LIVING THE HIGH LIFE

ALFA ROMEO STELVIO Q

ALEX INWOOD

A FORMULA ONE circuit is ideal for many things, except, you might think, for launching a new SUV. And of all the tracks on the F1 calendar, Melbourne’s Albert Park seems a particularly foolhardy choice. Wide, fast and flowing, its cocktail of high-speed turns and big, hard stops followed by fiddly chicanes is the kind of place to destroy an SUV; a cauldron of speed seemingly designed to expose the inherent dynamic flaws that come with a higher ride height and more weight.

Model Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q

Engine 2.9-litre V6 (90°), dohc, 24v, TT

Max power 375kW @ 6500rpm

Max torque 600Nm @ 2500-5000rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

Weight 1830kg

0-100km/h 3.8sec (claimed)

Fuel economy 10.2L/100km

Price $149,900

On sale Now

But then again, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q (short for Quadrifoglio) is no ordinary SUV. It was a Nurburgring lap record holder (until its pesky rival from Mercedes-AMG stole it), and is actually quicker around the infamous German circuit than a Lamborghini Gallardo.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, really, given what’s lurking beneath the Stelvio Q’s taut bodywork. The engine, gearbox and suspension are all lifted directly from the Giulia QV super sedan, and even the most significant addition – the four-wheel-drive system – has been tuned with performance in mind.

It’s a rear-biased set-up, and unless the car starts to slide or grapple for grip, 100 percent of the Stelvio Q’s 375kW/600Nm is set solely to the rear Pirellis. Nice.

Deploy all of this on a slightly damp Albert Park and the Stelvio Q is disarmingly fast. So potent is Alfa’s 2.9-litre V6 that it feels every bit as quick as the Giulia QV in a straight line, despite carrying an additional 245kg. Alfa claims it’ll rocket from 0-100km/h in 3.8sec, putting it on par with the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S as the quickest SUV in this class. Sounds good too, with a flamboyant, operatic howl that’s the polar opposite of the wet V8 rumble you get in the Benz. The same applies to the way they corner. Where the AMG bludgeons the laws of physics into submission, the Alfa is lighter on its feet with razor-sharp steering, crisp throttle response and an inherent sense of balance.

It feels, it has to be said, like a Giulia, with the only real dynamic sacrifice found in the braking zones where there’s noticeable pitch when you deploy the impressively resilient steel stoppers (carbon ceramics are a $12K option).

As with the Giulia QV, you have four driving modes to play with, running from Advanced Efficiency, through Natural, Dynamic and Race. Get greedy with the throttle in Race mode and the Q’s rear-drive bias and lax electronic safety net mean you’ll need to be quick with your hands, yet this only contributes to the Stelvio’s sense of excitement and flair. It feels expertly engineered; created by people who understand a performance SUV shouldn’t only be fast, but fun too.

What Albert Park’s smooth surface doesn’t offer is any sense of how the Stelvio Q rides on massive 21-inch wheels. And if you spend some time poking around the cabin, it doesn’t take long to realise the material quality and fit and finish aren’t as convincing as rivals from Porsche, BMW and Mercedes-AMG. The seating position is also a little high and rear vision is compromised by the shallow rear glass.

Yet if you’re someone who cares about the sensation of driving, not only in regards to lap times but in the enjoyment that it brings, and you’re absolutely committed to buying an SUV over a sedan or wagon (we’d buy a fast wagon over a fast SUV any day of the week), the Stelvio Q delivers on both counts.

ALEX INWOOD

Wicked V6; retains much of Giulia’ handling

PLUS MINUS

Weight compared to Giulia; seating position a smidge high