By: Dave Abrahams
Los Angeles, California - The surprisingly compact SUV that's rattling cages at the Los Angeles auto show this week is unmistakeably an Alfa, even though it's the company's first attempt at the genre.
But it's what's under the bonnet of the show car that's causing the buzz - because what you see here is the flagship Stelvio Quadrifoglio, with an all-aluminium 2.9-litre twin-turbo petrol V6, rated for 375kW and 600Nm.
The Modena Mafia make no secret that they are aiming this pocket rocket straight at the Porsche Macan Turbo, the Mercedes AMG GLC 43 and the Audi SQ5, quoting a 0-100km/h launch time of less than four seconds and a 284km/h flat out.
But what is more startling is their claim that, according to computer modelling, it's capable of getting round the Nurburgring in less than eight minutes. We'll take that one under advisement, until they put a Stelvio where their mouths are.
The V6 is hooked up to a new eight-speed ZF paddle-shift transmission with a lock-up clutch for which the maker claims a full-tilt-boogie upshift time of just 150 milliseconds in Race mode, driving all four wheels via a Q4 transmission with an active transfer case and torque vectoring centre differential.
In default mode the Q4 system sends all the torque to the rear axle, so the Stelvio drives like a sports sedan, using two clutches in the rear differential to control torque delivery to each wheel individually, rather than wasting power by braking the inside wheel, which is how conventional torque vectoring works.
But as the rear wheels approach their grip limit - monitored by lateral and longitudinal acceleration, steering-wheel angle and yaw sensors - it transfers up to 50 percent of the torque to the front axle.
More sportback than station wagon
Suspension is by double wishbone in front, with a semi-virtual steering axis to keep the contact patch of the tyres constant in cornering, and by patented "four-and-a-half link" system at the rear, with electronic active damping all round.
Also confirmed are the Stelvio and Stelvio Ti models, each with a two-litre MultiAir direct-injection turbopetrol four delivering a quoted 206kW at 5250 revs and 400Nm at 2250rpm, good for 0-100 in 5.4 seconds, although we'd expect to see at least one diesel derivative as well, particularly for the European market.
Fiat Group Auto SA says it has not yet looked at the Stelvio as it is still a long way off for this market, but all indications are that it will be available around the fourth quarter of 2017.
From the heart-shaped grille to the wedged profile and steeply raked tailgate, the Stelvio is more sportback than station wagon, the family resemblance to the Giulia sedan clear; based on the same Giorgio platform as the sedan, it's 4680mm long and 1650mm high, but unexpectedly wide at 2160mmm.
The interior layout is also typically Alfa, with the flight deck tailored around the driver like a bespoke suit and all the important controls on the small, direct steering wheel. Infotainment is centred on a 165mm display, with 225mm display as an option, as is a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
Active safety systems include adaptive cruise control - with full stop function linked to collision warning - lane departure warning and optional front parking sensors.