The Stelvio QV will get your heart racing.
The Stelvio QV will get your heart racing.

Why this SUV is like no other

Alfa likes to be different

German and Japanese rivals typically adorn their cars with cold abstract combinations of letters and numbers but Alfa's names tell a story.

Stelvio refers to the snaking mountain pass near the Italian-Swiss border that has become a mecca for driving enthusiasts.

Quadrifoglio is Italian for four-leafed clover, a nod to the brand's motor racing history. Racer Ugo Sivocci painted a clover leaf on the side of his race car in the same way flying aces painted emblems on the flanks of their planes.

It didn't bring Ugo much luck - he was killed soon after in a race at Monza - but the tradition lives on. Alfa's race cars wear the emblem, as do high performance versions of its road cars.

Alfa has gone for a more conventional cabin feel.
Alfa has gone for a more conventional cabin feel.

It looks gorgeous

Function usually wins over form when car makers design SUVs but the Stelvio is one sexy looking beast. Painted in three-coat "competizione red" - an eye-watering $4550 option - its looks muscular yet still athletic.

Sporty cues extend to air vents on the bonnet, quad exhausts and massive 20-inch wheels with huge exposed calipers and monster brake discs. It's the kind of car you find yourself admiring every time you park it.

Inside there are Sparco race seats with carbon-fibre backs, steering wheel trimmed in leather, carbon-fibre and alcantara and with a red start button, plus Italian leather with red stitching. All for roughly $150,000 before on-roads.

There are dials and buttons

Its rivals have embraced the digital age, with large configurable digital displays replacing speedos and tachos. The Stelvio is refreshingly analog.

It doesn't look as luxurious as a Mercedes or BMW - the centre screen is fairly small and the screen resolution is only OK - but everything's where it needs to be and the screen is relatively easy to navigate via the centre toggle.

There are lane departure, blind spot and rear cross traffic alerts, as well as active cruise but it won't steer you back into your lane if you drift.

It's quick off the mark

Alfa says the 2.9-litre bi-turbo V6 will propel the SUV to 100km/h in a claimed 3.8 seconds.

All-wheel drive effectively harnesses the whopping 375kW of power and 600N under the bonnet, although it will squirm a little if you're too enthusiastic with the throttle out of corners.

The launch feel is impressive but the engine is at its best when allowed to sing in the higher reaches of its rev range.

The accompanying soundtrack is spectacular but, if you ever tire of listening to it, the Harman Kardon audio has a great live sound.

A spicy V6 engine can propel the SUV to 100km/h from a standstill in 3.8 seconds.
A spicy V6 engine can propel the SUV to 100km/h from a standstill in 3.8 seconds.

Corners are fun, too

The Stelvio drives like no SUV is supposed to. It feels smaller than it is through the bends, changing direction eagerly and sitting flat and composed over bumps and corrugations.

The steering is sharp and direct, while sticky Pirelli rubber - fatter at the back - keeps it glued to the road.

It's surprisingly easy to live with around town, with firm but forgiving suspension.

The eight-speed auto slurs gears smoothly at lower speeds but delivers rapid-fire changes via the paddles in dynamic mode.