After a long hiatus, Alfa Romeo is well and truly on the comeback trail. Having launched the Giulia to strong reviews last year, the storied Italian marque has taken the next step in its revival with its first ever four-wheel drive. The Stelvio is a crucial car for Alfa, going head to head with the immensely popular Porsche Macan and Mercedes GLC. Based on fleeting first impressions in Los Angeles, Alfa could be onto a winner.
It rides higher than the Giulia, but Alfa Romeo is adamant the Stelvio will still handle like a proper sports car. Rather than running with a standard front-wheel drive architecture, the car will be built on a rear-drive platform, which already gives it a leg-up on some of its less focused competitors.
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Ferrari is open about the fact it doesn't want to build a four-wheel drive, even though rivals are looking to branch out and explore the idea. Although it's not quite a full on Ferrari, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio could be the next best thing. Even though they're completely separate nameplates, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari are both owned by the Fiat/Chrysler Group, and the team developing the new twin-turbo engine was headed by an ex-Ferrari engineer. The resulting engine is essentially a downsized take on the twin-turbo V8 fitted to the 488 GTB, giving this family four-wheel drive a genuine link to one of the world's best supercars.
With 380 kW (510 hp) of power and 600 Nm of torque, the engine is good for a sub four-second sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph). That makes it comfortably quicker than its direct competitors, as well as performance benchmarks like the BMW M5.
Power is put to the road through the rear-biased Alfa Romeo Q4 all-wheel drive system. It defaults to rear-drive in normal driving conditions, but can send up to fifty percent of the engine torque to the front wheels when it detects slip. Beyond a simple front/rear torque split, the car is also fitted with a torque-vectoring system able to send more torque to the outside rear wheel, helping cut down on understeer.
The way torque-vectoring works changes based on which drive mode the driver chooses, along with the steering weight, shift speed, power curve and traction-control. Controlled by a small silver DNA switch on the center console, the system carries over from the Giulia, and is designed to let drivers choose between a relaxed, comfortable ride or full-on sports experience.
Devout gear heads will love the Quadrifoglio, but not everyone wants a 500 horsepower supercar in disguise. To cater for those (boring) people who don't care how they get to work, the Stelvio will be available with a 209 kW (280 hp) four-cylinder turbo. With injectors running at 200 bar, it makes a handy 400 Nm of torque from just 2250 rpm, and Alfa says throttle response is improved by its clever MultiAir electro-hydraulic valve system.
All this clever mechanical goodness is wrapped in a body that, to our eyes, looks fantastic. It's undoubtedly related to the Giulia, with slim headlamps and the traditional Alfa Romeo grille, but somehow the overall proportions add up to something special. It's only taken a decade, but it seems like designers are finally coming to grips with how to make SUVs look interesting, and the Stelvio is one of the best examples yet.
There's no word on pricing for the Stelvio yet, but those keen to sneak a glimpse can see it at the Los Angeles Motor Show.
Check out Alfa Romeo's rather stylish little Stelvio promo video below:
Source: Fiat/Chrysler Group