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Alfa’s Quadrifoglio performance SUV is revised for 2024. Can a high-riding SUV still entertain like the sensational Giulia QV?

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When Alfa Romeo presented its very first sports utility vehicle back in 2016 at the Los Angeles motor show, it wanted to leave an indelible mark.

While lesser petrol models and their diesel counterparts were due to follow, on the stand sat the Stelvio in range-topping 503bhp Quadrifoglio form.

The flamboyant styling was recognisable from the Giulia. We also knew that the engine, the same characterful twin-turbo V6 designed by former Ferrari engineer Gianluca Pivetti, would ensure bite matched bark. And it was the fabulous Giulia that gave us hope.

And that hope turned out to be justified, too. Alfa Romeo delivered one of the best-handling saloon cars its history, then it applied that experience to the on-trend world of raised ride heights. The resulting Stelvio Quadrifoglio was terrific to drive at launch, and remains it now, mildly revised as it was early in 2024, with mechanical changes that do nothing to dim its driver appeal.

 

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DESIGN & STYLING

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At 4.7m long, 1.68m tall and 1.95m wide, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio isn’t the largest performance SUV out there. Nevertheless, the firepower required to shift its claimed 1850kg mass at a rate that’s fast enough to lap the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7min 51.8sec was still considerable.

As with the Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon (with which the Stelvio Quadrifoglio shares its Giorgio architecture), that firepower is provided by an all-aluminium 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6. It’s a powerplant that can trace its lineage to Ferrari’s F154 family of modular V8s, engines that have been put to use in everything from the 488 Pista to the Maserati Quattroporte GTS. Liberated of two cylinders and reconfigured for use under the Stelvio’s island bonnet, it develops a heady 513bhp at 6500rpm –up by 10bhp from 503bhp in early 2024 - and its 443lb ft slug of torque is available at 2500rpm.

Under regular conditions, the sum total of this puissance is deployed to the Stelvio’s 285/40-section rear tyres, courtesy of an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. 

Unlike the Giulia saloon, though, the presence of Alfa’s Q4 four-wheel drive means that as much as 50% of the engine’s torque can be shuffled forwards when the car senses that the rear tyres are beginning to exceed the limits of their grip. In early cars a pair of clutch packs housed within the rear differential allowed torque to be distributed actively across the rear axle. As of 2024, this has become a purely mechanical limited-slip differential, a likely cheaper alternative but also one that’s more predictable and linear in its responses.

Suspension is by way of a double-wishbone arrangement up front, with a multi-link set-up at the rear. Adaptive dampers are standard fare here and are tightened up or slackened off via the Alfa drive mode selector. This also works in alliance with Alfa’s Chassis Domain Control system to alter and manage throttle response, shift severity and calibration of the traction and stability software.

Lightweight carbon-ceramic brakes are offered as an option. Further weight-saving measures come in the form of a carbonfibre driveshaft, while aluminium is used for the suspension componentry and body panels such as the doors, bonnet and wheel arches. On our test scales, and with a full tank of fuel, a test Stelvio came in at 1931kg, with weight being split 54:46 front to rear.

INTERIOR

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The Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s dark but purposeful cockpit sets the tone rather effectively for the exciting driving experience to come. The car’s fittings aren’t universally or even very widely of high enough perceived quality to match what you’ll find in an equivalent Audi, Mercedes-AMG or Porsche Macan but, just as with the Giulia, Turin is gambling that won’t be a turn-off for Stelvio owners.

It’s quite a lot more likely to be a turn-off for a Stelvio owner spending nearly £90,000 on a car than someone spending rather less, we’d point out; especially since the efforts made to enrich this car’s cabin (leather on top of the dashboard and on the doors and lacquered carbonfibre deployed liberally) don’t distract you for long from the places where the interior looks and feels cheap (ventilation controls, gearlever, steering column plastics, steering wheel button consoles).

Optional Sparco carbonfibre-shelled bucket seats have manual adjustment and pretty wide bolstering – which may not be your SUV-relevant cup of tea.

But there are certainly some notable material highlights to cherish. The large aluminium column-mounted shift paddles look and feel great. The seats are large and comfortable, too.

Alfa’s small-diameter flat-bottomed steering wheel, featuring leather, Alcantara and carbonfibre, feels superb although it could do with more reach adjustment. But between one thing and the next, your appetite is whetted rather skilfully.

Alfa’s hot Stelvio arrived just as the Italian firm got around to making its 8.8in Alfa Connect infotainment system compliant with smartphone mirroring. It will connect with both Apple and Android handsets and delivers quite a lot more connected services, through your phone’s data connection, as a result.

An infotainment system in an £87,000 car probably shouldn’t rely on your smartphone’s data connection as squarely as that, mind you. But as time goes on, we’re coming around to the idea that Alfa’s system does just enough, without bombarding its screen with dozens of apps for systems its driver will have no interest in. It’s controlled through an iDrive-style wheel of the sort we generally prefer to a touchscreen system.

Those drawn to this car at least partly for its space and usability ought to be reasonably pleased that it offers a good deal more on both scores than the Giulia Quadrifoglio. The altitude at which the cabin seats you isn’t quite as high as SUVs of this size typically do, so the driving position is pretty recumbent, and you’ll find enough room in the back seats for full-sized adult passengers, although you sit in a lower and more bent-legged pose than some might expect to.

