First Drive: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

First Drive: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

My heart is racingand I am trying to stifle an enthusiastic yelp, lest I look like a fool to the colleague riding shotgun. It’s not every day you get a chance to drive through the serpentine layout of the Jebel Jais mountain, in the Ras Al Khaimah region of the United Arab Emirates. Lengthy sweeps with tricky apexes and more hairpins than a hipster’s man bun: this is a road you want to include on your bucket list.

And then there’s the rate of ascent: good thing a thick slab of concrete spares you from plunging to certain death on the jagged rocks below. But with the velocities you’re bound to be achieving, becoming a misguided projectile could be a real possibility should you overcook things.

I take solace in the fact that Alfa Romeo’s new Stelvio Quadrifoglio (Q for short — it has dropped the “Verde” part from the official title) holds a shiny Nürburgring title. Earlier this year it posted a time of 7:51.7, trouncing the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S as the fastest SUV around the circuit. Since the new car had proved its dynamic composure, blitzing the Green Hell at the limit, a scribe like me driving it at 50% on smooth asphalt should live to tell the tale.

I did, thankfully. Times are good for Alfa Romeo. Its recent crop of products have received great acclaim in addition to the usual and expected tales of electronic and other maladies. What would an Alfa Romeo be without idiosyncrasies, after all? The brand announced a return to Formula One, which will undoubtedly do wonders for brand equity and revive old legacies of illustrious motorsport success.

The Stelvio is heralded as something of a saviour for the brand — it plays in the lucrative SUV segment after all. And this Q version is bound to cast a lovely glow over its lineup, as halo cars are intended to do.

Much of its DNA is derived from the Giulia Quadrifoglio and the character of the performance saloon is evident from the moment you hop into the driver’s seat. Of course, that includes items like the fascia and switchgear. It’s also quite noticeable in the way the Stelvio drives. Yes, overcoming the laws of physics would be impossible. But this SUV is unequivocally authentic to the “sport” part of its title. Accept that you will be spending most of your time in either “Dynamic” or “Race” mode.

That 2.9-litre V6 twin-turbocharged engine (375kW and 600Nm) sounds like unadulterated bravado! And flatulence, as you pound through each of the eight forward gears via its eight-speed automatic transmission. Its makers claim a top speed of 283km/h and a 0-100km/h sprint time of 3.8seconds.

The noise and pace meld harmoniously with an outstanding chassis and suspension, resulting in a dish that’s going to satisfy any ardent Alfisti.

Alfa Romeo says it has achieved the perfect weight distribution between the two axles, thanks to a liberal use of carbon fibre (the driveshaft) and aluminium for the engine and in the exterior bodywork.

And there’s truth to these claims of poise. Remarkable composure, assuring body control under directional changes and dutiful communication from the oily bits — it’s a driver’s car, all right.

It’s also good if you’re a normal person like me. That’s thanks to the inclusion of an all-wheel drive system that shoves 50% of the torque to the front axle when the rear wheels start wading out of their depth. Under duress, you can feel the effects of the transfer when it pulls the Stelvio out of a corner with resolve.

We sampled a car on standard brakes and another variant with the optional carbon ceramics. The benefits of the latter were noticeable — and once there’s a bit of heat in them they’re far easier to modulate than the standard type, which tend to work with the abruptness of an on-off switch. The ceramic choice weigh 17kg less as well.

On the looks front, it is endowed with the same suite of dazzling embellishments as its saloon counterpart. That includes bigger wheels (20-inch in this case), functional ducts in the bodywork, four pipes out the rear and Quadrifoglio badge garnishing. Inside, seats with fatter bolsters address a gripe noted with the regular Stelvio: its seats don’t offer enough lateral support. But you can also specify buckets with a carbon base.

Alfisti will take delight in the prospect of the Stelvio Q’s arrival. Expect it to land in the middle of next year. Pricing hasn’t been finalised – optimistically, the brand is hoping to position it in the region of Porsche’s Macan Turbo, which starts off at around R1 420 000 before options. – Brenwin Naidu