Payne: Alfa Quadrifoglio is family track ute
Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne test drives the twin-turbo V-6 Stelvio Quadrifoglio a the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas’ Formula One track in Texas. Henry Payne/The Detroit News
Forget soccer moms. The 505-horsepower five-door Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio SUV is designed for track moms.
The muscular all-wheel drive Italian SUV whupped Germany’s legendary Nürburgring race track with a lap time of just under 7 minutes and 52 seconds, burying the previous SUV record held by the Porsche Cayenne Turbo S by eight seconds (not to mention the 2006 Ford GT and 2008 Lamborghini Gallardo). Indeed, the super-ute was just 20 seconds slower than its sister sedan, the 505-horse Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio over the 13-mile lap.
My laps in the twin-turbo V-6 Stelvio Quadrifoglio around the 20-turn, 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas’ Formula One track in Texas were, in turn, about 20 seconds slower than my lap times in a 150-horse Lola SCCA club-sports racer. Which in turn is about 20 seconds slower than a modern, 525-horsepower IMSA Corvette, and ...
Payne, have you gone mad? What are you doing comparing an SUV to race cars? Or to the Giulia, the best-handling sports sedan on the planet? Or for that matter, what are you doing on a race track at all with a sport utility vehicle?
Yes, the world has turned upside-down.
Track tests used to be for Porsche sports cars and BMW M3 sports sedans to show their bandwidth as weekday commuters and weekend track-letes. But in ute-crazy America, such niche performance brands — which once sold mere thousands — have figured out how to sell tens of thousands by transferring their performance DNA to Frankenstein SUV-monsters like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5 M.
I am convinced that no human being will ever take these tall SUVs out to do track laps. Yet their very existence depends on convincing customers that they share the same personality as the sports cars that made their brands household names.
Mom and Dad can’t justify a two-seat Alfa Romeo — where would they put the kids? — but they can buy an Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV, anchor two child seats in back and still arrive at the country club social with that legendary Trilobo grille up front. The Quadrifoglio is the steroid-fed version of Alfa’s ute which begins as the best handling, most powerful entry in the premium compact class.
Thus, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s SUV lap record around the legendary Nurburgring, which followed siblings Alfa 4C and Giulia Quadrifoglio who set the fastest lap for, respectively, an under-250-horsepower car and a sedan.
Stelvio’s lap eclipsed the record set by Porsche’s Cayenne Frankenstein. Call it Frankenstein Jr.
The 570-horsepower Cayenne Turbo S and 707-horse Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk may have insane power but they are mid-size SUVs weighing 5,000 pounds. They are a serious handful in turns even as their power induces giddy goosebumps on exit. Barreling down Club Motorsports’ main straight — set in Maine’s White Mountains — into Turn 1 at 125 mph in a Jeep Trackhawk last fall, a voice in my head kept nagging:
If the steering fails, we’re going to burn a hole in that mountain yonder.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio, by contrast, is a compact ute at 4,300 pounds — still a big piece of steak but more easily digested through Circuit of the Americas’ serpentine Turns 2-5 esses.
Flying downhill into Turn 2, chassis dynamics turned to Race mode, the 2.9-liter V-6 howling like a poked badger, the Qaudrifoglio is a composed handful. Its tight, 21/4 turns lock-to-lock steering makes for small inputs. Sliding right-to-left into Turn 3, however, I never think of pulling on the huge, curved silver paddle shifters (they look like they were pulled off the Black Panther’s Wakanda throne) for two reasons: 1) Fixed to the steering column, they are hard to grab, and 2) I don’t need them.
The Stelvio’s eight-speed transmission is so intuitive that I don’t feel the need to overrule it. Coming off tight Turn 9 into one of the fastest sections of track, the engine is in the meat of its torque curve, AWD scrabbling for traction, and ...
Payne, are you still on a race track with an SUV?
OK, OK. The Alfa is a practical daily driver, too. The ute shares the same magnificent suspension and 505-horse drivetrain with the rear-wheel drive Giulia Quadrifolgio sedan. But Stelvio mates it to a sophisticated, torque-vectoring AWD system that makes it an all-season workhorse.
Where an M1 Concourse track jockey might store the rear-wheel drive Giulia Quadrifoglio for the winter once the snow falls, the Stelvio can be driven in all conditions.
It’s in a rare class of three. Although other compact utes from Audi (SQ5) and BMW (X3 M40i) offer impressive performance numbers, only Porsche’s Macan Turbo S, Mercedes’ AMG GLC63 and the Alfa are muscled in excess of 400 horsepower.
As you would expect from Germans and Italians, the Porsche and Alfa utes (I have yet to sample the V-8 powered Mercedes) have very different personalities despite their similar wheelbases and twin-turbo V-6s.
The Porsche — I took an S model out on the Mid-Ohio race track a couple years back — looks like a Turbo 911 on stilts, its enormous ribbed side air intakes big enough to swallow a flock of geese. Inside, the key (yeah, Porsche still does keys) is on the left (just like the LeMans racers), the tach front and center behind the steering wheel, the console sleeve tattooed with buttons to control everything from heated seats to spring settings.
The Alfa’s push-start button is on the steering wheel, racy-looking dials behind it, a quirky monostable shifter at your right hand.
Both infotainment systems are competent, but you buy these birds of prey for their war cries.
The German is soaring, determined. The Italian is more demented, like a meatball got caught in its esophagus. It snorts on upshift, clears its throat with rev-matching downshifts. Eccellente! Kids and normal-size adults will fit more comfortably in the rear seats than the tight Giulia Quadrifogio. And the five-door hatch opens up headroom — and provides two more seats than you have in the Alfa 4C sports car.
Oh, and did I mention that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio beat the nimble 4C’s Nurburgring lap time? By 12 seconds. That’s what double the horsepower gets you.
Hmm, maybe you really should take this SUV out for track days ...
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.
2018 Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV
$81,590 base ($97,390 Competizione Red Stelvio with carbon-crmaic brakes/carbon-fiber seats as tested; Trofeo White Stelvio as tested $85,890 Trofeo White Stelvio)
2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6
505 horsepower, 443 pound-feet of torque
0-60 mph, 3.6 seconds (mfr.); towing: 3,000 pounds
EPA fuel economy: 17 city/24 highway/20 combined
Highs: Stirring engine note; fastest ute yet (until Lambo Urus comes along)
Lows: Big sticker price; if you want to track a Quadrifoglio, buy a Giulia
Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★ Fair ★★ Poor ★