The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio stakes a claim as the world's fastest SUV

Albert Park is usually replete with joggers, cyclists and Sunday smoochers.

But in the lead up to the Australian Grand Prix this weekend the 5.3 kilometre road is turned into a Formula 1 race track for the opening round of the season.

It's that track where Alfa Romeo chose to unleash one of the world's fastest SUVs, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

Tall poppy

SUVs used to be about going off-road and fitting more inside.

These days, they can be just about everything else, with high performance models the new must-have urban accessory.

While such powered-up high-riders may be terrific winning the traffic light grand prix, most struggle when punted around a race track.

Blame it on the higher centre of gravity, which makes suspension work harder to counter the desire to rock and roll through corners.

But Alfa Romeo is hoping to redefine what an SUV is capable of with its Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the latest to join the hipo SUV club.

First things first

The Stelvio is a thoroughly practical SUV, with five seats, a spacious cabin and a boot tailored to family duties.

Advertisement

Perfect for plenty of passengers or a load of shopping.

The Quadrifoglio gets more carbon fibre inside and some snazzy sports seats, complete with carbon fibre backing (they offer excellent support), an inkling of its intentions.

It's also loaded with gear befitting its $149,900 price tag – about double your average Stelvio.

There's a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, 8.8-inch infotainment screen and all manner of active safety systems and automated controls.

Six of the best

Like the Giulia Quadrifolgio, the Stelvio QV gets a 2.9-litre twin turbo V6 with hints of Ferrari pedigree (it was developed by ex-Ferrari engineers)

With 375kW and 600Nm it's an impressively punchy engine, one that behaves with some Ferrari character.

That full 600Nm is available from 2500rpm and there's barely a hint of turbo lag, the engine responding with a satisfying shove as you power out of corners.

Keep it pinned down Albert Park's main straight and the speedo comfortably spins beyond 200km/h.

It doesn't sound as sexy as a V8, but there's some braps and flutters when shifting up into the next gear giving some much-needed aural excitement.

All four

Key to the driving talent is a rear-focused four-wheel drive system called Q4.

Rather than apportioning the drive evenly, the QV sends it all to the rear wheels until slip is detected, then appropriately apportioning some forward to reduce wheelspin.

It's about getting the benefits of a rear-drive performance car without the wheelspin that can make too much power a handful.

And it works beautifully, the rear waving gently if you've got the rest of the cornering equation right, the 20-inch Pirelli tyres at their limit.

Torque vectoring directs that drive to the outside wheel, further reducing the chances of wheelspin, in the process assisting with the substantial grip and resulting pace.

There's also a carbon fibre driveshaft sending that drive aft, something that helps in reducing weight and improving performance.

Point and shoot

While its straight line muscle is impressive, it's the way the Quadrifoglio tackles corners that cements it as a truly accomplished go-fast SUV.

Albert Park has some fast corners and they're often blinded by concrete walls, adding to the degree of difficulty.

The accurate steering that can be overly sensitive in four-cylinder Stelvios on the road comes to life on the track, requiring relatively small inputs but still keeping the driver well informed, aiding confidence.

Toughen up

It helps having suitably stiff suspension that resists that temptation to behave like an SUV, the active suspension also doing its bit to keep things flat and stable.

It means you can focus on the steering and sliding without having to worry about the wallowing that can inflict SUVs in corners.

Slide through the left-hander around the back of the track at turn 11 – one of the fastest sections, where F1 cars exert up to six times the force of gravity on the driver – and the car remains poised before quickly preparing for the brisk right-hander after it.

It does a terrific job of dealing with those quick direction changes, capably keeping all 1.8 tonnes in check.

Stopping power

One area the Quadrifoglio starts to struggle is with brakes. There's a lot of pace and a fair few kilos to slow, the massive calipers biting hard.

But a couple of fast laps has them starting to heat up, the retardation falling off slightly.

But if you're up for some track thrashes – which the car certainly is – another $15K-odd gets you more resilient carbon ceramic discs, which promise to cope with the punishment more convincingly.

Gravel trap

Of course, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is nowhere near the pace of a Formula 1 car, although there is one place the Stelvio QV promises to be faster than an F1 car: through one of the many gravel traps designed to slow progress if a car spins off the track.

Whereas F1 cars drive only the rear wheels, the Stelvio QV drives all four.

It's not designed for hard core off-roading – think snowy roads or light gravel – but at least promises to claw you out of danger if things go wrong and you end up on something other than bitumen.

Pace and grace

All of which adds up to one seriously brisk SUV – and one that takes the performance fight to the German rivals.

While it has an epic engine that delivers surprising pull, it's the way the Quadrifoglio deals with corners that makes it such a surprising track machine.

Not as engaging or fast as a lower-riding sedan, but better than an SUV deserves to be at these speeds.