle damper settings that normally go with Dynamic. Dynamic plus the button gives the softest setting, the one that goes with N or A. This gives the suspension some very welcome extra suppleness when the roads are bumpy.
In fact the Qf’s ride is surprisingly bearable in the N position. Its springs are soft enough to compress away the big bumps on a badly-made city or country mode road. There’s a bit of high-frequency vibration on ridged concrete highways, but it’s a pretty fair price for the cornering prowess.
The brakes are more of an annoyance, frankly. They’re a new type of electronically controlled system. The idea is they respond faster to quick jabs, so the stopping distance is reduced. But the pedal action when you want a more gentle pull-up is unprogressive. It’s hard to use them smoothly.
By the way, if you want to drive off-road, note that hill-descent control is standard, and ground clearance is 200mm.
What about safety features?
The Stelvio recently went through the Euro NCAP crash test, which is directly comparable with our own ANCAP. It scored five stars. Adult protection reached an excellent 97 percent, with especially strong protection in side impacts. For children, the restraint forces were slightly too harsh and it rated 84 percent.
The standard-fit autonomous emergency braking system, operational at city and highway speeds, was also tested by NCAP, and did what it was supposed to. It stopped the car at city speeds, and even at highway speeds when following ‘closely’ if the driver in front brakes harshly.
It lost points because the speed-limiter system was too difficult to use. Blind-spot monitoring is fitted, and so is reversing cross-traffic warning. There’s a lane departure warning system, but no lane-keeping assist.
Visibility isn’t that great. When reversing you really do rely on the camera because the windows back there are small and the pillars wide. In heavy rain, the side windows and door mirrors get obscured by rippling water. And only bi-xenon headlamps are on offer – they do have a swivelling function with the steering, but rivals offer LED systems that are brighter.
So, what do we think?
It’s a bit of a mad idea putting this much sports into sports utility vehicle. But if you accept the premise, Alfa has pulled it off. It really will do family hauler duties, and carry your leisure stuff to the beach or the ski lift. In its less aggressive modes, the powertrain is docile enough and the ride relatively easygoing. Even so, you’ll get more mollycoddling from every one of its rivals, especially as in their case you can specify more decadent equipment. The Alfa never really bothers to hide its intentions.