The boot is a good size, although not huge (just above 500 litres assuming you avoid a spacesaver spare wheel) and has load-lashing points as standard, with both a cargo net and a more flexible load area rail system on the options list.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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alfa romeo stelvio qv review 2024 19 exhaust

Alfa Romeo stole some limelight for the Giulia Quadrifoglio in 2016 by claiming sub-4.0sec 0-62mph potential for it. When we road tested it in 2017, it proved to be a 4.5sec real-world prospect with no formal launch control function.

Come 2019 we didn’t expect a closely related performance SUV with the same engine and carrying an extra 231kg (as weighed) to improve on that. How wrong we were.

I was amazed at how harshly the governing electronics let you treat its driveline during standing starts. No safeties here, it seems: this is a 4WD car with an unintended burnout mode.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio doesn’t have a formal launch control, either – but even on a damp and chilly day at the test track, it didn’t much need one. Engaging Race mode on the Alfa DNA Pro drive mode selector switches out the traction control. Using manual mode on the gearbox prevents the car from shifting up preemptively when off and running. And building a full accelerator pedal’s worth of torque against a flattened brake pedal for just long enough that engine speed rises above 2000rpm forces just enough strain through the driveline to set the car rocketing away when you sidestep the brake. With a bit of initial wheelspin at the rear axle only, lift-off is achieved.

With well-timed paddle shifts, the hot Stelvio can crack 60mph in less than four seconds. Our fastest one way timed run, with two occupants on board, was a 3.9sec. 

It has a cracking engine in a genuinely fast performance car. It sounds soulful, tuneful and savage as only a big-hitting V6 can – especially if you specify the optional Akrapovic exhaust system. 

It creates enough useful mid-range torque to make the Stelvio feel brisk even at middling revs and in higher gears. And it explodes over the last 2000rpm of its range, from 5000rpm to 7000rpm, with a ferocity and freedom you rarely expect of a turbocharged engine.

We’d be lying if we said we could feel the additional 10bhp that was gifted to the car in 2024. It was great before, it’s great now.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox is fast-shifting in manual mode, occasionally guilty of hunting for the perfect ratio in ‘D’ but, by and large, able to recognise the difference between a squeezed accelerator pedal input and a quickly stabbed one, and therefore easy to use.

But for Alfa’s changeable by-wire brake pedal, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio would get a perfect five-star score in this section. Just as we found with the hot Giulia, though, its brakes lack natural pedal feel, being grabby and over-sensitive at times but strangely dead at others. Cars with the optional carbon-ceramic brakes exacerbate the problem.

RIDE & HANDLING

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The Stelvio is remarkable for the immediacy, agility and precision of its handling; for the closeness of its body control; for its vivid sense of mid-corner poise; and for the skilful way it conceals its mass and its high centre of gravity through a series of bends.

The drive modes probably have a bigger influence on its handling, via the calibration of its power steering, adaptive damping and stability control systems, than they do on its engine and gearbox. The ride is sufficiently firm as to feel moderately coarse and a little aggressive in any of those modes, but particularly so in the suspension’s firmer settings and over rougher urban surfaces.

Strange that a 503bhp performance SUV that’ll hit 60mph in four seconds flat has hill-descent control as standard. Can’t imagine many people will plan on taking this car off road.

But only in the more hardcore modes can you bring together the best elements of the Stelvio’s driving experience: the engine at its most potent, the steering best balanced for weight and feel, and the stability control active but dialled back far enough so as not to intrude. It’s quite a combination. For fast road driving, our testers preferred Dynamic mode, with the adaptive dampers wound back independently into ‘soft’.

It’s very quick to turn in, hardly rolling until lots of lateral load builds into the car, while as you feed power, the rear axle’s locking differential quickly and progressively hooks up to trim the cornering line. To this point it feels largely rear-drive, but once the rear wheels begin to slip  torque also shifts to the front before the outward arc of progresses too far.

The drivetrain works fast enough that you seldom need more than a few degrees of corrective lock when the car does slide, though. If you prefer, the stability control system can keep a tight check on engine torque and keep your line and attitude neat and tidy.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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alfa romeo stelvio qv review 2024 01 front cornering

A Stelvio Quadrifoglio will be expensive to run. At £87,500 before options, it exists in a financial realm far beyond that of its range-mates. An overall test economy of 22.0mpg in our hands – dropping down to single figures during the performance testing – further necessitates deep pockets if you’re to use this as a multi-faceted family car in traditional SUV fashion.

But much the same can be said for rivals. In fact, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is actually priced quite competitively, and not so badly equipped itself.

VERDICT

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The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a first-order performance creation of breathtaking pace and uncompromising temperament, as absorbing to drive as almost anything Turin has made in decades.

You’ll probably have assumed that, because it’s an SUV, it might be something of a half-measure in most of those respects. Well, guess again. This car has speed, soul, poise and verve to burn. But was it a mistake to have its credentials as an everyday-use family car hamstrung by such a hardcore ride, and by handling that can, at times, feel like too much to stomach? Not least given that the Stelvio’s dynamic temperament seems even more uncompromising, at times, than the Giulia Quadrifoglio’s does.

But while we fear plenty of owners might ultimately conclude the same, others will embrace a really absorbing, fast, vivacious and wonderfully unlikely driver’s car here; one that might not have the dynamic versatility you expect of an SUV, but so often succeeds and seduces anyway with an arrogant, genial shrug of Latin supercar attitude.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio First drives