But Alfa Romeo's 510hp Stelvio Quadrifoglio seems to pull punches
Taller order of brio The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is Alfa Romeo's first sport utility vehicle. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Stranger things have happened, but there is still no explaining why Alfa Romeo's Stelvio Quadrifoglio does not feel as quick as it should be.

It has the same 2.9-litre biturbo V6 drivetrain as the Giulia Quadrifoglio, which was reviewed here 16 months ago.

Yet the specs sheet says the Stelvio - Alfa's first sport utility vehicle (SUV) - is quicker, at least from zero to 100. It does it in a bristling 3.8 seconds or 0.1 seconds quicker than the Giulia saloon.

This is despite the Stelvio being substantially heavier than the Giulia. Then again, the Stelvio has four-wheel-drive, a trait which usually gives rise to better traction and hence better blast-off timing.

The car also appears less powerful than the Mercedes-AMG C63S Saloon, a car which I drove immediately before the Stelvio.

The rear-wheel-drive Merc is slightly lighter and has a 4-litre biturbo V8 which makes 510hp - exactly what the smaller Alfa engine makes. But its 0-100kmh timing is 0.2 seconds behind the Italian crossover's.

At the wheel, it is the Merc which feels faster all round. Perhaps this has to do with it having 700Nm of torque - 100Nm more than the Stelvio. An abundance of torque often makes a car breezier, while power usually plays itself out only at high revs.

Make no mistake, the Stelvio is still a relatively punchy number, even if it does not come across as sizzling as its performance figures suggest.

Left in Normal drive mode, the car picks the highest gear possible and you find yourself coasting along within city speed limits in eighth gear, with three engine cylinders firing and the tachometer at 1,700rpm or so.

In this mode, you might as well be in a minivan. There is very little of the vigour and exuberance associated with as generous an output as the Italian.

Driven this way, you will not hear the car's throaty exhaust note either. Step outside and you realise the quad tailpipes are actually rather loud.

To get more out of the car, drive in Dynamic or Race mode, preferably with manual gear changing. Huge shift paddles make this easy.

But you will also have to put up with body movement galore, from the springiness typical of an SUV and its hard-to-modulate brakes. The enhanced verve and brio make it worth it - at least on some days, when you are alone in the car.

As an SUV, the Stelvio has hits and misses. First off, its design is not particularly outstanding, with lines which are inoffensive but not especially imaginative.

Inside, second-row space is not generous for a car of its stature. You do not get a lot of knee room and the person in the middle has to put up with a sizeable floor hump. The boot, however, is fairly commodious.

The driver's seat hugs your hips snugly like in a sports car, while its headrest is soft and cushy like in a limousine. You get adaptive cruise control but a rudimentary reverse camera, automatic high beam but a small infotainment screen, and electronic parking brake but without hold function (and a sticky self-release).

You would expect more frills in a $350,000 car. Just as you would expect more thrills from a 510hp car.