According to its maker, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is the fastest production SUV you can buy.
That’s a tricky claim to verify, though, because there are so many different ways to interpret that slippery F-word. There are SUVs that better the 503bhp Stelvio’s 3.8sec 0-62mph time, after all, and SUVs that shade its 280kph top speed.
What Alfa Romeo bases that somewhat bold claim on, then, is the Stelvio QV’s eye-opening 7min 51.7sec Nürburgring lap time, which is an SUV record. It wasn’t all that long ago that dedicated sports cars were recording seven-fifty-something laps around the Nordschleife. No matter how tired you are of hearing such lap times being flung back and forth, it cannot be denied that a sub-eight minute lap around that place is extremely fast for a high-riding 4x4. (And yes, as you guessed, I have to refer back to my Polo GTI yet again. Stock, runs 9:46.20 around the ring according to Volkswagen. Keeping in mind my car weighs 1194 kg in comparison to the staggering 1830kg of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio).
Designed and developed by the same team that brought us the rather wonderful Giulia Quadrifoglio sports saloon, the high-performance Stelvio is dripping with genuine sports car hardware. Its 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 and eight-speed automatic gearbox are borrowed from the Giulia QV – with specific calibration and ratios – but the sheer drive is sent to the road by Alfa Romeo’s Q4 four-wheel drive system.
In normal driving, 100% of torque is sent to the rear wheels. Only when they begin to slip is the drive shunted forwards, and even then, no more than 50% can be sent to the front axle.
The rear differential incorporates a pair of clutch packs that split torque between the rear wheels. This active torque vectoring makes the Stelvio more nimble, Alfa reckons. The car is suspended by double wishbones at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear, with adaptive damping.
The engine is mounted mostly behind the front axle line to aid weight distribution, while the use of carbon fibre and aluminium panels keeps weight to a minimum. Even so, at 1830kg, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is no featherweight.
There are various drive modes, including an Eco mode that reduces fuel consumption by shutting off three of the engine's cylinders – although this can also happen in Normal mode – and a Dynamic mode that sharpens the throttle response, reduces gearshift times, tightens up the dampers and adds weight to the steering. Race mode turns everything up another notch while standing down the stability control system. It's possible to switch the dampers back into an intermediate setting within Race mode.
There are several very powerful SUVs on the market that are colossally fast in a straight line and just about composed enough in bends to keep a hold of the tarmac, but there aren’t many that are genuinely entertaining to drive. The Stelvio QV is undoubtedly one of those few.
Inevitably, its high ride height, chunky kerb weight and lofty centre of gravity mean it’s nowhere near as planted or as responsive as the Giulia QV, but it does have a remarkable level of precision and body control and a usefully neutral cornering balance.
The four-wheel-drive system makes light work of transferring all that power and 600Nm of torque to the road. If you’re really clumsy with the throttle, you’ll make the car slide ever so slightly away from a corner or understeer if you open it too early in the bend, but with a little care, you can hook all four tyres up perfectly and slingshot the car away from the apex without a hint of waste.
The auto box, meanwhile, is undoubtedly quick enough – in Race mode, it’s almost as snappy as a twin-clutch unit – and it’s smooth and refined at low speeds. However is quite odd that a dual clutch is not fitted as standard.
Where the Giulia QV falls short of its competition is in its interior, and the same is true of the Stelvio QV. Some of the plastics are a touch brittle and the switchgear looks and very mainstream, rather than premium, although there’s nothing offensive about it.
Should I buy one?
The Stelvio QV is genuinely fun to drive along a demanding road. It's perhaps the most rewarding performance SUV you can buy, in fact.
But, if that sort of engagement really matters to you, you’d be much better served by a sports saloon. The Giulia QV is more engaging still, it’s prettier and it’ll even stand up to the odd track day. But, if you really must have a hatchback boot and lofty driving position, the Stelvio QV would make a very fine substitute.
Engine 2891cc, V6, twin-turbocharged, petrol Power 375kw at 6500rpm Torque 600Nm at 2500rpm
Gearbox 8-spd automatic
Top speed 280kph 0-100kph 3.8sec
Fuel economy 8.9l/100km
CO2 rating 210g/km
Rivals Porsche Macan Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLC