‘Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio’. Does any new car boast a more richly evocative name? Alfa Romeo you know: it’s the visionary Disco Volante, voluptuous 33 Stradale, Targa Florio road race and Dustin Hoffman fleeing Mrs Robinson in a red Spider Duetto. The Stelvio Pass, meanwhile, is one of the world’s great roads, a pulse-spiking ribbon of tarmac with more hairpins than Toni and Guy. And ‘Quadrifoglio’? That’s Italian for four-leaf clover, the good-luck symbol worn by Alfa Romeos since 1923.
Lest we forget, Alfa has also dished up plenty of disappointment over the decades. Cars like the 1983 Arna hatchback, a marriage of dowdy Japanese design and indifferent Italian build quality. Or the 2005 Brera, an exotic-looking coupe that was about as exciting as Ed Sheeran. Don’t get me started on rust, either. Even Alfa’s great cars – and there have been many – used to dissolve at the merest hint of humidity.
Back to the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Affixing such a glorious name to the portly posterior of an SUV seems a recipe for Alfisti anguish. However, this isn’t just any school-run SUV. Behind that shield-shaped grille lurks a 510hp 2.9-litre V6 – a cut-down Ferrari engine, no less. You’ll also find carbon-ceramic brake discs and (optional) hard-shell carbon bucket seats. Oh, and it has a drive mode labelled ‘RACE’. Things are looking up already.
The Stelvio shares most of its oily bits with the Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon, with one crucial difference: four-wheel drive. That helps catapult this 1,830kg family car to 62mph in 3.8 seconds – and lap the Nurburgring in a scorching 7min 51.8sec. Among SUVs, only the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S has gone quicker. Indeed, the muscle-Merc and Porsche Macan Turbo are arguably the Stelvio’s only real rivals.
From the outside, there’s no doubting the Quadrifoglio’s sporting intent. Spidery 20-inch alloys fill its stretched wheelarches and four meaty tailpipes jut from its rear diffuser. Inside, those £3,250 Sparco seats, trimmed in Alcantara with red stitching, lift an otherwise mediocre cabin. There are far too many cheap plastics for a £70,000 car, while the fiddly infotainment system feels at least a generation behind the Germans. However, a recent facelift – UK cars will arrive soon – does improve matters here.
On test this week: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
Surprised by how focused this feels – a better driver’s car than the Lamborghini Urus, I reckon. VERY firm ride, though. pic.twitter.com/WUWRNRFIcr
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) January 12, 2019
Prod the red starter button, pull the slender aluminium paddle and you’re away. The engine sounds undernourished at first, but its note hardens into a salacious snarl as the revs rise, punctuated by pops from the exhausts. And by God, it’s quick. An almighty wallop of turbocharged torque has it rocketing to the redline as swiftly as you can grab the next gear. This, for now, is the closest you’ll get to that much-mooted Ferrari SUV.
While the rear-driven Giulia is inclined to go sideways at the merest flick of a right ankle, the 4WD Stelvio – with its quick steering, punchy gearbox and sharp brakes – feels tenaciously tied-down. It bites into apices more aggressively than many sports cars, the usual SUV body-roll all but banished. For an average driver like me, it’s certainly a faster car than the Giulia: safer, more confidence-inspiring and perhaps more rewarding as a result. I’m not sure even the Macan matches it for B-road thrills.
The trade-off for such iron-fisted focus is a ride that’s brittle at best, downright uncomfortable at worst. Even in its more relaxed drive modes – selectable via Alfa’s usual ‘DNA’ dial – the Quadrifoglio is arguably too unforgiving for a family car. You’ll be having a blast while your partner calls the chiropractor.
After a week behind the wheel, I’ve rather fallen for this flawed Italian firecracker. It’s a heart-over-head purchase, in true Alfa Romeo tradition. Most will prefer the more rounded appeal of rivals, but the Stelvio has a bombastic charm all its own.
Top speed: 176mph
CO2 G/KM: 222
MPG combined: 28.8