There are some Escapes which transcend the car itself: at times, we find ourselves in places that they do not feel or look like anything you’ve visited before. The luck that we have in being travel-thirsty journalists, is that sometimes the machines we drive are able to transport us directly to places that we never had the opportunity to see before. The Gran Sasso National Park in the Abruzzo region of Italy is one of those places where you have the light and the scenery that is almost unique to the place.
Plus, travelling while still in semi-lockdown, there was no one around: and by that, we mean nobody. We had a 2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio for this journey and we couldn’t hope for a better companion: perhaps the ultimate sports-SUV of the current production, a practical car which has arguably the best dynamics of any other similar vehicles. The roads were long, twisty and with miles of visibility with no cars whatsoever: we like to think that at one point, the driving Gods looked down on Earth and designed the best roads they could all over the world. This National Park in the Abruzzo region is a true petrolhead’s paradise: if there’s a place made for driving, this is it.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is perhaps the connoisseur’s choice in terms of performance SUVs. It’s still hard for us, 90ies kids to get used to this sort of vehicle but over the last 20 years, this market has established itself in its own way, revolutionizing our way of thinking about the automobile. The Stelvio raises attention everywhere it goes: it’s not uncommon to spot that kid whose face lights up when you pass by or that approval nodding from grown ups when you show up at a traffic light.
Interestingly enough, Alfa Romeo is no stranger to 4×4’s. Not many know that the Matta was a Jeep built for the Italian Army in the 1950ies: powered by a de-tuned version of the 1900’s twin cam engine, it proved to be one of the finest vehicles of its category. Despite losing to the more economical Fiat Campagnola, the Matta was capable and provided impressive performance on every terrain. An Alfa Romeo SUV should not sound so strange after all: remember, this Company built everything from compressors, trucks, vans, aircraft engines, industrial machinery…and even kitchens! Few recognize the industrial importance of Alfa, a Company that extended beyond performance cars.
Road performance in a vehicle that has a tall centre of gravity and is heavier than normal is still a driving oxymoron. How can something tall and heavy be sporty at all? Surely we drove many in the past, like the Urus and the Cayenne Hybrid, but nothing can compare to the agility and sportsmanship of this SUV. It’s quite an hazardous thing to say we must admit, but hell the Stelvio is the best sports car SUV we’ve ever tested. Dynamic, fast and with the best steering so far, (the same of the Giulia) it’s the properly-sorted SUV you actually want to have. For sure, it’s not the uber-luxury SUV as the Lamborghini Urus or the Cayenne Turbo, but rather a proper petrolhead’s vehicle: think of it as the best excuse not to buy an RS6 again. The 2020 model lineup features some gorgeous colours and we got lucky in having a splendid Verde Montreal example with which we covered around 1600 km in one week. The trip was memorable. In a way, driving the Gran Sasso became a way to transcend what we were doing and to immerse ourselves in the greatest music of all times: silence. We’ve never told you that one of the greatest pleasures in doing escapes is (besides driving of course) listening to the silence once you’ve reached the top of any pass that you’re driving on.
Stepping out of the car and enjoying the silence is awesome. The Gran Sasso is one of those few places where you can experience that: for the two days we spent there, we could count the cars on the tip of our fingers. However, the joy of the silence when we were in the middle of nowhere soon changed meaning when we passed through the few villages we found along the way, such as Campotosto, Mascioni, Vasto, Case Isaia and so on. They were deserted and surrounded by an eerie silence that seemed like a permanent echo of the terrible earthquake that devastated the region 10 years ago. There were no cars on the road and the few people we saw were some shepherds and their Maremmano-Abruzzese sheep dogs roaming freely on the road and nearby. In this corner of the world, time seems to have stopped and this made it possible for us to explore this region in a way we never thought possible.
The Stelvio is a jacked-up sportscar: the precision and immediacy in how it changes direction is impressive and stunning for any SUV. The weight transfer in rapid-direction-changes is instantaneous and without any inertia: the connection you have with the road allows for instant confidence. The ride is rigid but not harsh, allowing a perfect duality: on the longer journeys it’s comfortable while being super fun in the twisty corners. The roads of this region offer long sweeps with excellent visibility and you truly have the chance to drive the ideal line without any risks. With 510hp on tap available from the 3 litre twin Turbo V6 you can truly put the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s dynamics through their paces. Predominantly rear wheel drive, the Stelvio offers optimal levels of grip thanks to its Q4 traction with torque vectoring. You still have the classic behaviour of a proper GT, with a slight understeery character at the entrance of a corner that mutates to a very pleasant oversteer at the exit. The four wheel drive system maximizes the grip and emphasizes the neutral behaviour during fast corners: in the Gran Sasso, it’s quite an experience for proper driving.
Can you expect such dynamism from an SUV? The Stelvio Quadrifoglio redefines the genre and truly brings a much needed Italian touch to this segment. The grin you have on your face while driving is almost comparable to the best sportscars you can buy today. The same quality and attention to every mechanical detail that set Alfa apart from everybody is found here.
Escape on Wheels is living all for a moment: it’s a journey that brings you closer with what you love. It’s impressive that a SUV was able to convey the same satisfaction you can find in a true sports car: the name Alfa Romeo is perhaps a guarantee seal for true emotions.