Alfa's first-ever SUV, the Stelvio, is the second model on the company's Giorgio platform to be treated to full 'Quadrifoglio' treatment, after the storming Giulia super saloon. The best news is that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio preserves all the charm and dynamic brilliance of its V6-engined stablemate, making it one of the absolute best for driver rewards.
In the Metal:
Although not quite as obviously muscled as the Giulia Quadrifoglio and while we accept no SUV (even an Alfa Romeo) can ever be truly pretty, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is nonetheless both unmistakeable and damned handsome. More aggressive front bumper treatment, the vented bonnet and a set of giant 20-inch 'Teledial' alloys set the scene, while around the back there are quad exhausts set into a lower diffuser arrangement, a 'Q4' badge and some wheel arch extensions that are most noticeable at the back. The sole external concession to Quadrifoglio badging comes in the shape of the two triangular Cloverleaf emblems on the front wings, so this is a study in nicely controlled visual aggression. With its angry face and stocky stance, it looks superb in some of the signature bright colours of the Alfa, while being equally attractive in more muted blacks and greys. Shame about the slightly big gaps between wheels and arches, though.
However, the reason the Stelvio Quadrifoglio loses an entire mark on our rating here is due to the interior. It looks lovely, if not quite as attractive as the Giulia's cabin (which has that down sweep to the top of its dashboard), but once you start prodding and poking things, and using some of the on-board functions, you realise the haptics are just not up to snuff when compared to the Teutonic elite. The rotary dials for all of the headlights, DNA drive-mode selector, stereo volume, infotainment control and the climate settings feel flimsy and 'clackety-clack', while there are some rough edges of surface finishing and the digital displays - the 8.8-inch infotainment and the LCD cluster in the instrument binnacle - appear several years behind cutting-edge graphics in rivals.
Nevertheless, the Alfa does score plenty of plus points; we like the appearance of the carbon-drenched trim and the seats are particularly lovely. Not, though, as lovely as both the gorgeous, thin-rimmed steering wheel, which is just the right girth and diameter for a performance motor, and simply exquisite metal paddle shifts, which make most other manufacturer's paddles look like the cheap, tacky plastic items that they are. It's also reasonably spacious on board for four adults and has a decent-sized boot, so you don't have to sacrifice all SUV practicality on the altar of supercar-esque performance.
The main difference to the underpinnings of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio compared to the Giulia equivalent comes in the form of Alfa's Q4 all-wheel drive. This normally sends 100 per cent of motive force to the rear axle, only apportioning up to 50 per cent torque to the front wheels if it senses things are getting hairy. It's not particularly sophisticated, then, but - as we shall come to see - it is effective. Don't, though, go thinking the Stelvio might also double as a mud-plugger, because there's not a single concession to off-roading at all - no mud mode, no hill descent control, nada. It might be a four-wheel-drive SUV that has more than 200mm of ground clearance and a 480mm wading depth, but you are going to be limited to heavily compacted, dusty tracks at the absolute most if you fancy getting about on a road surface that isn't metalled.
Despite our minor - and, let's face it, largely irrelevant - grouse about the off-road capabilities of the car, the Stelvio's all-corners traction off the line allows the 1,830kg brute (around 300 kilos heavier than the Giulia) to be quicker for 0-100km/h, slapping in a searing 3.8-second sprint. It's one of the lightest fast SUVs going, leading to an impressive 279hp-per-tonne, and no slouch in the overall performance car stakes either, and while it may be slower outright than the Giulia (283km/h plays 306km/h), it certainly doesn't feel much less rabid on the road. In fact, it feels sensationally quick, launching itself from standing starts and low speeds with a thunderous disdain for the laws of physics. Above 80km/h, the in-gear pick-up remains tremendous, with super-sharp throttle response and minimal lag further helping provide the sensation of epic acceleration.
And, of course, it sounds phenomenal. A little too grumbly at low revs and in Normal mode, switch it up into Dynamic or even Race and the Alfa V6 transforms to sing a fabulous, spine-tingling tenor tune, like Pavarotti belting out those final soaring notes of Nessun Dorma. Even better, the Italian firm doesn't resort to a load of silly exhaust histrionics to give the Quadrifoglio aural appeal, instead just letting the SUV 'bwaaarp!' loudly only on full-bore upshifts at the redline. This SUV sounds as good as almost any performance vehicle on sale right now, no matter its height - and it's easily a match for, if not better than, the Mercedes-AMG 4.0-litre V8 found in the Stelvio's main rival, the GLC 63 S.
