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FIRST DRIVE: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Autofile logo Autofile 2018-03-10 Marc Lachapelle
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio© Provided by Autofile 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

By Marc Lachapelle

AUSTIN, Texas – Blasting to the end of the long backstretch on the 5.5-kilometre track at Circuit of The Americas, flat-out in the new 505-hp Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, I saw, ever so briefly, the number 143 (mph) on the digital speedometer before clamping down on the brake pedal. Hard. This translates to 230 km/h, precisely, in a sleek new Italian sport-utility vehicle, with strong emphasis on sport, for once.

Even so, time after time, in the short 3-lap sessions we were allowed to run, I realized I could have braked even later for the sharp left-hand hairpin corner that followed. The optional carbon-ceramic brakes, an $8,000 extra in the US, scrubbed speed resolutely, with huge 390-mm and 360-mm discs at the front and rear axles, respectively, clamped by 6- and 4-piston Brembo calipers.

I felt no brake fade during my short sessions on this long track, despite also seeing 125 mph (201 km/h) at the end of a long front straightaway that ends with a surprisingly sharp climb and more hard braking for Corner 1, another tight left-hander. Impressive, if one considers the gigantic kinetic energy generated by an SUV weighing 1,978 kilograms at those speeds.

And yet, the more muscular of Alfa Romeo’s new Stelvio sport-utes, built on the same ‘Giorgio’ platform as its Giulia sedans, is the lightest in this elite segment, weighing 40 kg less than the Porsche Macan Turbo, arguably the best and fiercest of its rivals.

Alfa Romeo crest on 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Beyond first impressions

On the first quick lap, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio felt heavy and soft through the fast, snaking, half-dozen switchbacks that follow that first corner. The laws of physics cannot be repealed, even if the Quadrifoglio is 6-mm closer to the ground than its milder siblings and runs on wider performance tires, with coil springs that are firmer by 27% in front and 16% at the rear.

This, even if Race mode sets its variable dampers to their firmest position, invokes the sharpest responses from its accelerator, gearbox and steering, while turning stability control off, with only vital rollover protection running in the background.

I subsequently came to fully enjoy and explore the Stelvio QV’s (for Quadrifoglio Verde, the 4-leaf clover that has graced the fenders of Alfa Romeo race and performance models for about eight decades) impeccable 50/50 weight balance, abundant cornering grip and superb traction. The Q4 all-wheel drive system feeds 100% of the torque to the rear wheels by default but it can redirect up to 60% of it to the front axle. A limited-slip rear differential with dual clutch packs can also shift 75% of the available torque to either wheel, to improve cornering.

The QV turns into corners instantly, with its electrically-assisted steering rack’s supercar-like 12.1:1 ratio. The nose tucks in as you lift, the front tires slip lightly and the hotrod Stelvio pivots gladly, your right foot maintaining a graceful 4-wheel drift or a pleasant measure of easily-controlled oversteer, if you choose to tighten your line around that multiple-apex section on the COTA track.

Assured driving bliss, at the wheel of a hot-blooded Italian SUV, with the deep, raspy growl of that 90-degree V-6 derived from the 3.9-litre V-8 of the current Ferrari 488. Stelvio chief engineer Andrea Zizak says his team has worked hard to achieve this glorious baritone wail, after modifying the powerplant to make it all fit under the Quadrifoglio’s aluminium hood with a differential and a couple of extra axles underneath.

All body panels are aluminium, save for a lower rear section made of steel. No carbon fibre hood and roof, like the Giulia Quadrifoglio that shares the same basic powerplant. The Stelvio QV’s main mission is not to circle race tracks, although it currently is the quickest around the 20.6 km and 77 turns of the North loop (Nordschleife) at the famed Nürburgring circuit, with a time of 7:51.7 minutes. Eight seconds better than the 550-hp Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Expect a rematch or a new record by the new 650-hp Lamborghini Urus that will be about three times the price in Canada.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is also quick in a straight line. Alfa Romeo claims a 0-60 mph time of 3.6 seconds, quicker than the initial claim. I see a 0-100 km/h time under 4 seconds, let’s say 3.8 seconds, and will gladly verify at the earliest opportunity.

A stallion with good manners

The QV was solid and smooth on the road, with just a touch of wind noise when taking full advantage of the 80 mph (129 km/h) limit on highways around Austin. The ride is quite firm, even in A (for Advanced Efficiency) mode, but never gets harsh, thanks to finely sorted damping. The other modes available on the rotary selector are D for Dynamic and N for Normal. As in DNA, indeed: wink, wink. Race mode is there too, best reserved for track driving.

Comfortable too, with nicely-shaped sport seats in front, a good driving position and a very pleasant optional steering wheel that combines leather, Alcantara and carbon fibre. There is plenty of the latter material on the instrument panel, console and doors, done very tastefully. Controls are effective and precise, in general, with the occasional touch of Italian whimsy. The control interface, ‘infotainment’ and navigation systems are also cantankerous at times. Space is quite decent in the second row and the cargo bay practical and roomy under the rear hatch, with rings on adjustable rails to tie your stuff down.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio certainty is elegant, with its wide stance, slightly flared fenders, black wheels, functional air intakes in the grille and open louvers on the hood. No flashy splitter, rear spoiler or moulding needed. On the minus side is a small rear window that limits rear visibility and an oversensitive emergency braking system that borders on paranoid in traffic.

This fiery newcomer, from a legendary marque, is priced accordingly against mostly German competitors. What it lacks in bells, whistles and ultimate refinement, it makes up for in character and an exceptional blend of handling and performance. If it proves solid and trustworthy too, the automotive landscape will only be richer for it.

SPECIFICATIONS

Name: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Price: $95,000 (base)

Type: 4-door, compact luxury sport-utility

Configuration: unibody, front-mounted engine, variable all-wheel drive

Engine: twin-turbocharged, 2.9-litre, 90-degree V-6

Maximum output: 505 hp at 6,500 rpm

Maximum torque: 443 lb-ft from 2,500 to 5,500 rpm

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Suspension (front): double wishbone, anti-roll bar

Suspension (rear): multi-link, anti-roll bar

Brakes: four discs with ABS

Brake diameter (front/rear): 360/350 mm (optional carbon-ceramic rotors: 390/360 mm)

Tires (front; rear): 255/45R20; 285/40R20

Steering: rack-and-pinion, variable electrical assist, 12.1:1 ratio

Turning circle (curb-to-curb): 11.4 m

Length: 4,702 mm

Wheelbase: 2,818 mm

Width (body): 1,955 mm

Track (front/rear): 1,555 mm/1,608 mm

Height: 1,685 mm

Ground clearance: 201 mm

Cargo volume: 525 – 1,600 litres

Towing capacity: 1,361 kg

Fuel capacity: 64 litres

Curb weight: 1,978 kg

Fuel economy ratings (city/hwy/comb): 13.8 / 9.8 / 11.8 L/100km

Acceleration (0-96.5 km/h): 3.6 seconds (claimed)

Top speed: 285 km/h (claimed)

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