The four-leafed clover Quadrifoglio emblem has been synonymous with Alfa Romeo for almost a century.
Its roots go back to the RL driven by Ugo Sivocci in the 1923 Targa Florio and it has adorned every Alfa race car since. But since the 1960s, the emblem has also adorned select road models seen as the peak of Alfa’s performance offering.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Price: From £69,500
Engine: 2.9-litre, V6, twin-turbo, petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Top speed: 176mph
CO2 emissions: 227g/km
Iconic models such as the Alfasud Sprint, 75 and 164 carried the badge and earlier this year we got the Giulia Quadrifoglio, an old-school sports saloon challenger to the BMW M3 and Audi RS4. Given the world’s love of SUVs and the success of the SQ5 and AMG GLC 43 a sporting Stelvio was always on the cards.
Alfa says that from the beginning the Stelvio was designed “down” from the Quadrifoglio with lesser models taking their cues from the performance flagship to ensure it would honour the badge.
That might explain the looks. For me the standard car’s styling has never quite gelled but with the bonnet scoops, carbon fibre skirts, 20-inch wheels and quad exhausts, the Quadrifoglio suddenly clicks with a mean, focused style that suits its shape.
Beneath the scooped, sculpted bonnet lies the same twin-turbocharged 2.9-litre V6 used in the Giulia Quadrifoglio saloon. Its 503bhp is enough to throw the 1,800kg Stevlio from 0-62mph in just 3.8 seconds, and – this being an Alfa it sounds spectacular.
The noise is part-synthetic but lots of fun. It rasps its way up the revs with a sharp high note, building to a truly rude trumpet at full throttle. It’s very different from the V8 roar of a Range Rover Sport SVR but every bit as attention-grabbing and spine-tingling.
While the way it throws you towards the horizon at full throttle is impressive, what’s equally appealing is the breadth of the engine’s capability. In any gear, at any speed, you can demand a little bit more and thanks to 443lb/ft of torque it delivers instantly through the eight-speed gearbox.
Alfa also boasts of the engine’s cylinder deactivation technology and “advanced efficiency” mode to improve economy but, honestly, if you’re buying a Stelvio Q4, this isn’t high on your priority list.
Advanced efficiency is one of the standard Stelvio’s “dna” selectable drive modes. In the Quadrifoglio this is enhanced with a race setting that switches off traction control and sets throttle, brakes and damping to maximum attack.
There’s a very distinct shift between the modes. Even in “natural” mode the Stelvio is very impressive for an SUV its size, nipping and zipping like you wouldn’t expect. But turn it up to dynamic and there’s a marked rise in its responsiveness and sharpness. The firmer suspension is a touch harsh on really bad surfaces but it overall manages to damp everything pretty well without ever compromising body control.
In fact, while the engine is a throaty, crushing delight, the highlight of the Stelvio is the way it moves. The control it exhibited on difficult, tight Scottish B-roads is staggering, making a mockery of physics. A combination of adaptive dampers, torque vectoring and 50/50 weight distribution means it holds itself flat and balanced no matter what the road or driver throws at it. Grip from the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system is phenomenal and the steering feels wonderfully natural, with a directness ideally tuned to its sporting nature.
Of course, you don’t have to go hell for leather everywhere (although you might want to) but even when you’re just cruising along the Quadrifoglio feels agile and willing and the in-gear acceleration makes mincemeat of overtaking.
While the exterior is in-your-face aggressive, the Stelvio’s interior is simple but effective. Its an unfussy layout with the sort of materials you’d expect for its admittedly high price. I could live without the optional £3,250 Sparco carbonshell seats, though. They’re comfy and grippy but the massive chunk of carbon fibre doesn’t sit well with the soft leather, Alcantara and contrast stitching luxury of the rest of it.
With or without them, the Stelvio is impressively spacious and comfortable and comes with the sort of driver assistance and convenience you’d expect, including an 8.8-inch navigation and media screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, powered tailgate, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane departure alert.
In truth, I’m not sold on the whole super-fast SUV as a concept. The fact that the Giulia Quadrifoglio with the same engine etrain laps the Nurburgring 30 seconds faster than the Stelvio proves the SUV is compromised compared with the saloon. But if you absolutely must have a mega-fast SUV then the Stevlio Quadrifoglio is pretty bleeding spectacular and more than worthy of that iconic badge.