So, straight-line pace and magnificent noise are both in the Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio's armoury. Thankfully, so too is rewarding, glorious chassis balance. At first, in Race mode - that's every electronic safety nanny off, remember - we had incidence of push-on understeer during corner entry, followed by a few moments of snappy oversteer; catchable, thanks to the Alfa's sublime steering, which is weighted to perfection and super-direct, but not hugely promising for the sinuous routes ahead.
However, the answer for this waywardness soon became apparent - we were driving it on a road glossed over with a sheen of sandy dust. Once onto one of the world's greatest driving routes, a mountain switchback called Jebel Jais in the Middle East, there was more shelter from the elements, less sand and so far, more grip. And, from this point on, the Alfa proves it is a total dynamic delight. Roaring up the hill, it has a poise and delicacy wholly at odds with its big, bulky body, turning in keenly and finding great drive mid-bend to fire out the other side at considerable velocity. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio doesn't quite have a 50:50 weight distribution so there's a touch of nose-led cornering about it if you're too quick into the curves, but keep it on the throttle and the Q4 manages to shunt the torque about the place to ensure the car dials in to a handling line that's all about balanced neutrality. It'll even oversteer in a controlled, enjoyable fashion if you jab the throttle at the right moment of transition from corner to straight.
What's more, you get genuine feedback through the steering wheel and driver's seat, allowing you to fully exploit the Alfa's marvellous body control. In Race mode, then, it's a riot to drive, but it also feels crisp and rewarding with traction control engaged in Dynamic and Normal modes. It's not quite flawless; the Pirelli P Zero tyres are the limiting factor to ultimate grip and, coming back down the mountain at a lick, the standard steel brakes soon got very hot and bothered by trying to coerce 1,830 hard-charging kilogrammes to fight gravity on repeated occasions, but otherwise the Stelvio is about as thoroughly successful an upscaling of the Giulia Quadrifoglio package as you could possible dare hope or imagine.
Thankfully, it works perfectly well as a pliant SUV. Normal and Advanced Efficiency modes dial the dampers down to a level where the ride quality becomes thoroughly comfortable, while the exceptional eight-speed gearbox - which was providing whip-crack changes via those heavenly paddles on the hard driving section, never once baulking at downshift requests - becomes a seamless masterpiece for part-throttle, steady-state motoring. Wind and tyre noise are well abated, too, so you can cruise happily in the Stelvio, using just a fraction of its reserve of 510 horses. The fuel economy is suspect, though, especially if you do enjoy its power, as we managed to empty its 64-litre fuel tank in about 250km...
In summary, we'd like to try a Stelvio Quadrifoglio on our streaming wet roads, with the optional carbon ceramic brakes fitted and possibly a set of more focused tyres, like the Pirelli Corsas that are available on the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Because, if the Alfa impresses in that scenario and just tweaks those marginal areas for improvement in stopping and lateral grip, we'll be giving it the full marks for driving involvement. And who'd have ever thought that would be possible when using an SUV, eh?
What you get for your Money:
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is priced from €118,795. The standard specification includes 20-inch alloy wheels under re-profiled wheel arches, a restyled rear diffuser, sports exhaust with four outlets, bi-Xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, a leather dashboard and door tops, leather and Alcantara seats, leather steering wheel, carbon fibre trim and stainless steel pedals, plus an 8.8-inch Alfa Connect infotainment system, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Safety items includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, Forward Collision Warning and a rear-view camera with guide lines.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is not cheap and it has some ropey bits of cabin finishing, plus underwhelming infotainment. And that's where our criticism of this stellar SUV starts and ends. In truth, the cost doesn't matter - the Alfa is priced reasonably enough, by the standards of competitors - and you can kind of overlook the other two issues, if you're feeling magnanimous. Some buyers might not be, of course, but the Alfa's switchgear isn't terrible, merely mediocre, while the dated infotainment is at least intuitively useable.
What you're left with after these considerations is the greatest performance SUV on sale right now. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio beats the Porsche Macan, it beats the GLC 63 S, it beats the Bentley Bentayga, it beats the Range Rover Sport SVR and it beats the Jaguar F-Pace. It's an unmitigated pleasure to drive it both very fast and rather more normally, and it's also brilliant precisely because it is an SUV, not despite this fact - be sniffy about these big 4x4 machines if you must, but what Alfa has proven here is two things: one, done correctly, a performance SUV can genuinely be a true driver's car; and two, the Italian company's Giulia was not just a flash in the pan. Alfa Romeo is coming back from the dead to the rudest of health and it's a wonderful thing to see and experience, especially when the company can turn out vehicles as brilliant as this Stelvio Quadrifoglio.