As Luck Would Have It
If you want a supercar, you go to Italy. So why should it be any different for an SUV?
From rabbits’ feet to black cats, all manner of things have been considered lucky charms, but none is more famous than the four-leaf clover. Quite why this rare plant became a symbol of fortune is unclear, but its supposed good fortune has captured the imagination of people worldwide.
One such believer was the Italian racing driver Ugo Sivocci, who daubed one on the side of his Alfa Romeo ahead of the 1923 Targa Florio. He went on to win the race, and the ‘Quadrifoglio Verde’ has now become the trademark of Alfa Romeo’s fastest and most powerful models. And now the famous Quadrifoglio badge has found its way onto the front wings of Alfa’s new SUV - the Stelvio.
You can think of it as a rival to the faster Porsche Macans and BMW X3s, albeit considerably more interesting to look at. Where the Porsche and BMW are at best unremarkable, the Alfa is a glorious thing to behold. It’s curvy yet aggressive, menacing yet alluring… It’s gorgeous.
The interior, however, is something of a disappointment. It looks okay, thanks to a big multimedia screen and lashings of carbon-fibre, but it feels a bit cheap and tacky next to a solidly built BMW or a Mercedes. There are neat touches, though, including the beautiful - if slightly under-padded - optional sports seats and the bright red engine start button, which can be found on the steering wheel. Don’t ask why.
Mind you, if you press that button, any whisper of disillusionment will be erased fairly rapidly. Whereas the most powerful ‘normal’ Stelvio comes with a 2.0-litre petrol engine that produces 276bhp, the Quadrifoglio model has a 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that serves up 503bhp. It starts subtly - quietly, even - but when you set off, it reveals its true colours.
This car is designed to be fast, but that word is simply too puny and insignificant to describe the way in which the Stelvio Quadrifoglio gathers pace. The numbers suggest that the sprint from a standstill to 62mph is dealt with in 3.8 seconds, while the top speed is 176mph.
I know they’re just numbers, but let’s look at it this way. This 1.8-tonne 4x4 accelerates faster than a Bentley Continental and has a higher top speed than a BMW M5. It’s outrageously quick, and it feels it.
Put your right foot to the floor, and the car tenses up. For a fraction of a second, it hesitates, letting the gearbox decide which of its eight ratios will propel you towards the horizon in the most expedient manner. Then, with a sound like high-calibre machine gun fire, you’re pinned back into the seat and the scenery becomes little more than a distant memory.
When you run out of road, though, the Stelvio’s most obvious and most important flaw is revealed: the brakes. I’m not saying they’re useless - they’re almost scarily effective at slowing the car down - but the way in which they go about it is somewhat disconcerting.
Unlike most cars, the Stelvio doesn’t have any mechanical connection between the pedal and the brake system. Instead, there are some wires and some sort of computer system, which decides how much brake pressure it wants to apply, based on your input.
If you’ve ever looked at the recommendations Amazon’s algorithms come out with after analysing your previous purchases, then this news won’t fill you with optimism.
And nor should it, because the system is deeply flawed. If you so much as think of touching the brake pedal, the car more or less carries out an emergency stop. It’s fine if you’re trying to avoid an imminent collision, but it’s somewhat annoying if you’re simply pulling up at the school gates. Do it more than a couple of times and your youngest child’s breakfast will soon make a miraculous reappearance.
That’s a shame, because hyperactive brakes aside, the Quadrifoglio is a great car to drive. The steering is fabulous, with just the right amount of weight to the wheel and a linear, predictable response from the front end. And it doesn’t roll and wallow through the corners in the way that so many 4x4s do. It feels light on its feet - like a dressage horse with turbochargers.
There are trade-offs for this. It isn’t as capable off-road as a Range Rover, and nor is it as comfortable, but those are very small problems. It’ll happily negotiate the car park at a rugby club in Stockport or a take you to a ski lift in Chamonix without breaking your back, and let’s be honest - that’s as much as you really want. If by some quirk of fate you are planning an expedition to the Darien Gap, however, take a Toyota Land Cruiser.
And that kind of summarises the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. It’s a great car, but there are a few issues that will be perfectly acceptable for some and not for others. If you can live with some iffy cabin quality and the zealous brakes, as well as a moderately firm low-speed ride, then you’ll find the Alfa intoxicating.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Top speed: 176mph
MANGOLETSI ALFA ROMEO London Road (A50)Allostock, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 9NS
Sales t: 01565 722899 | w: www.mangoletsi.com/alfa-romeo